Andrew Carnegie

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Andrew Carnegie : biography

November 25, 1835 – August 11, 1919

Controversies

1889: Johnstown Flood

Carnegie was one of more than 50 members of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, which has been blamed for the Johnstown Flood that killed 2,209 people in 1889.Frank, Walter Smoter (2004). "The Cause of the Johnstown Flood". Walter Smoter Frank. According to the source, the article is a version of a May 1988 article in Civil Engineering, pp. 63–66

At the suggestion of his friend Benjamin Ruff, Carnegie’s partner Henry Clay Frick had formed the exclusive South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club high above Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The sixty-odd club members were the leading business tycoons of Western Pennsylvania and included among their number Frick’s best friend, Andrew Mellon, his attorneys Philander Knox and James Hay Reed, as well as Frick’s business partner, Carnegie. High above the city, near the small town of South Fork, the South Fork Dam was originally built between 1838 and 1853 by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as part of a canal system to be used as a reservoir for a canal basin in Johnstown. With the coming-of-age of railroads superseding canal barge transport, the lake was abandoned by the Commonwealth, sold to the Pennsylvania Railroad, and sold again to private interests and eventually came to be owned by the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club in 1881. Prior to the flood, speculators had purchased the abandoned reservoir, made less than well-engineered repairs to the old dam, raised the lake level, built cottages and a clubhouse, and created the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club. Less than 20 miles downstream from the dam sat the city of Johnstown.

The dam was 72 feet (22 m) high and 931 feet (284 m) long. Between 1881 when the club was opened, and 1889, the dam frequently sprang leaks and was patched, mostly with mud and straw. Additionally, a previous owner removed and sold for scrap the 3 cast iron discharge pipes that previously allowed a controlled release of water. There had been some speculation as to the dam’s integrity, and concerns had been raised by the head of the Cambria Iron Works downstream in Johnstown. Such repair work, a reduction in height, and unusually high snowmelt and heavy spring rains combined to cause the dam to give way on May 31, 1889 resulting in twenty million tons of water sweeping down the valley causing the Johnstown Flood.David McCullough, "The Johnstown Flood", (1968) When word of the dam’s failure was telegraphed to Pittsburgh, Frick and other members of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club gathered to form the Pittsburgh Relief Committee for assistance to the flood victims as well as determining never to speak publicly about the club or the flood. This strategy was a success, and Knox and Reed were able to fend off all lawsuits that would have placed blame upon the club’s members.

Although Cambria Iron and Steel’s facilities were heavily damaged by the flood, they returned to full production within a year. After the flood, Carnegie built Johnstown a new library to replace the one built by Cambria’s chief legal counsel Cyrus Elder, which was destroyed in the flood. The Carnegie-donated library is now owned by the Johnstown Area Heritage Association, and houses the Flood Museum.

1892: Homestead Strike

The Homestead Strike was a bloody labor confrontation lasting 143 days in 1892, one of the most serious in U.S. history. The conflict was centered on Carnegie Steel’s main plant in Homestead, Pennsylvania, and grew out of a dispute between the National Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers of the United States and the Carnegie Steel Company.

Carnegie left on a trip to Scotland before the unrest peaked. In doing so, Carnegie left mediation of the dispute in the hands of his associate and partner Henry Clay Frick. Frick was well known in industrial circles for maintaining staunch anti-union sensibilities.

After a recent increase in profits by 60%, the company refused to raise workers’ pay by more than 30%. When some of the workers demanded the full 60%, management locked the union out. Workers considered the stoppage a "lockout" by management and not a "strike" by workers. As such, the workers would have been well within their rights to protest, and subsequent government action would have been a set of criminal procedures designed to crush what was seen as a pivotal demonstration of the growing labor rights movement, strongly opposed by management. Frick brought in thousands of strikebreakers to work the steel mills and Pinkerton agents to safeguard them.