The Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie by Andrew Carnegie


  1. Andrew Carnegie was born in 1835 in Scotland but immigrated to America when he was 13 and was able to rise to the highest echelons of society through his steel empire. He is one of the worlds greatest philanthropists and gave away the majority of his wealth before his death to several causes such as public libraries, world peace, improving the human condition and strengthening democracy
Key Takeaways
  1. Grandfather who was fun and made the best of bad situations had a profound impact on Carnegie. A sunny disposition is worth more than fortune 
  2. From a young age was influenced by radical notions in Scotland which were frustrated with heritage and the fact that one’s family name carried more weight than your accomplishments. Adopted the motto “death to privilege”
  3. Steam revolution hurt his father’s business and they approached poverty. Mother stepped up, as she would often throughout his life, to make ends meet
  4. First school teacher and uncle very influential and taught him a great Scottish pride. Often asked himself what William Wallace would do in a given situation
  5. Had an impressive memory and says he can’t stress enough the importance of being able to memorize poems and passages by heart
  6. Attributes his great wealth not to his own genius but to his ability to choose those who knew better than he did and giving them freedom
  7. Mother taught them from an early age that they could grow to become “useful men” if they always did what was right
  8. Moved to Pittsburgh at 13 and worked long, hard hours. Has made millions but none made him happier than his first paycheck when he was able to help his struggling family
  9. “He is a bold man who calls anything a trifle” – referring the the profound effects seemingly trivial events can have 
  10. Colonel James Anderson opened his library to all young men and this changed Carnegie’s life forever and influenced his love of libraries. Libraries give nothing for nothing – have to give the effort to read and learn or else get nothing out of it
  11. Loved Shakespeare and was able to memorize almost without effort
  12. Greatest pride was his first promotion as a messenger boy
  13. Success is to always expand your responsibilities and circle of competence by going beyond what others expect or have assigned you 
  14. Only experience teaches one the power of gentle punishment
  15. Carnegie got a lot of responsibility at his railroad job at an early age. He was always confident in his abilities and looked for ways to stretch himself whenever possible
  16. Carnegie learned quickly from his dealings with high social classes to improve his education through reading and by behaving well he could get a lot more out of people
  17. Said of Abraham Lincoln that he was incredible connecting with anyone at any job or social status
  18. In any project, quality is of utmost importance and far after is cost. Always accommodate your customers, even if at some expense to yourself and give them the benefit of the doubt. That is how he won some of his first contracts to build bridges 
  19. Was really focused on the details – cost of raw materials, who was the most productive employee, how much waste was there and why. Wanted to know what every department and man was doing at all times
  20. When he built his first steel mills in Pittsburgh, he made sure to buy the best machinery. It would cost more up front but would save a ton on materials and future maintenance costs 
  21. In any walk of life, knowing what is great helps you avoid the mediocre
  22. Hardly owned any stocks as he believed a man who runs a business must have a mind free from the mercurial market
  23. Recognized the great demand for sleeping railroad cabins and set up a company with Pullman
  24. When one party in a negotiation gets excited, the other should stay calm
  25. Great businesses are always built on a foundation of integrity
  26. Believed in putting all his good eggs in one basket and closely watching that basket. Focus all time, money and energy on the one business you know best (iron and steel for Carnegie)
  27. One of the first to employ chemists in the mill and this was a huge competitive advantage
  28. Above all his public libraries was the motto “let there be light”
  29. What one does easily, one often does well
  30. No investment returns such dividends as the trust and friendship of your employees 
  31. As US Steel began to dominate, Carnegie started thinking more seriously if how to begin distributing his amounting wealth. First thing he did was set up a relief fund for his employees. Then public libraries, foundations, Hero Fund
  32. He is a happy man who only wishes happiness and prosperity to others 
What I got out of it
  1. Interesting autobiography of Carnegie. An amazing man who was able to remain humble and down to earth regardless of his worldly success. His vision and determination to be as philanthropic as he was is incredibly inspiring. Make every interaction with your customers, suppliers, employees and other stake holders win-win and you almost can’t help but be successful