In the mid 19th Century, a vulnerable family from Dunfermline stood on the banks of the Clyde in Glasgow gazing up at an 800-ton ship named Wiscasset. The ship’s name came from the Abenaki word which translates to “coming out from the harbour but you don't see where.”

The swiftly evolving industrial economy of Scotland at this time was grim for this family and countless Scots. It was with this backdrop of trial that the fledgling but resilient family sold most of their modest possessions to finance a bold passage to America to escape the grip of abject poverty.

The Wiscasset was a fitting name representing the unknown future the family faced when leaving Scotland in 1848. They stepped on board with anxiousness, courage, hope, and a binding love for each other. The anchors were lifted, and the great ship gradually edged out from the Broomielaw of Glasgow for the arduous Atlantic crossing. The parents’ names were Margaret and Will, and their sons were Andrew and Tom. Their proud surname was Carnegie.

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After the harrowing journey that spanned weeks, the Carnegies arrived in New York City. This long passage was the path of many immigrants during this period and in eras to come. In the late 1840s, New York was beginning to see a significant increase of Irish, German, and Italian immigrants who like the Carnegies were fleeing poverty and social instability.

What soon developed for so many immigrants was another storm that threatened to extinguish their flame of hope. They lived in slums where unhealthy conditions led to rampant disease, and the working conditions cast a shadow over their spirit of optimism.

Still, the city was brimming with energy. These brave immigrants sensed that vigour. They persevered, searching deep within themselves, pulled from their talents as they honoured their heritage. What resulted was that they carved a way of life with their courageous hands – a lasting sculpture of fortitude for generations to admire.

When Andrew Carnegie first arrived in New York he was a still a boy, but he was alert to all that surrounded him. He later wrote of that first impression of New York as producing in him an overwhelming excitement. From that vigour of place, came a dynamism within the impressible Andrew that drove him throughout his life.

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Following a short time in New York, the Carnegie family moved up to Allegheny in Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh. Andrew and his father found work at a cotton mill that was owned by Scots. Andrew’s first job there was as a “bobbin boy.” It was strenuous work. He laboured 12 hours a day for $1.20 per week.

Of course, Andrew Carnegie became one of the most financially wealthy industrialists in American history.

The stories of his early days of family struggle in Scotland coupled with his love for his homeland, stuck with him. He would have closed his eyes as an elderly man, and distinctly remembered that day in Glasgow when his family boarded the ship. He was also fundamentally shaped by the obstacles, injustices, and opportunities of those early days as an immigrant.

Carnegie was morally passionate about what he called, “The Gospel of Wealth.” One of his and the Carnegie family’s richest legacies and gifts is the positive impact that has been bestowed on countless lives.

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He embodied that principal of giving back. In fact, he and his family were philanthropic trailblazers for uplifting those burdened by hardships, advancing the arts, building global understanding, and furthering innovation to improve lives. That Carnegie flame still burns brightly today. The Carnegie Corporation of New York which was personally established by Andrew Carnegie in 1911, is a remarkably enlightened institution.

The programmatic impact of the Carnegie Corporation stretches widely across initiatives around the world – varied programmes that are promoting thought, research, understanding, and peace.

The 13th President of the Carnegie Corporation, Dr Louise Richardson, is a person who exemplifies these values. Dr Richardson is an immigrant herself from Ireland, and also knows Scotland well, having effectively led a transformational term as principal and vice-chancellor of the University of St Andrews. The staff, too, are some of the most passionate, thoughtful, and skilled people you will meet.

We will not achieve the financial wealth of Andrew Carnegie. However, he would encourage all of us to remember that the greatest wealth that one can acquire in life has no monetary value. The wealthiest of hearts is the one filled with contentment and compassion.

And when our voyage leads to discovering that inner wealth, we become that much more enriched when selflessly giving much of it away in the form of kindness and treating others with dignity.

Ian Houston has spent his career as an advocate for diplomacy, trade, poverty alleviation, and intercultural dialogue. He promotes commercial, educational, artistic, and charitable linkages between Scotland, UK, and the US. He is an Honorary Professor at the University of the West of Scotland and honorary Lecturer at the University of Aberdeen. He is located in the Washington, DC area. His views are his own.