How Did Andrew Carnegie Treat His Workers?


Many accounts of Andrew Carnegie state that he exploited his workers, subjecting them to long hours, a dangerous workplace, and low pay. Many workers in his steel mills worked for 12 hours per day, seven days a week, and were cast aside when they were no longer physically able to meet the demands of the workplace.

Andrew Carnegie made his fortune through the production of steel. He was the first manufacturer to control every aspect of his product’s development, from the raw materials to the technology used to refine it. Because of this, he was able to build a large number of factories and supply jobs to those willing to work. However, laborers that worked for Carnegie Steel often received low pay and had a tough time keeping a decent standard of living. These workers also worked extremely long hours in dangerous factory conditions where injuries were common.

The working conditions in Carnegie’s mills were so dangerous that 20 percent of deaths among men in Pittsburgh during the 1880s were due to steelwork accidents. Carnegie came across as uncaring when casualties happened. When a machine exploded, killing several of his workers, he expressed more concern for the loss of production caused by the incident than for the loss of life. Despite these tough working conditions, his employees faced a 30 percent pay reduction in 1892.

Many of Carnegie’s employees worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day. Despite this, Carnegie would push for them to work longer hours, while trying to lower their wages. Those who were unable to meet the physical demands of the job had their employment terminated.

These working conditions led to the Homestead Strike, during which many of the strikers expressed their opposition to the working conditions and low pay in Carnegie’s steel mills. This violent strike ended in a dozen deaths and helped Carnegie and other business tycoons maintain control over workers by denying them the right to unionize. Carnegie chose to fight unions and collective bargaining because he earned more money by maintaining control over the wages of his workers. The workers’ rights movement suffered greatly because of Carnegie and his work.

Confusingly, Carnegie was also a philanthropist. In addition to being remembered for his tough working conditions and unfair treatment, he was also known for establishing 2,811 libraries in his lifetime, giving to many charitable foundations, and providing 7,689 churches with organs to accompany their services. All told, Carnegie gave away the majority of his fortune, which today would be worth over 100 billion dollars.