Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie
The following is from the Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie:
Chapter VI - Railroad Service
From the operating-room of the telegraph office I had now stepped into the open world, and the change at first was far from agreeable. I had just reached my eighteenth birthday, and I do not see how it could be possible for any boy to arrive at that age much freer from a knowledge of anything but what was pure and good. I do not believe, up to that time, I had ever spoken a bad word in my life and seldom heard one. I knew nothing of the base and the vile. Fortunately I had always been brought in contact with good people.
I was now plunged at once into the company of coarse men, for the office was temporarily only a portion of the shops and the headquarters for the freight conductors, brakemen, and firemen. All of them had access to the same room with Superintendent Scott and myself, and they availed themselves of it. This was a different world, indeed, from that to which I had been accustomed. I was not happy about it. I ate, necessarily, of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil for the first time. But there were still the sweet and pure surroundings of home, where nothing coarse or wicked ever entered, and besides, there was the world in which I dwelt with my companions, all of them refined young men, striving to improve themselves and become respected citizens. I passed through this phase of my life detesting what was foreign to my nature and my early education. The experience with coarse men was probably beneficial because it gave me a "scunner" (disgust), to use a Scotism, at chewing or smoking tobacco, also at swearing or the use of improper language, which fortunately remained with me through life.
I do not wish to suggest that the men of whom I have spoken were really degraded or bad characters. The habit of swearing, with coarse talk, chewing and smoking tobacco, and snuffing were more prevalent then than to-day and meant less than in this age. Railroading was new, and many rough characters were attracted to it from the river service. But many of the men were fine young fellows who have lived to be highly respectable citizens and to occupy responsible positions. And I must say that one and all of them were most kind to me. Many are yet living from whom I hear occasionally and regard with affection. A change came at last when Mr. Scott had his own office which he and I occupied.
I was soon sent by Mr. Scott to Altoona to get the monthly pay-rolls and checks. The railroad line was not completed over the Allegheny Mountains at that time, and I had to pass over the inclined planes which made the journey a remarkable one to me. Altoona was then composed of a few houses built by the company. The shops were under construction and there was nothing of the large city which now occupies the site. It was there that I saw for the first time the great man in our railroad field--Mr. Lombaert, general superintendent. His secretary at that time was my friend, Robert Pitcairn, for whom I had obtained a situation on the railroad, so that "Davy," "Bob," and "Andy" were still together in the same service. We had all left the telegraph company for the Pennsylvania Railroad Company.
Mr. Lombaert was very different from Mr. Scott; he was not sociable, but rather stern and unbending. Judge then of Robert's surprise, and my own, when, after saying a few words to me, Mr. Lombaert added: "You must come down and take tea with us to-night." I stammered out something of acceptance and awaited the appointed hour with great trepidation. Up to this time I considered that invitation the greatest honor I had received. Mrs. Lombaert was exceedingly kind, and Mr. Lombaert's introduction of me to her was: "This is Mr. Scott's 'Andy.'" I was very proud indeed of being recognized as belonging to Mr. Scott.
An incident happened on this trip which might have blasted my career for a time. I started next morning for Pittsburgh with the pay-rolls and checks, as I thought, securely placed under my waistcoat, as it was too large a package for my pockets. I was a very enthusiastic railroader at that time and preferred riding upon the engine. I got upon the engine that took me to Hollidaysburg where the State railroad over the mountain was joined up. It was a very rough ride, indeed, and at one place, uneasily feeling for the pay-roll package, I was horrified to find that the jolting of the train had shaken it out. I had lost it!
There was no use in disguising the fact that such a failure would ruin me. To have been sent for the pay-rolls and checks and to lose the package, which I should have "grasped as my honor," was a dreadful showing. I called the engineer and told him it must have been shaken out within the last few miles. Would he reverse his engine and run back for it? Kind soul, he did so. I watched the line, and on the very banks of a large stream, within a few feet of the water, I saw that package lying. I could scarcely believe my eyes. I ran down and grasped it. It was all right. Need I add that it never passed out of my firm grasp again until it was safe in Pittsburgh? The engineer and fireman were the only persons who knew of my carelessness, and I had their assurance that it would not be told.
It was long after the event that I ventured to tell the story. Suppose that package had fallen just a few feet farther away and been swept down by the stream, how many years of faithful service would it have required upon my part to wipe out the effect of that one piece of carelessness! I could no longer have enjoyed the confidence of those whose confidence was essential to success had fortune not favored me. I have never since believed in being too hard on a young man, even if he does commit a dreadful mistake or two; and I have always tried in judging such to remember the difference it would have made in my own career but for an accident which restored to me that lost package at the edge of the stream a few miles from Hollidaysburg. I could go straight to the very spot to-day, and often as I passed over that line afterwards I never failed to see that light-brown package lying upon the bank. It seemed to be calling:
"All right, my boy! the good gods were with you, but don't do it again!"
At an early age I became a strong anti-slavery partisan and hailed with enthusiasm the first national meeting of the Republican Party in Pittsburgh, February 22, 1856, although too young to vote. I watched the prominent men as they walked the streets, lost in admiration for Senators Wilson, Hale, and others. Some time before I had organized among the railroad men a club of a hundred for the "New York Weekly Tribune," and ventured occasionally upon short notes to the great editor, Horace Greeley, who did so much to arouse the people to action upon this vital question.
The first time I saw my work in type in the then flaming organ of freedom certainly marked a stage in my career. I kept that "Tribune" for years. Looking back to-day one cannot help regretting so high a price as the Civil War had to be paid to free our land from the curse, but it was not slavery alone that needed abolition. The loose Federal system with State rights so prominent would inevitably have prevented, or at least long delayed, the formation of one solid, all-powerful, central government. The tendency under the Southern idea was centrifugal. To-day it is centripetal, all drawn toward the center under the sway of the Supreme Court, the decisions of which are, very properly, half the dicta of lawyers and half the work of statesmen. Uniformity in many fields must be secured. Marriage, divorce, bankruptcy, railroad supervision, control of corporations, and some other departments should in some measure be brought under one head. [Re-reading this paragraph to-day, July, 1907, written many years ago, it seems prophetic. These are now burning questions.]
It was not long after this that the railroad company constructed its own telegraph line. We had to supply it with operators. Most of these were taught in our offices at Pittsburgh. The telegraph business continued to increase with startling rapidity. We could scarcely provide facilities fast enough. New telegraph offices were required. My fellow messenger-boy, "Davy" McCargo, I appointed superintendent of the telegraph department March 11, 1859. I have been told that "Davy" and myself are entitled to the credit of being the first to employ young women as telegraph operators in the United States upon railroads, or perhaps in any branch. At all events, we placed girls in various offices as pupils, taught and then put them in charge of offices as occasion required. Among the first of these was my cousin, Miss Maria Hogan. She was the operator at the freight station in Pittsburgh, and with her were placed successive pupils, her office becoming a school. Our experience was that young women operators were more to be relied upon than young men. Among all the new occupations invaded by women I do not know of any better suited for them than that of telegraph operator.
Mr. Scott was one of the most delightful superiors that anybody could have and I soon became warmly attached to him. He was my great man and all the hero worship that is inherent in youth I showered upon him. I soon began placing him in imagination in the presidency of the great Pennsylvania Railroad--a position which he afterwards attained. Under him I gradually performed duties not strictly belonging to my department and I can attribute my decided advancement in the service to one well-remembered incident.
The railway was a single line. Telegraph orders to trains often became necessary, although it was not then a regular practice to run trains by telegraph. No one but the superintendent himself was permitted to give a train order on any part of the Pennsylvania system, or indeed of any other system, I believe, at that time. It was then a dangerous expedient to give telegraphic orders, for the whole system of railway management was still in its infancy, and men had not yet been trained for it. It was necessary for Mr. Scott to go out night after night to break-downs or wrecks to superintend the clearing of the line. He was necessarily absent from the office on many mornings.
One morning I reached the office and found that a serious accident on the Eastern Division had delayed the express passenger train westward, and that the passenger train eastward was proceeding with a flagman in advance at every curve. The freight trains in both directions were all standing still upon the sidings. Mr. Scott was not to be found. Finally I could not resist the temptation to plunge in, take the responsibility, give "train orders," and set matters going. "Death or Westminster Abbey," flashed across my mind. I knew it was dismissal, disgrace, perhaps criminal punishment for me if I erred. On the other hand, I could bring in the wearied freight-train men who had lain out all night. I could set everything in motion. I knew I could. I had often done it in wiring Mr. Scott's orders. I knew just what to do, and so I began. I gave the orders in his name, started every train, sat at the instrument watching every tick, carried the trains along from station to station, took extra precautions, and had everything running smoothly when Mr. Scott at last reached the office. He had heard of the delays. His first words were:
"Well! How are matters?"
He came to my side quickly, grasped his pencil and began to write his orders. I had then to speak, and timidly said:
"Mr. Scott, I could not find you anywhere and I gave these orders in your name early this morning."
"Are they going all right? Where is the Eastern Express?"
I showed him the messages and gave him the position of every train on the line--freights, ballast trains, everything--showed him the answers of the various conductors, the latest reports at the stations where the various trains had passed. All was right. He looked in my face for a second. I scarcely dared look in his. I did not know what was going to happen. He did not say one word, but again looked carefully over all that had taken place. Still he said nothing. After a little he moved away from my desk to his own, and that was the end of it. He was afraid to approve what I had done, yet he had not censured me. If it came out all right, it was all right; if it came out all wrong, the responsibility was mine. So it stood, but I noticed that he came in very regularly and in good time for some mornings after that.
Of course I never spoke to any one about it. None of the trainmen knew that Mr. Scott had not personally given the orders. I had almost made up my mind that if the like occurred again, I would not repeat my proceeding of that morning unless I was authorized to do so. I was feeling rather distressed about what I had done until I heard from Mr. Franciscus, who was then in charge of the freighting department at Pittsburgh, that Mr. Scott, the evening after the memorable morning, had said to him:
"Do you know what that little white-haired Scotch devil of mine did?"
"I'm blamed if he didn't run every train on the division in my name without the slightest authority."
"And did he do it all right?" asked Franciscus.
"Oh, yes, all right."
This satisfied me. Of course I had my cue for the next occasion, and went boldly in. From that date it was very seldom that Mr. Scott gave a train order.
The greatest man of all on my horizon at this time was John Edgar Thomson, president of the Pennsylvania, and for whom our steel-rail mills were afterward named. He was the most reserved and silent of men, next to General Grant, that I ever knew, although General Grant was more voluble when at home with friends. He walked about as if he saw nobody when he made his periodical visits to Pittsburgh. This reserve I learned afterwards was purely the result of shyness. I was surprised when in Mr. Scott's office he came to the telegraph instrument and greeted me as "Scott's Andy." But I learned afterwards that he had heard of my train-running exploit. The battle of life is already half won by the young man who is brought personally in contact with high officials; and the great aim of every boy should be to do something beyond the sphere of his duties--something which attracts the attention of those over him.
Some time after this Mr. Scott wished to travel for a week or two and asked authority from Mr. Lombaert to leave me in charge of the division. Pretty bold man he was, for I was then not very far out of my teens. It was granted. Here was the coveted opportunity of my life. With the exception of one accident caused by the inexcusable negligence of a ballast-train crew, everything went well in his absence. But that this accident should occur was gall and wormwood to me. Determined to fulfill all the duties of the station I held a court-martial, examined those concerned, dismissed peremptorily the chief offender, and suspended two others for their share in the catastrophe. Mr. Scott after his return of course was advised of the accident, and proposed to investigate and deal with the matter. I felt I had gone too far, but having taken the step, I informed him that all that had been settled. I had investigated the matter and punished the guilty. Some of these appealed to Mr. Scott for a reopening of the case, but this I never could have agreed to, had it been pressed. More by look I think than by word Mr. Scott understood my feelings upon this delicate point, and acquiesced.
It is probable he was afraid I had been too severe and very likely he was correct. Some years after this, when I, myself, was superintendent of the division I always had a soft spot in my heart for the men then suspended for a time. I had felt qualms of conscience about my action in this, my first court. A new judge is very apt to stand so straight as really to lean a little backward. Only experience teaches the supreme force of gentleness. Light but certain punishment, when necessary, is most effective. Severe punishments are not needed and a judicious pardon, for the first offense at least, is often best of all.
As the half-dozen young men who constituted our inner circle grew in knowledge, it was inevitable that the mysteries of life and death, the here and the hereafter, should cross our path and have to be grappled with. We had all been reared by good, honest, self-respecting parents, members of one or another of the religious sects. Through the influence of Mrs. McMillan, wife of one of the leading Presbyterian ministers of Pittsburgh, we were drawn into the social circle of her husband's church. [As I read this on the moors, July 16, 1912, I have before me a note from Mrs. McMillan from London in her eightieth year. Two of her daughters were married in London last week to university professors, one remains in Britain, the other has accepted an appointment in Boston. Eminent men both. So draws our English-speaking race together.] Mr. McMillan was a good strict Calvinist of the old school, his charming wife a born leader of the young. We were all more at home with her and enjoyed ourselves more at her home gatherings than elsewhere. This led to some of us occasionally attending her church.
A sermon of the strongest kind upon predestination which Miller heard there brought the subject of theology upon us and it would not down. Mr. Miller's people were strong Methodists, and Tom had known little of dogmas. This doctrine of predestination, including infant damnation--some born to glory and others to the opposite--appalled him. To my astonishment I learned that, going to Mr. McMillan after the sermon to talk over the matter, Tom had blurted out at the finish,
"Mr. McMillan, if your idea were correct, your God would be a perfect devil," and left the astonished minister to himself.
This formed the subject of our Sunday afternoon conferences for many a week. Was that true or not, and what was to be the consequence of Tom's declaration? Should we no longer be welcome guests of Mrs. McMillan? We could have spared the minister, perhaps, but none of us relished the idea of banishment from his wife's delightful reunions. There was one point clear. Carlyle's struggles over these matters had impressed us and we could follow him in his resolve: "If it be incredible, in God's name let it be discredited." It was only the truth that could make us free, and the truth, the whole truth, we should pursue.
Once introduced, of course, the subject remained with us, and one after the other the dogmas were voted down as the mistaken ideas of men of a less enlightened age. I forget who first started us with a second axiom. It was one we often dwelt upon: "A forgiving God would be the noblest work of man." We accepted as proven that each stage of civilization creates its own God, and that as man ascends and becomes better his conception of the Unknown likewise improves. Thereafter we all became less theological, but I am sure more truly religious. The crisis passed. Happily we were not excluded from Mrs. McMillan's society. It was a notable day, however, when we resolved to stand by Miller's statement, even if it involved banishment and worse. We young men were getting to be pretty wild boys about theology, although more truly reverent about religion.
The first great loss to our circle came when John Phipps was killed by a fall from a horse. This struck home to all of us, yet I remember I could then say to myself: "John has, as it were, just gone home to England where he was born. We are all to follow him soon and live forever together." I had then no doubts. It was not a hope I was pressing to my heart, but a certainty. Happy those who in their agony have such a refuge. We should all take Plato's advice and never give up everlasting hope, "alluring ourselves as with enchantments, for the hope is noble and the reward is great." Quite right. It would be no greater miracle that brought us into another world to live forever with our dearest than that which has brought us into this one to live a lifetime with them. Both are equally incomprehensible to finite beings. Let us therefore comfort ourselves with everlasting hope, "as with enchantments," as Plato recommends, never forgetting, however, that we all have our duties here and that the kingdom of heaven is within us. It also passed into an axiom with us that he who proclaims there is no hereafter is as foolish as he who proclaims there is, since neither can know, though all may and should hope. Meanwhile "Home our heaven" instead of "Heaven our home" was our motto.
During these years of which I have been writing, the family fortunes had been steadily improving. My thirty-five dollars a month had grown to forty, an unsolicited advance having been made by Mr. Scott. It was part of my duty to pay the men every month.  We used checks upon the bank and I drew my salary invariably in two twenty-dollar gold pieces. They seemed to me the prettiest works of art in the world. It was decided in family council that we could venture to buy the lot and the two small frame houses upon it, in one of which we had lived, and the other, a four-roomed house, which till then had been occupied by my Uncle and Aunt Hogan, who had removed elsewhere. It was through the aid of my dear Aunt Aitken that we had been placed in the small house above the weaver's shop, and it was now our turn to be able to ask her to return to the house that formerly had been her own. In the same way after we had occupied the four-roomed house, Uncle Hogan having passed away, we were able to restore Aunt Hogan to her old home when we removed to Altoona. One hundred dollars cash was paid upon purchase, and the total price, as I remember, was seven hundred dollars. The struggle then was to make up the semi-annual payments of interest and as great an amount of the principal as we could save. It was not long before the debt was cleared off and we were property-holders, but before that was accomplished, the first sad break occurred in our family, in my father's death, October 2, 1855. Fortunately for the three remaining members life's duties were pressing. Sorrow and duty contended and we had to work. The expenses connected with his illness had to be saved and paid and we had not up to this time much store in reserve.
And here comes in one of the sweet incidents of our early life in America. The principal member of our small Swedenborgian Society was Mr. David McCandless. He had taken some notice of my father and mother, but beyond a few passing words at church on Sundays, I do not remember that they had ever been brought in close contact. He knew Aunt Aitken well, however, and now sent for her to say that if my mother required any money assistance at this sad period he would be very pleased to advance whatever was necessary. He had heard much of my heroic mother and that was sufficient.
One gets so many kind offers of assistance when assistance is no longer necessary, or when one is in a position which would probably enable him to repay a favor, that it is delightful to record an act of pure and disinterested benevolence. Here was a poor Scottish woman bereft of her husband, with her eldest son just getting a start and a second in his early teens, whose misfortunes appealed to this man, and who in the most delicate manner sought to mitigate them. Although my mother was able to decline the proffered aid, it is needless to say that Mr. McCandless obtained a place in our hearts sacred to himself. I am a firm believer in the doctrine that people deserving necessary assistance at critical periods in their career usually receive it. There are many splendid natures in the world--men and women who are not only willing, but anxious to stretch forth a helping hand to those they know to be worthy. As a rule, those who show willingness to help themselves need not fear about obtaining the help of others.
Father's death threw upon me the management of affairs to a greater extent than ever. Mother kept on the binding of shoes; Tom went steadily to the public school; and I continued with Mr. Scott in the service of the railroad company. Just at this time Fortunatus knocked at our door. Mr. Scott asked me if I had five hundred dollars. If so, he said he wished to make an investment for me. Five hundred cents was much nearer my capital. I certainly had not fifty dollars saved for investment, but I was not going to miss the chance of becoming financially connected with my leader and great man. So I said boldly I thought I could manage that sum. He then told me that there were ten shares of Adams Express stock that he could buy, which had belonged to a station agent, Mr. Reynolds, of Wilkinsburg. Of course this was reported to the head of the family that evening, and she was not long in suggesting what might be done. When did she ever fail? We had then paid five hundred dollars upon the house, and in some way she thought this might be pledged as security for a loan.
My mother took the steamer the next morning for East Liverpool, arriving at night, and through her brother there the money was secured. He was a justice of the peace, a well-known resident of that then small town, and had numerous sums in hand from farmers for investment. Our house was mortgaged and mother brought back the five hundred dollars which I handed over to Mr. Scott, who soon obtained for me the coveted ten shares in return. There was, unexpectedly, an additional hundred dollars to pay as a premium, but Mr. Scott kindly said I could pay that when convenient, and this of course was an easy matter to do.
This was my first investment. In those good old days monthly dividends were more plentiful than now and Adams Express paid a monthly dividend. One morning a white envelope was lying upon my desk, addressed in a big John Hancock hand, to "Andrew Carnegie, Esquire." "Esquire" tickled the boys and me inordinately. At one corner was seen the round stamp of Adams Express Company. I opened the envelope. All it contained was a check for ten dollars upon the Gold Exchange Bank of New York. I shall remember that check as long as I live, and that John Hancock signature of "J.C. Babcock, Cashier." It gave me the first penny of revenue from capital--something that I had not worked for with the sweat of my brow. "Eureka!" I cried. "Here's the goose that lays the golden eggs."
It was the custom of our party to spend Sunday afternoons in the woods. I kept the first check and showed it as we sat under the trees in a favorite grove we had found near Wood's Run. The effect produced upon my companions was overwhelming. None of them had imagined such an investment possible. We resolved to save and to watch for the next opportunity for investment in which all of us should share, and for years afterward we divided our trifling investments and worked together almost as partners.
Up to this time my circle of acquaintances had not enlarged much. Mrs. Franciscus, wife of our freight agent, was very kind and on several occasions asked me to her house in Pittsburgh. She often spoke of the first time I rang the bell of the house in Third Street to deliver a message from Mr. Scott. She asked me to come in; I bashfully declined and it required coaxing upon her part to overcome my shyness. She was never able for years to induce me to partake of a meal in her house. I had great timidity about going into other people's houses, until late in life; but Mr. Scott would occasionally insist upon my going to his hotel and taking a meal with him, and these were great occasions for me. Mr. Franciscus's was the first considerable house, with the exception of Mr. Lombaert's at Altoona, I had ever entered, as far as I recollect. Every house was fashionable in my eyes that was upon any one of the principal streets, provided it had a hall entrance.
I had never spent a night in a strange house in my life until Mr. Stokes of Greensburg, chief counsel of the Pennsylvania Railroad, invited me to his beautiful home in the country to pass a Sunday. It was an odd thing for Mr. Stokes to do, for I could little interest a brilliant and educated man like him. The reason for my receiving such an honor was a communication I had written for the "Pittsburgh Journal." Even in my teens I was a scribbler for the press. To be an editor was one of my ambitions. Horace Greeley and the "Tribune" was my ideal of human triumph. Strange that there should have come a day when I could have bought the "Tribune"; but by that time the pearl had lost its luster. Our air castles are often within our grasp late in life, but then they charm not.
The subject of my article was upon the attitude of the city toward the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. It was signed anonymously and I was surprised to find it got a prominent place in the columns of the "Journal," then owned and edited by Robert M. Riddle. I, as operator, received a telegram addressed to Mr. Scott and signed by Mr. Stokes, asking him to ascertain from Mr. Riddle who the author of that communication was. I knew that Mr. Riddle could not tell the author, because he did not know him; but at the same time I was afraid that if Mr. Scott called upon him he would hand him the manuscript, which Mr. Scott would certainly recognize at a glance. I therefore made a clean breast of it to Mr. Scott and told him I was the author. He seemed incredulous. He said he had read it that morning and wondered who had written it. His incredulous look did not pass me unnoticed. The pen was getting to be a weapon with me. Mr. Stokes's invitation to spend Sunday with him followed soon after, and the visit is one of the bright spots in my life. Henceforth we were great friends.
The grandeur of Mr. Stokes's home impressed me, but the one feature of it that eclipsed all else was a marble mantel in his library. In the center of the arch, carved in the marble, was an open book with this inscription:
These noble words thrilled me. I said to myself, "Some day, some day, I'll have a library" (that was a look ahead) "and these words shall grace the mantel as here." And so they do in New York and Skibo to-day.
Another Sunday which I spent at his home after an interval of several years was also noteworthy. I had then become the superintendent of the Pittsburgh Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The South had seceded. I was all aflame for the flag. Mr. Stokes, being a leading Democrat, argued against the right of the North to use force for the preservation of the Union. He gave vent to sentiments which caused me to lose my self-control, and I exclaimed:
"Mr. Stokes, we shall be hanging men like you in less than six weeks."
I hear his laugh as I write, and his voice calling to his wife in the adjoining room:
"Nancy, Nancy, listen to this young Scotch devil. He says they will be hanging men like me in less than six weeks."
Strange things happened in those days. A short time after, that same Mr. Stokes was applying to me in Washington to help him to a major's commission in the volunteer forces. I was then in the Secretary of War's office, helping to manage the military railroads and telegraphs for the Government. This appointment he secured and ever after was Major Stokes, so that the man who doubted the right of the North to fight for the Union had himself drawn sword in the good cause. Men at first argued and theorized about Constitutional rights. It made all the difference in the world when the flag was fired upon. In a moment everything was ablaze--paper constitutions included. The Union and Old Glory! That was all the people cared for, but that was enough. The Constitution was intended to insure one flag, and as Colonel Ingersoll proclaimed: "There was not air enough on the American continent to float two."