On his first job as a young teenager, Carnegie worked in a factory, and he made an effort to spend part of every Sunday discussing and debating issues with friends. Eventually, he left that job when he was hired as a telegraph messenger—and he wrote that he felt emancipated from manual labor: “From the dark cellar running a steam-engine at two dollars a week, begrimed with coal dirt, without a trace of the elevating influences of life, I was lifted into paradise, yes, heaven, as it seemed to me, with newspapers, pens, pencils, and sunshine about me.”
Carnegie’s eagerness paid off and he earned raise after raise in job after job, cashing in on his enthusiasm for enterprise. Carnegie was fallible, too, losing a payroll package while working as a messenger on the Pennsylvania Railroad. After the parcel tumbled off the train, he recovered the package, with help from workers on the line—who chose not to report the loss to his superiors. Impressed by the camaraderie, Carnegie vowed never to judge a man too harshly for making a mistake.
As he acquired knowledge and experience, Carnegie continued to read, study and learn. He staked out clear positions, speaking out against slavery, becoming a fierce opponent, and, despite the fact that he was too young to vote, hailing the nation’s new anti-slavery Republican Party, which held its first national meeting in Pittsburgh in 1856.
Carnegie became more intellectual, priding himself on making advancements for what he saw as progress—linking ideas to the practicality of business. Noting that he was among the first to employ women as telegraph operators on railroads in the United States, he wrote: “[W]e placed girls in various offices as pupils, taught and then put them in charge of offices as occasion required….Our experience was that young women operators were more to be relied upon than young men.”
Carnegie met President Abraham Lincoln, who occasionally visited the communications office where Carnegie worked, during the Civil War. Here, too, he was more impressed by the man’s mind than by his status. Carnegie wrote of Lincoln: “[I]ntellect shone through his eyes and illuminated his face to a degree which I have seldom or never seen in any other.”
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