Important American Moneybags: Andrew Carnegie & Henry Ford

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Important American Moneybags: Andrew Carnegie & Henry Ford

Carnegie /

Carnegie /

Carnegie was born in 1835, the son of a Scots weaving hand-loom operator. The family left Scotland and emigrated to the United States of America in 1848. Young Andrew worked first at a cotton mill, then as a telephone operator, and then on the Pennsylvania Railroad. Quite soon he was Superintendent. As only seems to happen in America, he got himself into the iron manufacturing business, moved to steel, and became a millionaire.

Andrew Carnegie had little education and no engineering training but possessed enormous drive accompanied by fantastic energy, with which he swept aside competitors and, more significantly, the trade unions. In the latter bracket he suffered a terrific strike called the ‘Homestead’ in 1892, but he smashed that too, defeating the Steelworkers Union.

One of his secrets was keeping an open mind to suggestions and new theories, such as the ‘open-hearth’ process for making steel; working hand-in-hand with Henry Clay Frick he made the first vast vertical combine to include coke ovens, coalfields, ore mines, ships and railways. He was thus able to control all sources of supply and distribution.

Very soon the Carnegie corporation dominated the steel industry, and put Andrew in the top list of rich men along with Rockefeller, Morgan (q.v.) and others. He personally received nearly $500 million after selling his corporation to J.P. Morgan and Henry Finch. These last re-organised things by turning it into the United States Steel Corporation, producing 60% of the country’s steel.

Carnegie then retired to devote himself to philanthropic causes, a favourite pasttime for American millionaires. Another popular move at the end of the 19th century was marrying off daughters to the British aristocracy – Dukes if available, but any title down to Baron seemed to be acceptable, as long as it was ancient and genuine.

Andrew Carnegie wrote a book called Gospel of Wealth expressing his view that personal fortunes should be used to benefit society as a whole. He put this theory into practice himself. Over 2,500 libraries in Britain, the USA and Canada were founded by him – the first in his original home town of Dunfermline in 1882.

In the States, among many other establishments, he founded the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh in 1912. This is now a part of the Carnegie-Mellon University. He is said to have given away more than $350 million dollars to charitable and worthy institutions. He died in 1919 at eighty-four. Despite his practical altruism Carnegie has remained one of the favourite Aunt Sallys of the Communists, presumably because he came from nothing and made a colossal fortune through the capitalist system.

HENRY FORD was as American as blueberry pie, born in Michigan in 1863. He repaired watches and clocks and learnt to be a mechanic before building his own petrol-driven motorcar, principally from bicycle parts in 1893. Ten years later he founded the Ford Motor Company and was the first to realise that motorised transport for the family need not be a rich man’s privilege.

He dreamed up the idea of mass production, and, concentrating on just one model, he introduced the cheap family autombile. This ‘Tin Lizzie’ was the Model T, first produced in 1909 and according to Henry Ford could be bought ‘in any colour so long as it was black’.

In 1913 he developed the idea of mass production by making assembly lines in his factory. Soon he had cut production time by 90%! He wrote that the work was planned ‘so that each man and each machine do only one thing’. He added that ‘the thing is to keep everything in motion and take the work to the man and not the man to the work’.

By 1925 Ford was churning out a car every ten seconds and between 1909 and 1927 he made fifteen million ‘Tin Lizzies’.

There was competition from General Motors, which copied Ford’s methods but had seven different models in a variety of colours. He brought in the Model A in 1928, which had improvements such as shock absorbers and was offered in four colours.

Opponents of the capitalist system were surprised when (in 1914) Ford gave his workers a guaranteed minimum wage of $5 a day (more than double than anyone else); a share of the profits and an 8-hour working day. This did not sound like capitalism at all. At least Henry stuck to the role model by hating and mistrusting the trade unions.

Henry Ford was radically opposed to intervention in any form. He was a declared pacifist and isolationist and made fiery speeches against his country’s involvement in the First World War. This did not stop him from building tanks, ships and vehicles for the military, so his pacifism must have become blind to his capitalistic instincts.

In 1936 he established the Ford Foundation, soon to be the world’s largest trust for educational, scientific. Artistic and charitable purposes. He died in 1947 at eighty-four.

By | 2012-08-04T09:21:32+00:00 August 4th, 2012|Scottish history, US History|0 Comments

About the Author:

‘Dean Swift’ is a pen name: the author has been a soldier; he has worked in sales, TV, the making of films, as a teacher of English and history and a journalist. He is married with three grown-up children. They live in Spain.

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