At the age of 14 Carnegie became a messenger boy in the Pittsburgh telegraph office, and 2 years later a telegraph operator. So quickly did he improve himself that at 18 Thomas A. Scott, superintendent of the western division of the Pennsylvania Railroad, made Carnegie his secretary at $35 a month, soon raised to $50—a large enough salary to buy a house for his mother.
Carnegie stayed with the Pennsylvania Railroad until 1865, by which time he was a young man of real means. During the Civil War, when Scott was named assistant secretary of war in charge of transportation, Carnegie went to Washington to act as Scott’s right-hand man and to organize the military telegraph system. But Carnegie soon was back in Pittsburgh, succeeding Scott as head of the Pennsylvania’s western division. He was one of the backers of the Woodruff Sleeping Car Company, the original holder of the Pullman patents, and also bought into a successful petroleum company. He became a silent partner in a number of local small iron mills and factories; the most important was the Keystone Bridge Company, formed in 1863, of which he owned a one-fifth share.