Andrew Carnegie
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"Andrew Carnegie" Characters Analysis

By David Nasaw

biography | 896 pages | Published in 2006

Majestically told and based on materials not available to any previous biographer, the definitive life of Andrew Carnegie-one of American business's most iconic and elusive titans-by the bestselling author of The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst. Celebrated historian David Nasaw, whom The New York Times Book Review has called "a meticulous researcher and a cool analyst," brings new life to the story of one of America's most famous and successful businessmen and philanthropists- in what will prove to be the biography of the season. Born of modest origins in Scotland in 1835, Andrew Carnegie is best known as the founder of Carnegie Steel. His rags to riches story has never been told as dramatically and vividly as in Nasaw's new biography. Carnegie, the son of an impoverished linen weaver, moved to Pittsburgh at the age of thirteen. The embodiment of the American dream, he pulled himself up from bobbin boy in a cotton factory to become the richest man in the world. He spent the rest of his life giving away the fortune he had accumulated and crusading for international peace. For all that he accomplished and came to represent to the American public-a wildly successful businessman and capitalist, a self-educated writer, peace activist, philanthropist, man of letters, lover of culture, and unabashed enthusiast for American democracy and capitalism-Carnegie has remained, to this day, an enigma. Nasaw explains how Carnegie made his early fortune and what prompted him to give it all away, how he was drawn into the campaign first against American involvement in the Spanish-American War and then for international peace, and how he used his friendships with presidents and prime ministers to try to pull the world back from the brink of disaster. With a trove of new material-unpublished chapters of Carnegie's Autobiography; personal letters between Carnegie and his future wife, Louise, and other family members; his prenuptial agreement; diaries of family and close friends; his applications for citizenship; his extensive correspondence with Henry Clay Frick; and dozens of private letters to and from presidents Grant, Cleveland, McKinley, Roosevelt, and British prime ministers Gladstone and Balfour, as well as friends Herbert Spencer, Matthew Arnold, and Mark Twain-Nasaw brilliantly plumbs the core of this facinating and complex man, deftly placing his life in cultural and political context as only a master storyteller can.


Estimated read time: 7 min read

List of Characters

  1. Andrew Carnegie - Protagonist
  2. Margaret Carnegie - Andrew's mother
  3. William Carnegie - Andrew's father
  4. Thomas A. Scott - Andrew's mentor and boss at Pennsylvania Railroad
  5. Henry Clay Frick - Business partner and later rival of Carnegie
  6. Charles Schwab - Carnegie's protege and president of Carnegie Steel
  7. John D. Rockefeller - Business rival of Carnegie in the oil industry
  8. Henry George - Economist and social reformer who influenced Carnegie's philanthropy
  9. Mary A. Croghan - Carnegie's first love interest
  10. Louise Whitfield - Carnegie's wife

Role Identification

In the book "Andrew Carnegie" by David Nasaw, Andrew Carnegie is the central character. He is a Scottish-American industrialist, philanthropist, and one of the richest men in history. The book explores Carnegie's rise from a humble background to become a titan of the steel industry during the late 19th century.

Character Descriptions

Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie is portrayed as a complex and ambitious individual. He is depicted as a shrewd businessman who was able to capitalize on the opportunities presented by the rapidly industrializing United States. Carnegie is described as having a tall and imposing figure, with a sharp intellect and a relentless drive for success.

Margaret Carnegie

Margaret Carnegie, Andrew's mother, is portrayed as a strong and resilient woman who played a significant role in shaping her son's character. She is described as a hardworking and resourceful woman who instilled in Andrew the values of thrift, hard work, and determination.

William Carnegie

William Carnegie, Andrew's father, is depicted as a skilled weaver who struggled to make ends meet. He is described as a proud man who valued education and encouraged Andrew's intellectual pursuits.

Thomas A. Scott

Thomas A. Scott, Andrew's mentor, and boss at Pennsylvania Railroad, is portrayed as a charismatic and influential figure. He recognizes Carnegie's potential and guides him in his early career, teaching him the intricacies of the railroad industry and nurturing his entrepreneurial spirit.

Henry Clay Frick

Henry Clay Frick is portrayed as Carnegie's business partner turned rival. Frick is described as a ruthless and aggressive businessman who clashes with Carnegie over the direction of their steel empire. Their relationship becomes strained, leading to a bitter and public feud.

Charles Schwab

Charles Schwab, Carnegie's protege, and later president of Carnegie Steel, is portrayed as a charismatic and dynamic individual. Schwab is depicted as a natural leader who helps Carnegie transform Carnegie Steel into a highly efficient and profitable enterprise.

John D. Rockefeller

John D. Rockefeller, a business rival of Carnegie in the oil industry, is portrayed as a formidable competitor. Rockefeller is described as a strategic and disciplined businessman who challenges Carnegie's dominance in the business world.

Henry George

Henry George, an economist and social reformer, plays a significant role in influencing Carnegie's philanthropic endeavors. George's ideas about wealth redistribution and social equality inspire Carnegie to dedicate a large portion of his wealth to charitable causes.

Mary A. Croghan

Mary A. Croghan is depicted as Carnegie's first love interest. Their relationship serves as a catalyst for Carnegie's ambition and desire for financial success.

Louise Whitfield

Louise Whitfield, Carnegie's wife, is portrayed as a supportive and understanding partner. She shares Carnegie's philanthropic values and encourages him to use his wealth for the betterment of society.

Character Traits

Andrew CarnegieAmbitious, intelligent, determined, strategic, philanthropic
Margaret CarnegieStrong, resourceful, hardworking
William CarnegieProud, supportive, valuing education
Thomas A. ScottCharismatic, influential, mentor
Henry Clay FrickRuthless, aggressive, ambitious
Charles SchwabCharismatic, dynamic, influential
John D. RockefellerStrategic, disciplined, competitive
Henry GeorgeInspirational, reform-minded, influential
Mary A. CroghanInfluential, catalyst for ambition
Louise WhitfieldSupportive, philanthropic

Character Background

Andrew Carnegie was born in Dunfermline, Scotland, in 1835. His family immigrated to the United States when he was a child, settling in Pittsburgh. Andrew's father, William Carnegie, worked as a handloom weaver, while his mother, Margaret Carnegie, took in sewing to support the family. Andrew began working at a young age, initially as a bobbin boy in a cotton factory.

Carnegie's intelligence and work ethic caught the attention of Thomas A. Scott, who appointed him as his personal telegraph operator at the Pennsylvania Railroad. This opportunity allowed Carnegie to learn about the railroad industry and make valuable connections. He later founded his own company, Carnegie Steel, which became one of the largest steel producers in the world.

Character Arcs

Andrew Carnegie's character arc in the book is one of transformation and growth. Starting from humble beginnings, he rises to become a wealthy and influential figure in the steel industry. Throughout the book, Carnegie's ambition and drive for success are evident, as he navigates various challenges and opportunities.

Carnegie's character arc also encompasses a shift in priorities. Initially focused on accumulating wealth and power, he undergoes a transformation influenced by Henry George's ideas on wealth redistribution. Carnegie begins to view his wealth as a means to improve society and actively engages in philanthropy, establishing libraries, universities, and other charitable institutions.


Carnegie's relationships with various individuals play a crucial role in shaping his character and trajectory in the book.

One of the most significant relationships is with Thomas A. Scott, who serves as Carnegie's mentor and provides him with valuable guidance and opportunities in the railroad industry. Scott's influence helps Carnegie gain the knowledge and experience necessary for his future success.

Carnegie's partnership with Henry Clay Frick is also explored in the book. Initially, they work together to build Carnegie Steel, but their relationship becomes strained due to differences in management styles and conflicting visions for the company's direction. This leads to a bitter and public feud between the two.

Another important relationship is with Charles Schwab, who becomes Carnegie's protege and later the president of Carnegie Steel. Schwab's dynamic leadership and business acumen contribute to the expansion and success of the company.

Carnegie's rivalry with John D. Rockefeller in the oil industry is depicted as a competitive and intense relationship. Both individuals strive for dominance in their respective industries, leading to fierce competition and occasional cooperation.

Lastly, Carnegie's relationships with Mary A. Croghan and Louise Whitfield provide insight into his personal life. Mary serves as a catalyst for his ambition, while Louise becomes a supportive partner who shares his philanthropic values. These relationships contribute to Carnegie's personal growth and development throughout the book.

Overall, the book "Andrew Carnegie" delves into the multi-faceted character of one of history's most influential industrialists and philanthropists. Through an exploration of his relationships, character traits, and transformation, readers gain a deeper understanding of Carnegie's impact on the business world and society as a whole.