Part 3b: Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie

Rockefeller seems to have taken his cue about how to deal with the workers from how Andrew Carnegie dealt with his. In an article about exploitation in the United States, sociologist Charles Perrow cites a statistic from historian Herbert G. Gutman: “Nearly 25% of the recent immigrants employed at the Carnegie South Works were injured or killed each year between 1907 and 1910, 3,723 in all.”[18] Carnegie also paid almost nothing to his workers, and reduced their salaries and added hours to their working day whenever he could get away with it, meanwhile making untold millions of dollars in profits.

“The Carnegie Steel Company was making net profits of 17.2 percent in 1891 when it proposed a severe reduction in wages and sustained a strike. The strike in 1892 reduced its profits to only 16 percent for that year. Wages continued to go down after the strike, and in some mills, in order to keep the same wage, those working only 8 hours had to work 12 hours. In 1907, a year of ‘unexampled prosperity’ in the industry, one plant that was surveyed showed 71 percent of the workers receiving $2.50 a day or less. (It was generally agreed that a family of four needed nearly twice that much to survive.) After Carnegie broke the union in 1892, he ‘thereafter began to introduce the 12-hour day wherever possible.’”[19]

The way Carnegie “broke the union” in the Homestead Mill in 1892 was by shooting at his workers. The workers were asking for better salaries but, despite the fact that the union was willing to negotiate, Henry Clay Frick, Carnegie’s partner and enforcer, following his orders, closed the mill and left 3,800 men outside. When in reaction the workers took the mill in order to prevent strikebreakers to enter, Frick brought Pinkerton Agency mercenaries and there raged a bloody battle that lasted several hours. The National Guard of the State of Pennsylvania was sent to assist Carnegie against his workers, and the union was broken.[20] “When he heard that Frick had ordered strikers at Carnegie’s Homestead steelworks shot down, John D. [Rockefeller] had immediately fired off a telegram of support to the coke magnate.”[21]

For Carnegie, as for Rockefeller, the pseudo-scientific eugenics platform was attractive as a way to put troublesome workers in jail without the nasty public relations consequences of armed combat. In 1901 he sold his steel interests to J.P. Morgan for $400 million and thereafter used his fabulous fortune to propel the eugenics movement through the Carnegie Institution, an “entity so wealthy that in 1904, Washington agreed to reincorporate the charity by special act of Congress, chartering the new name ‘Carnegie Institution of Washington.’ This made the Carnegie Institution a joint incarnation of the steel man’s money and the United States government’s cachet.”[22] Under biologist Charles Davenport’s directorship, “on January 19, 1904, the Carnegie Institution inaugurated what it called the Station for Experimental Evolution of the Carnegie Institution at Cold Spring Harbor [New York].”[23] It is from here that Davenport and his right-hand man Harry Laughlin would throw their weight, with Carnegie’s millions, to transform the landscape of the United States in the image of their eugenic vision.

Edwin Black points out that, “from the start, the trustees of the Carnegie Institution understood that Davenport’s plan was a turning-point plan for racial breeding.”[24] One of those trustees was Elihu Root, then Secretary of War. [25] Elihu Root would also be one of the early leaders of the Council on Foreign Relations.[26]

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