When we think of an iron mine, we naturally picture subterranean caverns and galleries, and strange, gnome-like creatures prowling about with pick and shovel and drill. But mining in this section is a much simpler proceeding. The precious mineral does not lie concealed deep within the earth; it lies practically upon the surface. Removing it is not a question of blasting with dynamite; it is merely a matter of lifting it from the surface of the earth with a huge steam shovel. "Miners" in Minnesota have none of the conventional aspects of their trade. They operate precisely as did those who dug the Panama Canal. The railroad cars run closely to the gigantic red pit. A huge steam shovel opens its jaws, descends into an open amphitheater, licks up five tons at each mouthful, and, swinging sideways over the open cars, neatly deposits its booty. It is not surprising that ore can be produced at lower cost in the United States than even in those countries where the most wretched wages are paid. Evidently this one iron field, to say nothing of others already worked, gives a permanence to our steel industry.
Not only did America have the material resources; what is even more important, she had also the men. American industrial history presents few groups more brilliant, more resourceful, and more picturesque than that which, in the early seventies, started to turn these Minnesota ore fields into steel--and into gold. These men had all the dash, all the venturesomeness, all the speculative and even the gambling instinct, needed for one of the greatest industrial adventures in our annals. All had sprung from the simplest and humblest origins. They had served their business apprenticeships as grocery clerks, errand boys, telegraph messengers, and newspaper gamins. For the most part they had spent their boyhood together, had played with each other as children, had attended the same Sunday schools, had sung in the same church choirs, and, as young men, had quarreled with each other over their sweethearts. The Pittsburgh group comprised about forty men, most of whom retired as millionaires, though their names for the most part signify little to the present-day American. Kloman, Coleman, McCandless, Shinn, Stewart, Jones, Vandervoort--are all important men in the history of American steel. Thomas A. Scott and J. Edgar Thompson, men associated chiefly with the creation of the Pennsylvania Railroad, also made their contributions. But three or four men towered so preeminently above their associates that today when we think of the human agencies that constructed this mighty edifice, the names that insistently come to mind are those of Carnegie, Phipps, Frick, and Schwab.
Books have been written to discredit Carnegie's work and to picture him as the man who has stolen success from the labor of greater men. Yet Carnegie is the one member of a brilliant company who had the indispensable quality of genius. He had none of the plodding, painstaking qualities of a Rockefeller; he had the fire, the restlessness, the keen relish for adventure, and the imagination that leaped far in advance of his competitors which we find so conspicuous in the older Vanderbilt. Carnegie showed these qualities from his earliest days. Driven as a child from his Scottish home by hunger, never having gone to school after twelve, he found himself, at the age of thirteen, living in a miserable hut in Allegheny, earning a dollar and twenty cents a week as bobbin-boy in a cotton mill, while his mother augmented the family income by taking in washing. Half a dozen years later Thomas Scott, President of the Pennsylvania Railroad, made Carnegie his private secretary. How well the young man used his opportunities in this occupation appeared afterward when he turned his wide acquaintanceship among railroad men to practical use in the steel business. It was this personal adaptability, indeed, that explains Carnegie's success. In the narrow, methodical sense he was not a business man at all; he knew and cared nothing for its dull routine and its labyrinthine details. As a practical steel man his position is a negligible one.