Andrew Carnegie: Rags to Riches, Power to Peace (2015)

  |  Documentary

Andrew Carnegie: Rags to Riches, Power to Peace (2015) Poster

Andrew Carnegie: Rags to Riches, Power to Peace charts the story of a poor Scottish immigrant who became the richest man in the world. We examine how Carnegie's steel empire changed America... See full summary »



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Vicky Matthews

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3 September 2015 | l_rawjalaurence
| Moralistic Documentary Showing That Money Cannot Buy Everything
With Brian Cox narrating Carnegie's own words, this documentary (broadcast on BBC Scotland) depicted the inexorable rise to fame of a Scot who eventually became the world's richest man.

Born into poverty in Dunfermline, Scotland, Carnegie witnessed the experience of his father losing his job in the mills, the victim of mechanization. The family emigrated to the United States, where Carnegie's financial acumen ensured that he became very rich very quickly. Most of his fortune was established through steel in and around Pittsburgh.

Vicky Matthews' documentary skated over the details of Carnegie's early life; she was much more preoccupied with his philanthropic activities. Having made so much money, he firmly believed that it should be used for the betterment of the community. Never one just to give money away, he participated in schemes whereby he provided matching funds to anyone interested in establishing schemes for the public good - founding libraries and museums, for example. The documentary showed just how global the Carnegie name became; not only in the United States but in Europe as well.

Nonetheless Carnegie was also concerned to perpetuate his name. Having paid for and reconstructed a diplodocus dinosaur for his own museum in Pittsburgh, he funded several plaster copies of the same reptile to be distributed worldwide - in London's Natural History Museum, for example. He purchased a country estate in Skibo, in the Scottish Highlands, where he attracted most of Europe's rich and famous as guests, including King Edward VII of Great Britain.

And yet the documentary offered the clear suggestion that despite his wealth, Carnegie was something of a failure, especially in his initiatives to promote world peace. He funded conferences, and sponsored ex-President Theodore Roosevelt to arrange a meeting between King Edward VII and the Kaiser in Paris. Later on he built a peace building in The Hague, and funded several committees dedicated to promoting harmony. All these initiatives failed to prevent the outbreak of World War I. Partly this was due to self- interest (especially on Roosevelt's part), and partly - although it was not overtly suggested in the documentary - because Carnegie misunderstood the zeitgeist that prompted the outbreak of war. He died a rich yet disappointed man.

Most of the interviewees in this documentary drew attention to Carnegie's benevolent nature, but one could not help but conclude that despite his initiatives, money cannot buy everything, especially when different personalities from different cultures are involved.

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