Original Document
Original Document
Andrew Carnegie's Start in the PRR Telegraph Office, 1892

Messrs. Carnegie, Oliver, Pitcairn, Mc-
Cargo and Moreland Were Youngsters
in a Pittsburg Telegraph Office Together–How They Were Promoted.

The story of five messenger boys begins in the early days of telegraphy. In a dingy office in Pittsburg about 1845, Andrew Carnegie, Henry W. Oliver, Robert Pitcairn, Major William C. Moreland and David McCargo were messengers. It is said that they took the opposite of other boys and spent their spare moments in learning useful lessons. Andrew Carnegie is the oldest of the lot, and he was the smartest, leading all in learning how to telegraph. He was one of the first operators in the country to learn to take the Morse system by sound, which in those days was considered a remarkable achievement. It did not take Thomas A. Scott long to snatch Mr. Carnegie from the telegraph office in Pittsburg into his office as private secretary when the great railroad genius took charge of the Pittsburg end of the road. The education the young Scotchman received from a greater mind lifted him from a secretary's seat into the place of division superintendent when Mr. Scott was made vice president of the railroad. The industry, the subtle cunning and watching faith of Scott taught him to lay his lines in other directions than watching the divisions of a railroad, and Scott helped him. His place gave him the opportunity to look into other lines of industry, and he drove a drift into an iron mill. His pickax was not large, but his cunning and thrift made up for the size of his ax. J. Edgar Thomson, who was the president of the Pennsylvania railroad, then gave a great name and money to the works now dominated by Mr. Carnegie. At that time Colonel Scott was a power in the nation as well as the railroad, and Carnegie began to gather wealth.


"My ambition in those days." he said recently, "was to write for newspapers. I took in material in that direction whenever it was possible. I haunted the public library in Allegheny and caught on to the fact that a distinction was made by the attendants between the poor boys and the sons of well to do parents. It made me indignant. I wrote my first public letter to the board of control, and a change was ordered. This result more than ever resolved me to follow journalism, but an accident drifted me elsewhere, and I became a manufacturer."

Thrift and industry were the derricks which lifted Harry W. Oliver out of the telegraph chair next to Mr. Carnegie and made him a clerk for a big iron firm. He is an Irishman, with a head full of cunning about the business economies of life. It did not take long for him to realize the possibilities of the iron trade, and one day a slick working block and tackle hoisted him out of his seat at the desk in the big firm's workshop and landed him in a business that has since grown to be one of the greatest concerns in the world. He has grown very rich and one railroad and seven manufacturing concerns now feel the touch of his hand.

Another Scotchman of the famous five is Robert Pitcairn, who sits in the seat once occupied by Colonel Tom Scott and Mr. Carnegie. He went from a telegraph chair into the railroad business, and he has been a master in all the best conditions of railroad life. He is many times a millionaire, but he lives for his railroad, although interested, like Mr. Oliver, in many large manufacturing enterprises. He does the work of about three men every day, and takes recreation only when he wants to talk with a big friend or indulge with his countrymen in the melodies of Scotland. He has denied himself promotion many times, because he likes to cling to the location where he began as a messenger boy and has had so many triumphs.


The fourth member of the group is David McCargo, the general manager of the Alleghany railroad. His strong Scotch character lifted him into big railway concerns early. He left the telegraph office soon after the other boys and took a place on the. railway.

"Think of it," said Major William P. Moreland, the last, but not least, of the famous five. "I stood at the key with Carnegie, Oliver, Pitcairn, McCargo, and heard the first message pass over the wires that was sent between the north and south. James D. Reid, who was general superintendent; David Brooks, now living in Philadelphia, and Jackson Duncan, of Cincinnati, had charge of the experiment. We had to work on short circuits in those days, and we thought it was impossible to send a message to New York from New Orleans. Brooks and Reid walked over and inspected the line from the Crescent City to Pittsburg. After arriving here and assuring themselves that the line was perfect, the effort was ordered and every telegraph operator on the line, and in fact the whole country, was waiting in suspense to know the success or failure of the effort. Every magnet was adjusted, and every electrician on the line stood at his key listening for the result. At the signal New York called Philadelphia, the Quaker City signaled Harrisburg, and then in quick succession Pittsburg, Cincinnati, Louisville and New Orleans were opened to the metropolis. No one drew a breath scarcely until the tick came, and in a minute an unbroken message was sent between the north and south. That may seem primitive in these days, when there is no measuring electric power: but then it was the talk of the nation. This is a bit of untold history; but I shall never forget that hour."
–New York Sun.

Andrew Carnegie
New York Sun
As reprinted in Woodland (Calif.) Daily Democrat,
Friday, January 16, 1892

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