The golden age family that gave it their all: carnegies

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Before Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates started pushing the world’s billionaires to give at least half of their fortune, one of the richest men of the 19th century wrote an essay with the hope it would inspire other industrialists to do the same.

It was the height of the Golden Age in 1889, and Andrew Carnegie, a pioneer in the steel industry, explained why he would donate most of his wealth – around $ 350 million (from worth around $ 4.8 billion today). The book, titled “The Gospel of Wealth” was published 125 years ago this summer, and further undermines Americans’ wobbly balance between capitalism and social responsibility.

“The man who dies rich dies in disgrace”, he wrote now famous.

This is the reason why the Carnegie clan is not on the new Forbes list of Richest families in America. On Andrew’s death in 1919, he left his wife his personal belongings, a small cash gift, and their property, which was a Manhattan townhouse and their vacation home in Scotland, Skibo Castle. His only daughter, Margaret, received a small trust and they eventually had to sell the townhouse due to its expensive upkeep, biographer David Nasaw said.

“He left them enough money to be comfortable, but never as much as the children of his fellow thief barons, who lived in immense luxury,” Nasaw said in a telephone interview. “Money and power have been passed down from generation to generation. That wasn’t going to happen with the Carnegies.

It was an agreement they had agreed to long before his death. In fact, the Carnegies signed one of America’s first prenuptial agreements, which detailed the terms of the inheritance. This paved the way for Andrew to endow 200 libraries, the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) and the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Little remains of Andrew’s fortune, which was once valued on par with oil mogul Rockefeller and banking family Morgan. The 13 fourth generation members of Andrew Carnegie’s lineage now have the self-taught wealth of white collar workers. Their children and grandchildren form a great fifth generation and a growing sixth.

Linda Thorell Hills, one of Andrew Carnegie’s great-granddaughters, said her family had “lived in a conservative and private way,” noting that it was easier to blend in since they are all descendants of her only daughter and none living with the Carnegie surname. Still, she said they were emboldened by her legacy.

“Making your own way in life is a healthy way to be,” Thorell Hills said. “Our family was raised very much with the philosophy that our own individual lives are what we make of them.”

Born in Scotland to poor weavers, Carnegie immigrated with his parents to a poor Pennsylvania town in 1848. His story begins eerily similar to countless immigrant tales of his time: according to his autobiography, at age 13 he began his history. first job, earning $ 1.20 per week changing spools of thread in a Pittsburgh cotton mill. He worked six days a week and times were still tough.

Soon that story took a turn that would soon make him one of the richest in America. He invested in railroads and spent time as a bond seller. He then formed Carnegie Steel, and sold it to JP Morgan in 1901 for $ 480 million (which today would be close to $ 13 billion).

The same year,

JP Morgan
founded US Steel and became the first company in the world to have a market capitalization of over $ 1 billion. Yet unlike many others on Forbes’ list of America’s Richest Families, Carnegie did not leave his descendants with a stake in the business he helped build. It is now traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

Ironically, Andrew’s brother Thomas took a more traditional approach to inheritance. When he died at the age of 42, his will divided his multi-million dollar industrial estate fortune between his wife and nine children. Each received a trust fund of around $ 10 million, according to several descendants.

But that wealth has now also dried up, the descendants added. The crown jewel of Thomas’ estate was Cumberland Island off the coast of Georgia, which Thomas purchased in the early 1880s. This is where the extended family lived and the others came on vacation to large mansions. wooden tables filled with antique furniture and fine china. Some Rockefellers also lived there, after the marriage of a few Carnegies.

Thomas Carnegie, 12, with his older brother, Andrew. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By the second generation, the vestiges of the golden age were almost gone. Now the parents had to say goodbye to the island. Many began donating their land to the National Park Service in the 1970s because, in part, they did not have the money to continue the maintenance.

“We had the island and that’s it,” said fifth generation descendant Lucy Foster Flight. “The money is not there. We have all done our things separately, and made our own money or not. “

A few dozen still live there and their plots will return to the government when they die. Despite the disturbing gradual demise, this is still where family gathers for reunions and vacations like Thanksgiving. “There is this misnomer that we are this really wealthy family and we believe we have a right to be on the island. It’s really difficult because it’s our home, ”added Foster Flight.

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