The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Author details Carnegie’s impact on U.S.

This year’s Al and Sadye Gartner Honors Lecture Series kicked off yesterday when Dr. David Nasaw of the City University of New York’s History Department visited the campus to discuss his new book, “Andrew Carnegie.”

Nasaw’s critically acclaimed book, which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in biography, examines the life of the book’s namesake and discusses the paradox of Carnegie’s status both as a philanthropist and as a Gilded Age industrialist known for strikebreaking.

“There is no way to reconcile the contradictions that made up this man,” Nasaw said, noting that though Carnegie was a proponent of peace, he made money building battleships. “However, we are all bundles of contradictions. We live with those contradictions, and that is part of being human.”

According to Nasaw, as the greatest steel mogul of America’s Gilded Age, Carnegie became the world’s richest man. He sold his company, Carnegie Steel, for a total of $226 million (equivalent to $120 billion in today’s dollars – about twice as much as Bill Gates’ total worth).

“He was even richer than we ever imagined,” remarked Nasaw. “However, he didn’t work very hard. He worked really hard when he was young, but as he started making more money, he started working less and less. He criticized Americans for working as hard as they did.”

But for as much criticizing of hard work as Carnegie did, he still required his employees to work 12 hour days, seven days a week. These working conditions led to the Homestead Strike, which Carnegie hired Pinkerton detectives to put down. According to Nasaw, Carnegie told his employees, “The harder you work, the more money I can give back to your community.”

“Carnegie’s notion was that he had to give away all his money because it didn’t belong to him,” Nasaw said. “He wrote in ‘The Gospel of Wealth’ and all his other essays that the money didn’t belong to him because the production of wealth is done by a community.”

However, Carnegie believed that if he simply paid workers more, they would spend it on better food. He decided to spend money developing the community’s spirit through promoting culture.

“Carnegie’s greatest failure was that he could not give away all his money before he died,” Nasaw remarked. “But he was destroyed by his failure to bring peace to Europe (in the days leading to World War I).”

Carnegie spent 20 years of his life working for peace, a goal that he ultimately could not achieve. His failure led the often-outspoken man, who stood only four foot ten inches tall, to retreat into silence, Nasaw says.

“For most of his life, Carnegie was a giant in society despite his small stature,” said first year Clay Carter, who attended the lecture.

“It’s sad that his final failure led him to spend his last four years in silence.”

“Carnegie was defeated the last four years of his life but we can’t be,” Nasaw said. “We have to believe in progress, the way he believed in it. This faith has to drive our actions.”

The Gartner Series has two more installments this year, with the next lecturer to be SMU’s own Dr. Tom Stone of the English department. The series, which has been in existence since 1969, is partnered with the University Honors Program in order to bring noted figures to SMU for two days of activity.

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