“The man who dies rich, dies disgraced,” he now-famously wrote.
That’s the reason the Carnegie clan isn’t on the new Forbes list of America’s Richest Families. When Andrew died in 1919, he left his wife her personal assets, a small cash gift and their property, which was a Manhattan townhouse and their holiday home in Scotland, Skibo Castle. His only daughter, Margaret, received a small trust, and eventually they had to sell the townhome due to its costly upkeep, biographer David Nasaw said.
“He left them enough money that they would be comfortable, but never as much money as the children of his fellow robber barons, who lived in enormous luxury,” Nasaw said in a phone interview. “Money and power were handed down from generation to generation. That wasn’t going to happen with the Carnegies.”
It was a deal they had agreed to long before he died. In fact, the Carnegies signed one of America’s first prenuptial agreements, which detailed the terms of the inheritance. That 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.
Barely anything is left of Andrew’s fortune, which was once valued on par with the oil tycoon Rockefellers and the banking Morgan family. The 13 fourth-generation members of Andrew Carnegie’s lineage now have the self-made wealth of white collar professionals. Their children and grandchildren make up a large fifth generation and a growing sixth.
Linda Thorell Hills, one of Andrew Carnegie’s great granddaughters, said her family has “lived conservatively and privately,” noting that it is easier to blend in since they are all descendants of his only daughter and none live with the Carnegie last name. Still, she said they’re emboldened by his legacy.
“Making one’s own way in life is a healthy way to be,” Thorell Hills said. “Our family has been very much raised 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 an impoverished town in Pennsylvania in 1848. His story starts out sounding eerily similar to countless immigrant tales of his time: According to his autobiography, at 13 years-old, he begun his first job, earning $1.20 a week to change spools of thread in a Pittsburgh cotton factory. He worked six days a week, and times were still hard.
Soon, that story took a turn that would soon make him one of the richest in America. He invested in the railroads, and spent time as a bond salesman. He then formed Carnegie Steel, and sold it to JP Morgan in 1901 for $480 million (what today would be nearing $13 billion).
The same year, J.P. Morgan founded U.S. Steel, and it became the world’s first company to have a market capitalization of more than $1 billion. Yet unlike many on Forbes’s Richest Families in America list, Carnegie did not leave his descendants with a stake in the company he helped build. It now trades on the New York Stock Exchange.
Ironically, Andrew’s brother Thomas went with a more traditional approach to inheritance. When he died at age 42, his will divvied up his multimillion-dollar industrialist fortune between his wife and nine children. Each received a trust fund of about $10 million, several descendants say.
But that wealth has now also dried up, the descendants added. The crown jewel of Thomas’s estate was Cumberland Island off Georgia’s coast, which Thomas bought in the early 1880s. It was there that the extended family lived and the rest came to vacation in large wooden mansions filled with antique furniture and fine china. Some Rockefellers lived there as well, after a few Carnegies married in.
“We had the island and that’s it,” said fifth-generation descendant Lucy Foster Flight. “The money isn’t there. We’ve all done our separate things, and made our own money or not.”
A few dozen still live there, and their plots will go to the government when they die. Despite the ominous phasing out, it continues to be where the family congregates for reunions and holidays like Thanksgiving. “There’s this misnomer that we’re this really rich family and feel that we’re owed the right to be on the island. It’s really hard because that’s our home,” Foster Flight added.
source: forbes.com by Chloe Sorvino