The collector’s library

Andrew Carnegie, The Unpublished Documents

posted on 09/17/2012

Andrew Carnegie, His Rise

Until the Civil War, American production industries were essentially small-time, and the nation's wealthiest men were mainly engaged in agriculture, shipping and railroads. But the requirements of the war made it clear to some enterprising men that the opportunities of the future were in manufacturing. This was particularly true in the iron industry, as the need for iron for all manner of weaponry, ships and other goods created both demand and high prices (of the $3 billion that the Civil War cost the U.S. government, a goodly share went to the iron men). But it remained to be shown that America was to become industrial America. 

Andrew Carnegie went to work for the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1853, at age 18, as a telegraph operator. He so impressed his boss, Thomas A. Scott, superintendent of the western division, that Scott named him his private secretary. In 1860, Scott became the first Vice President of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and a few years after Carnegie (at age 28) succeeded Scott as superintendent. From then until 1865, Carnegie was mainly an active investor in the projects of others, seeking out ventures, generally preferring those with some relation to railroading, and sharing the investments with senior colleagues at the railroad. In March 1865 Carnegie resigned from the Pennsylvania Railroad and in May left the United States for Europe. There he learned about the production of steel using the Bessemer process. Carnegie was a visionary, and saw the industrial opportunity clearly. When he returned, his attention turned to making steel. After some initial successes, in 1873 he founded the Carnegie Steel Company. One can plot the rise of the U.S. to industrial supremacy from that decision, as others followed his example. Within a few decades, Carnegie was the wealthiest man in the world.

The Documents

Business documents of Carnegie prior to 1873, from his early and formative years, are extremely rare. Perhaps just a handful are in private hands. We have one here from during the Civil War:

Extremely Rare Investment Document From the Beginning of Andrew Carnegie's Career: As the chief aide to one of the most influential railroad magnates in the country, and then a superintendent himself, Carnegie was in a position where all manner of special opportunities became apparent to his wise gaze. He first took notice of the iron business in 1864, when he bought a 1/6 interest in the Iron City Forge Company. In 1865 the Superior Iron Company sought to build the Superior Rolling Mill at Manchester, near Pittsburgh, to make iron rails. Carnegie invested, and he succeeded in sharing the investment with J. Edgar Thomson, president of the Pennsylvania Railroad and Thomas A. Scott, vice-president. This is a receipt for the purchase of that investment, endorsed by Carnegie.

Carnegie's friend, Edward Townsend

One of Carnegie Steel's great competitors was Cambria Steel, owned by Edward Townsend. However, in the days before the anti-trust laws, competitors could cooperate, allocate territories, and set joint prices, and these two magnates did so. Carnegie and Townsend became more than competitors, they became friends, with the older Townsend making his mark on the younger Carnegie. To underline this, their families shared in this friendship; Carnegie's mother used to send her regards to Mrs. Townsend, while Carnegie addressed Mrs. Townsend in letters as "My Dear Friend." We have obtained, directly from the Townsend descendants, some deeply fascinating, handwritten letters from Carnegie to Mrs. Townsend.

One asserts that an investment would make him rich, a rather humorous remark coming from Andrew Carnegie.

In another letter, he seeks to avoid a potential price war with Cambria by appealing to Mrs. Townsend to cajole her husband into being reasonable.

And lastly is a letter that he wrote to Mrs. Townsend upon the death of her husband, full of emotion and his philosophy about death:

A fascinating interesting insight into Carnegie, the man who showed the way  in America's industrial rise.