Features - Vignettes - April 9, 2000

Bob Van Atta
Andrew Carnegie was so much more than a businessman

By Robert B. Van Atta

A century after his height of international steelmaking fame, Andrew Carnegie is best known for his libraries and other cultural and educational benefactions.

Born in 1835 in Scotland, his family came to the United States in 1848 and settled in what is now Pittsburgh's North Side. There, he worked as a bobbin boy in a cotton mill first, then became a telegrapher.

As such, Carnegie served at Greensburg for a short time in the early 1850s, where he received his library inspiration. Next came a stint with the Pennsylvania Railroad, where he became a superintendent at an early age. He also was quite involved in security sales from which he gleaned money for investment.

As early as 1861 when excitement began in the Oil City area, his investments in the oil business were quite successful. He moved into steel and an association with Henry Clay Frick.

By 1900, his Carnegie Steel Company made about one-fourth of the nation's steel. It became part of U.S. Steel in 1901.

A serious writer throughout his life, Carnegie as a youth had aspired to be a newspaper reporter. Instead, he became the first American businessman to become a writer, and without using a ghost writer, penned a number of books, even including one on travel.

His first "considerable" gift was a natural history collection to what is now the University of Pittsburgh, shortly after the Civil War. Carnegie's benefactions included a large number of libraries, many to education (such as what became Carnegie Mellon), and a wide range of cultural operations (including Carnegie Hall in New York).

By the time of his death in 1919, Carnegie had given away $311 million, at a time when the value of money was much more than a century later.


As the Civil War moved along through the events cited in last Sunday's Vignettes, two major scares occurred in 1863. Other effects included college reactions as a part of the historical perspective.

Two Pittsburgh installations were principal Union suppliers. The Fort Pitt foundry on 28th Street was one of the most prominent makers of cannon and large guns. In addition to making Naval guns, it furnished almost 3,000 cannons and big guns for the Army.

The federal arsenal in the Lawrenceville section of the city, built in 1814, was a key supplier of ammunition. Furnishing the Army of the West primarily, it employed as many as 1,200.

However, on Sept. 17, 1862, a tragic explosion at its ammunition laboratory killed 78, mostly 16- to 20-year-old girls. Twice that number were injured. A spark apparently ignited powder dust under quite dry conditions, starting a fire which spread to ammunition stocks.

Various colleges felt war effects. Penn State (then Agricultural College of Pennsylvania) had so many faculty and students enlisting in a major exodus. It caused virtual suspension of classes for several months.

Some southern students were "marooned" at St. Vincent College. At one time, they raised a Confederate battle flag over the college, causing local farmers to descend wrathfully on the school.

One action at Pitt (then Western University of Pennsylvania) was a force of 90 students, which joined in wielding picks and shovels in making fortifications and digging trenches during the 1863 invasion scares. By the time the threat receded, 12 miles of entrenchments crowned Bloomfield, Stanton Heights, Mt. Washington and Herron Hill.

The scares came from two directions. Just prior to the battle at Gettysburg, a Confederate force of about 3,000 pushed west from Chambersburg and Mercersburg toward Altoona, as it turned out. The apparent target was the railroad through the mountains, in an effort to disrupt shipments. The effort, however, was abandoned.

A few weeks later, a raid by Gen. John H. Morgan's Confederate cavalry through the Ohio River valley triggered other response. Many citizens' groups in the southwest corner of the state organized to meet that perceived threat as the troops reached toward Morgantown.

The ultimate target in that vicinity was also disruption of railroad shipments, this time on the Baltimore & Ohio which then went around the corner of Pennsylvania.

These threats caused various reactions. One night, a group of local "minutemen" were scouting south of Waynesburg when they spotted a band of mounted troops ahead of them. The patrol reversed itself and rode frantically through Waynesburg to Washington warning that "Morgan was coming."

This caused a panic, but the troops turned out to be simply another local patrol.

Throughout the area east of Pittsburgh, farmers hid horses and cattle in deep ravines, merchants concealed goods in barns and coal mines, and citizens buried valuables.

At West Newton, the town formed a company to protect the town, headed by 84-year-old Gen. Joseph Markle.

Along what is now Route 31 in East Huntingdon Township, a group of cavalrymen was seen coming across a hill. A school teacher, fearing they were Confederates, dismissed the students and told them to run for their lives. They turned out to be Union soldiers trying to rejoin their unit.

A Greensburg church pastor, who strongly supported the Union, did so with a heavily burdened heart. He had taught school and studied theology in the Virginia Confederacy. He preached for a number of years in the Shenandoah Valley, and was a college president there. He married his wife and raised his children in the Confederacy.

A newspaper, the Westmoreland Argus at Greensburg, had a small headline at the bottom of the front page of its April 12, 1865, edition, "General Lee Surrenders." On an inside page of that issue, there was another headline, "Assassination of President Lincoln."

Four buddies from McKeesport stationed at Washington, D.C., went to Ford's Theater for an evening's entertainment. During that performance, President Abraham Lincoln was shot there. They carried him out of the theater to a house across the street, and remained until a doctor told them it was fatal, after which they returned to camp.

The assassination prematurely ended the great celebration that had erupted at war's end in southwestern Pennsylvania and the Union north.


An early southwestern Pennsylvania industry of prominence was copper manufacturing, particularly during the first two-thirds of the 19th century, centered in Allegheny County.

The prime users of the manufactured copper were makers of stills for distilleries, piping for steamboats when Pittsburgh was a boatbuilding center, and cooking kettles.

The copper ore was mined in the Lake Superior region.

In addition to Pittsburgh plants, other works were at McKeesport, Tarentum, Braddock and other towns.


The first telegraphic dispatch over the Allegheny Mountains was sent from Pittsburgh to the president of the United Stats in 1846 by the Pennsylvania adjutant general.

Gen. G.W. Bowman was at the time engaged in getting state volunteers to the Mexican war site. From the headquarters of the Pennsylvania militia at Pittsburgh, on Dec. 29 at 3 p.m., he sent this message:

"The compliments of Adjutant General Bowman to His Excellency James K. Polk, President of the United States. The Second Pennsylvania Regiment will be organized and ready to leave this place (Pittsburgh) by the sixth of January.

"The weather is mild and the river in good order. I have the honor conferred on me of making the first communication by telegraph west of the Allegheny Mountains, to the President of the United States, over the Atlantic & Ohio Telegraph line."

The Second Pennsylvania Regiment, which included men from Allegheny and other counties, was commanded by Col. William B. Roberts, with Lt. Col. John W. Geary as second in command. Geary, from Mt. Pleasant, achieved many military and political honors, among them later serving as governor of Pennsylvania.

The regiment went downriver to New Orleans, where it joined the First Pennsylvania Regiment. The units saw action at Vera Cruz, Cerro Gordo (where a smallpox epidemic hit them), Puebla (where Roberts was killed), and in the decisive actions around Mexico City in the late summer of 1847.


April 9 has been relatively quiet in regional history.

Coal Center in Washington County in 1834 and Parnassus in Westmoreland County in 1872 were incorporations of new boroughs.

And at Greensburg, Westmoreland Home for the Aged was established in 1915.


The 1930s were golden years for Pittsburgh major college football as Pitt, Carnegie Tech and Duquesne all appeared in the relatively few major bowls then. The combined seasons of 1932 and 1933 found the three compiling a total record of 41 victories, 10 losses, and seven ties.

During that two-year period, in regular season play, Pitt had only one loss, Duquesne three, and Tech six. The Tartans gleaned great joy, however, by defeating Notre Dame, 7-0, in a major 1933 upset.

Pitt's only regular season loss in two years was by 7-3 to Minnesota, although in 1932 another occurred at the hands of Southern California in the Rose Bowl.

A notable bowl win for Duquesne came after the 1933 season, a 33-7 conquest of Miami (Fla.) in the Orange Bowl.

Coaches then were Elmer Layden at Duquesne, Robert N. Waddell and Howard Harpster at Tech, and Dr. John B. (Jock) Sutherland for the Panthers.

Robert B. Van Atta is history editor of the Tribune-Review

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