But probably the Carnegie Company's greatest achievement was the abolition of the middleman. In a few years it assembled all the essential elements of steel making in its own hands. Frick's entrance into the combination gave the concern an unlimited supply of the highest grade of coking coal. In a few years, the Carnegie interests had acquired great holdings in the Minnesota ore regions.
At first glance, the Pittsburgh region seems hardly the ideal place for the making of steel. Fortune first placed the industry there because all the raw materials, especially iron ore and coal, seemed to exist in abundance. But the discovery of the Minnesota ore field, which alone could supply this essential product in the amounts which the furnaces demanded, immediately deprived the Pittsburgh region of its chief advantage. As a result of this sudden development, the manufacturers of Pittsburgh awoke one morning and discovered that their ore was located a thousand miles away. To bring it to their converters necessitated a long voyage by water and rail, with several reloadings. They overcame these obstacles by developing machinery for handling ore and by acquiring the raw materials and the connecting links of transportation. Ore which had been lying in the wilds of Minnesota on Monday morning was thus brought to Pittsburgh and made into steel rails or bridges or structural shapes by Saturday night. The Carnegie Company first acquired sufficient mineral lands to furnish ore for several generations and organized an ore fleet which transported the products of the mines through the lakes to ports on Lake Erie, particularly Ashtabula and Conneaut. The purchase of the Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad, which extended from Conneaut to Pittsburgh, made this great transportation route complete. Besides freeing their business from uncertainty, this elimination of middlemen naturally produced great economies.
Probably Andrew Carnegie's shrewdness in naming his first plant the J. Edgar Thompson Steel Works, after the powerful President of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and in making Thompson and his associate Scott partners, had much to do with his early success. These two gentlemen conferred two priceless favors upon the struggling enterprise. They became large purchasers of steel rails and their influence in this direction extended far beyond the Pennsylvania Railroad. What was perhaps even more important, they gave the Carnegie concerns railroad rebates. The use of rebates, as a method of stifling competition and building up a great industrial prosperity, is an offense which the popular mind associates almost exclusively with the Standard Oil Company, yet the Carnegie fortune, as well as that of John D. Rockefeller, received an artificial stimulation of this kind.
Though incomparably the greatest of the American steel companies, the Carnegie Steel Company by no means monopolized the field. In forty years, indeed, an enormous steel area had grown up, including western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, practically all of it drawing its raw materials from those same teeming ore lands in the Lake Superior region. Johnstown, Youngstown, Cleveland, Lorain, Chicago, and Joliet, became headquarters of steel production almost as important as Pittsburgh itself. Two entirely new steel kingdoms, each with its own natural reservoirs of ore, grew up in Colorado and Alabama. The Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, which possessed apparently inexhaustible mineral lands in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, and California, itself produces not far from three million tons a year, almost half the present production of Great Britain. The Alabama steel country has developed in even more spectacular fashion. Birmingham, a hive of southern industry placed almost as if by magic in the leisurely cotton lands of the South, had no existence in 1870, when the Pittsburgh prosperity began. In the Civil War, the present site of a city with a population of 140,000 was merely a blacksmith shop in the fork of the roads.