The Big Sandy Mountaineer -

Montana - One Person Who Influenced Early Development

 

July 17, 2019

The Carnegie Library in Fort Benton.

Montana has important economics based on mining and agriculture, which rely on movement of materials of a bulk nature extensively involving railroads. Up to the days of the 1908 Homestead Act, mining and ranching were key, but that was all changed primarily with the arrival of railroads in the 1880's. Before railroads, shipment of supplies to Montana was by river steamboat, which travel time took months, or by wagon with limited load capacity. None of the railroad expansion would have been economically possible without the invention and economic development of steel specifically for steel railroad rails.

The idea of using rails to support carriages started pre-1760 with the use of wooden rails. From 1760 to 1831, steel straps on wooden rails were used, but as loads got larger, wrought iron rails were used post 1831.

Modem steel was invented in about 1075 in Asia, using air blown through molten iron, but the process was always too expensive for large industrial use. In 1856, Sir Henry Bessemer in England patented a process of blowing air through molten iron on a commercial basis, thus removing unwanted excess carbon, producing a tough ductile material. This product had the potential of economically replacing wrought iron railroad rails that were subject to failure and cracking, causing safety concerns and high-maintenance costs.

Several companies attempted to refine The Bessemer Process and make it commercial, without much success. Finally, in 1872, Andrew Carnegie purchased use of Bessemer's patent and succeeded with refinements just in time for the need for steel rails for the westward railroad expansion of the 1800's. He reduced the cost of rail steel by a factor of five and effectively made railroad expansion to rural areas viable.

Who was the genius Andrew Carnegie who succeeded when so many others had failed over a period of hundreds of years? Born in 1835, Andrew Carnegie was a self-made man of the 1800's that rose from poverty as a Scottish immigrant to become the second wealthiest man in the U.S.A. Along the way he helped young people to advance. For Carnegie, one man let him use his library to study on Saturdays. This fueled his intense interest in education and search for knowledge. Self-taught, he learned the Morse code, invested in railroads, built bridges, and gained use of the Bessemer patent, key to producing rail steel for railroad westward expansion.

I find of most importance about Carnegie is his philosophy regarding the Path of Life, which is as follows:

- One-third of life should be spent on education.

- One-third of life should be spent earning money.

- One-third of life should be spent on philanthropy and helping others.

Carnegie spent much of his fortune, estimated in the billions of today's dollars, on his beloved libraries throughout the United States; libraries estimated to be 2,500 in number. My birth town of Fort Benton, Montana received one of these libraries, one of seventeen in the state. The seventeen Montana libraries were partially funded from 1901 to 1918 and twelve are still functioning. Libraries were located in Big Timber, Bozeman, Chinook, Dillon, Fort Benton, Glasgow, Great Falls, Hamilton, Hardin, Havre, Kalispell, Lewistown, Livingston, Malta, Miles City, Missoula, and Red Lodge. I personally used the Fort Benton Carnegie Library in the 1950's for research on the Lewis and Clark Expedition and still periodically take advantage of its services.

 
 

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