Society enjoy talk on Scots philanthopist

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Members and visitors at the June meeting of the  Arran Historical Society meeting enjoyed an informative talk by Barbara Graham on the life of a Scottish born philanthropist who went on to become one of the richest men in American history.

Andrew Carnegie was born in 1835 in Dunfermline, Fife where he spent his formative years before emigrating to the USA in 1848.

The family lived in difficult times when ordinary cottage industry workers – like weavers and leather horse harness makers – were suffering from a recession which didn’t relent.

They also lived at a time of great change, just when the industrial revolution was starting and the potato blight and famine were causing huge suffering in the Highlands.

Politically they were Chartists identifying with Robert Burns and Robert the Bruce. They were stubborn, honest and hardworking and when Andrew was eight-years-old his mother managed to save enough money to send him to charity school.

In 1848, after hearing of better life opportunities in America from her two sisters who lived there, the family travelled to Pennsylvania, USA.

Andrew and his father secured employment in cotton mills while he continued his education, learning bookkeeping while working 12 hours a day at two jobs. His second job was in an office and it was not long before he got an opportunity to enter the modern and developing telegraph service and railway industry.

His expertise was rewarded and he became a manager, saving enough money by 1861 to avoid the draft into the Union Army by paying for a substitute at a cost of $840.

Soon he was managing railroads, ironworks and bridgeworks during the civil war which has been coined as the first modern industrial war.

After the war in 1865 the boom continued, and his business ideas of integration of manufacture, using modern methods, were a winner. His life changed and he became an author advising others in business ethics and methods and helping those less fortunate than himself – a reflection of his Scottish background.

His American experience was reflected by his dislike of war and the monarchy. His mother’s influence meant his girlfriends were never good enough and he did not marry until she died in 1886.

Andrew Carnegie died in 1919 but his legacy continues today, here and abroad, in the form of church organs, libraries, concert halls, Help for Hero’s and the United Nations. His dislike of war was influential and led to the formation of the League of Nations – forerunner of the United Nations.

It is estimated he gave away, in today’s money, six billion dollars and is still doing so through the fund set up to administer his legacy.

The next meeting of the Arran Historical Society will be on Monday July 15 at 2pm in Brodick hall when Val Reilly will talk on the odd history and customs surrounding the Scottish wedding.


Barbara Graham talks with members of the Arran Historical Society after the meeting. No_B28historical01