Andrew Carnegie is born in Dunfermline, Scotland, to Margaret and Will Carnegie. Will Carnegie is a skilled weaver, and the Carnegies are one of the many working-class families in Dunfermline. A younger son, Tom, is born in 1843.
Steam-powered looms are introduced in Scotland and hundreds of handloom workers are unemployed, including Andrew's father, Will.
The Carnegies emigrate to U.S. aboard the S.V. Wiscasset. They settle in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Andrew begins work as a bobbin boy in a textile mill, earning $1.20 per week. He later takes a job in a factory tending the steam engine and boiler, for $2.00 per week. He impresses his supervisor with his penmanship and is offered the chance to work as a clerk for the factory.
Andrew works as a messenger boy in a telegraph office, earning $2.50 per week. Because he memorizes street names and the names of people to whom he takes messages, he is able to save time when he meets a recipient of a message on the street. Soon after, he is promoted to the position of telegraph operator and begins making $20 per month.
Andrew becomes the personal telegrapher and assistant to Thomas Scott, the superintendent of the Pennsylvania Railroad's western division. He is paid $35 per month. He learns the ins and outs of the railroad industry, and makes innovative suggestions like keeping the telegraph office open 24 hours per day, and burning railroad cars following accidents, which clears the tracks and gets the trains quickly moving again.
Will Carnegie dies at age 51. Although Andrew is becoming successful in America, Will Carnegie had not been able to find work as a weaver. He had tried to produce his own cloth, traveling as far as Cincinnati to peddle it, but could find very few buyers. When he dies, Andrew is 20 years old and the only breadwinner in the family.
Andrew Carnegie invests in sleeping cars. He takes out a loan from a local bank and invests $217.50 in the Woodruff Sleeping Car Company. After about two years, he begins receiving a return of about $5000 annually, more than three times his salary from the railroad.
Carnegie becomes the superintendent of the Pennsylvania Railroad's western division. He is now in charge of his own department and earns a salary of $1500 per year. He and his mother move to the upscale suburb of Homewood.
Carnegie works for the Union Army. After Confederate mobs in Maryland destroy railroad lines, Carnegie assists Thomas Scott in supervising repairs. While working on the railroad, Carnegie notices that telegraph lines have also been cut and stops to repair them. When Carnegie arrives in Washington, he joins Scott in organizing the railroad and telegraph lines to Virginia. Carnegie invests in oil. Using money from his investment in the Woodruff Sleeping Car Company, Carnegie invests $11,000 in an oil company in Titusville, Pennsylvania. He receives a return of $17,868 after only one year.
Carnegie travels to Dunfermline.
Carnegie's income is $42,000. About half of Carnegie's salary comes from his investment in oil and only $2400 from his salary at the railroad. Additional investments in the Piper and Schiffler Company, the Adams Express Company and the Central Transportation Company contribute over $13,000.
Carnegie is drafted into the Union Army. His options are to pay the federal government $300 or find a suitable replacement. Carnegie feels he has done his patriotic duty by supervising telegraph communications in 1861 and decides to pay a replacement $850 to serve in his place.
Carnegie retires from the railroad. Carnegie and several associates reorganize the Piper and Schiffler Company to found the Keystone Bridge Company. They envision building bridges with iron rather than wood, to make the bridges more durable. Thomas Scott loans Carnegie half of the $80,000 he needs for his investment.