The rapidly evolving industry economy of Scotland at this time was bleak for this family and countless other Scots. It was against this trial backdrop that the fledgling but resilient family sold most of their modest possessions to finance a daring trip to America to escape the clutches of abject poverty.
Wiscasset was an appropriate name that represented the unknown future the family faced when they left. Scotland in 1848. They came aboard with anxiety, courage, hope, and a binding love for one another. Anchors were raised and the great ship gradually left Glasgow’s Broomielaw for the arduous crossing of the Atlantic. The parents’ names were Margaret and Will, and their sons, Andrew and Tom. The proud last name of him was Carnegie.
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After the harrowing journey that lasted weeks, the Carnegies arrived in New York City. This long passage was the path of many immigrants during this period and in the ages to come. By the late 1840s, New York was beginning to see a significant increase in Irish, German, and Italian immigrants who, like the Carnegies, were fleeing poverty and social unrest.
What soon unfolded for so many immigrants was another storm that threatened to extinguish their flame of hope. They lived in slums where unsanitary conditions led to rampant disease, and working conditions clouded their spirit of optimism.
Still, the city was brimming with energy. These brave immigrants felt that vigor. They persevered, searching deep within themselves, drawing from their talents while honoring their heritage. The result was that they carved a way of life with their brave hands: an enduring sculpture of strength for generations to admire.
When Andrew Carnegie first arrived in New York, he was still a child, but he was alert to everything around him. He later wrote that his first impression of New York produced an overwhelming emotion in him. From that vigor of the place, a dynamism arose within the impressionable Andrew that propelled him throughout his life.
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After a short time in New York, the Carnegie family moved to Allegheny in Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh. Andrew and his father found work in a Scottish-owned cotton mill. Andrew’s first job there was as a “reel boy”. It was strenuous work. He worked 12 hour days for $1.20 per week.
Of course, Andrew Carnegie became one of the most financially wealthy industrialists in American history.
The stories of his early days of family fighting in Scotland, along with his love for his homeland, were imprinted on him. He would have closed his eyes like an old man and remembered clearly that day in Glasgow when his family boarded the ship. He, too, was fundamentally shaped by the obstacles, injustices, and opportunities of those early days as an immigrant.
Carnegie was morally passionate about what he called, “The Gospel of Wealth.” One of the richest legacies and gifts from him and the Carnegie family is the positive impact he has bestowed on countless lives.
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He embodied that principle of giving back. In fact, he and his family were philanthropic pioneers who helped those burdened by hardship, promoting the letters, building global understanding and promoting innovation to improve lives. That Carnegie flame still burns brightly today. The Carnegie Corporation of New York, which was personally established by Andrew Carnegie in 1911, is a remarkably enlightened institution.
Carnegie Corporation’s programmatic impact extends widely through initiatives around the world. world – Varied programs that are promoting thought, research, understanding and peace.
The thirteenth president of the Carnegie Corporation, Dr. Louise Richardson, is one person who exemplifies these values. Dr Richardson is an immigrant from Ireland and she too knows Scotland well, having effectively led a transformational period as Principal and Vice Chancellor of the University of St Andrews. Her staff are also some of the most passionate, thoughtful and knowledgeable people she will meet.
We will not achieve the financial wealth of Andrew Carnegie. However, I would encourage all of us to remember that the greatest wealth one can acquire in life has no monetary value. The richest of hearts is the one that is full of joy and compassion.
And when our journey leads us to discover that inner richness, we become so much richer when we selflessly give much of it in the form of kindness and treat others with dignity.
Ian Houston has spent his career as an advocate for diplomacy, trade, poverty alleviation, and intercultural dialogue. He promotes commercial, educational, artistic and charitable links between Scotland, the United Kingdom and the United States. He is an Honorary Professor at the University of the West of Scotland and an Honorary Professor at the University of Aberdeen. He is located in the Washington, DC area. His views are his own.