Monday, October 16, 2006

How Andrew Carnegie Discovered Capitalism

From Jonathon Yardley's review of a new Andrew Carnegie bio:

Carnegie's story is right out of Horatio Alger . . . . The poor Scot arrives in Pittsburgh in 1848, age 12, child of an aimless father and industrious mother. Goes to work at an early age and quickly ingratiates himself to all with "his remarkably sunny disposition, his broad smile, and non-stop, good natured chatter" -- not to mention his capacity for hard work and his nimble mind. Soon he is a messenger boy for the telegraph office -- "the perfect position for an ambitious, affable young man" -- and soon after that becomes a telegraph operator, "the most sought-after operator in the company" because he is the smartest and the quickest. On he moves to the Pennsylvania Railroad, not yet 20 years old, and wins the favor of its president-to-be. He's offered the opportunity to buy shares in another company, and eagerly does so, with a loan from the boss, and later gets his first dividend check.

"I shall remember that check as long as I live," he wrote many years later. "It gave me the first penny of revenue from capital -- something I had not worked for with the sweat of my brow. 'Eureka!' I cried. 'Here's the goose that lays the golden eggs.' "

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