Carnegie: Robber Baron or Captain of Industry

Twelve hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty four days a year. This is how much Andrew Carnegie’s workers worked. Roughly half of their life was spent in his steel factories. This took place in the late 1800s, when large corporations were on the rise and small businesses were dwindling and being bought out. Carnegie was one of the owners of one of these corporations and began a massive steel business known as Carnegie Steel. It is often debated whether this man was a Robber Baron or Captain of Industry. Evidence supports the belief that Andrew Carnegie was a Robber Baron due to his treatment of workers and unfair wages.

Andrew Carnegie’s treatment towards his workers did not attend to all the basic human rights and definitely displayed Robber Baron actions. His workers worked 12 hour shifts and only got one day off of work a year- the Fourth of July. His factories usually involved dangerous working conditions which resulted in many fatal injuries for workers. According to, “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.” ( A good Captain of Industry would ultimately put their workers needs first and Carnegie clearly did not do this. also lists evidence that points to Robber Baron actions that Carnegie committed. They state that Andrew Carnegie gave one of his managers permission to lock their workers out of one of the steel mills after they had protested wage cuts. Eventually, “it lead to a bloody battle and resulted in the death of ten men.” ( This would become known as the Homestead Strike. A Captain of Industry would use reasoning with their workers to settle their needs instead of locking them out. This was a good example of a Robber Baron move.

Some may argue that Carnegie was a Captain of Industry because he was one of the most well known Philanthropist of all time and he because he was a true “rags to riches” story. There is no doubt that Carnegie was generous with his earnings in his later years. Andrew Carnegie wrote about social and political issues and one of his most well-known writings in the Gospel of Wealth. In this he writes, “a man who accumulates great wealth has a duty to use his surplus wealth for the improvement of mankind in philanthropic causes. A man who dies rich dies disgraced.” (Gospel of Wealth) These institutions that he funded would eventually help society because education is very important to developing new ideas and solving issues in the world. It could also be argued that Carnegie’s money came well-deserved. Carnegie was not always wealthy and had a humble background. He immigrated to America when he was still a young boy with his family and worked numerous factory jobs in order to raise enough money to start a business of his own. According to Gale Research, “His father was a skilled weaver who had fallen on hard times and decided to start anew in America.” (Gale Research) This goes to show that one could argue that Carnegie was not like the other dominant leaders of large corporations during this time period because he earned his wealth through hard work and perseverance instead of just being born into it and therefore is a Captain of Industry.

Even though Carnegie donated millions of dollars to support education and libraries none of his workers could afford the time to enjoy these because they were always working. This proves that when he donated to institutions he was mostly doing so for the upper class and so even though at first glance it may look like he was trying to close the gaps in wealth, really this was making those divides even larger. While it is inspiring that Carnegie earned his fortune from a humble background, his treatment of workers should not be overlooked.


  1. Gospel:
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Carnegie: Robber Baron or Captain of Industry. (2021, Mar 24). Retrieved April 12, 2024 , from

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