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Carnegie, Andrew (1835-1919)

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An industrialist and philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie was born in Dumferline, Scotland, to William and Margaret Morrison Carnegie. Economic reverses led the family to emigrate in 1848 to Allegheny, Pennsylvania, where for $1.20 per week Andrew took a job as a bobbin boy in a textile factory. Hungry for knowledge, he also became the heaviest user of Colonel J. Anderson’s personal library, which was open to all Allegheny working boys. A year later, Carnegie hired on as a telegraph messenger boy, where he so distinguished himself that Thomas Scott, superintendent of the western division of the Pennsylvania Railroad, hired him as his personal telegrapher for $35 a month.

Under Scott, Carnegie learned business methods quickly, and when Scott became the general superintendent of the railroad in 1859, Carnegie took over the position of superintendent of the western division. The new salary enabled Carnegie to expand his investments, all of which turned substantial profits. In 1865, he resigned from the railroad to devote full attention to his growing business interests. When investments generated a comfortable income, he wrote himself a note in 1868: “Thirty-three and an income of $50,000 [sic] per annum.… Beyond this never earn—make no effort to increase fortune, but spend surplus each year for benovolent [sic] purposes.” For the next twenty years, he generally ignored this commitment while he built a huge fortune in the steel industry.

In 1887, Carnegie married Louise Whitfield, and they had one daughter (born in 1897). By the end of the 1880s, however, the sentiment expressed in his 1868 note began to gnaw on Carnegie’s conscience. In 1889, he published two essays in the North American Review outlining a “gospel of wealth” philosophy. Wealthy people, he said, had a responsibility to live moderately and give their excess wealth to needy people who would help themselves. In an essay entitled “The Best Fields for Philanthropy,” he specifically identified seven institutions worthy of attention: universities, public libraries, medical centers, public parks and arboretums, concert halls, public swimming pools and baths, and churches. (Carnegie had foreshadowed some of these priorities earlier in the decade with gifts of a library and swimming bath to Dumferline, a library to Braddock, Pennsylvania, and an organ to an Allegheny church.) Much of this rhetoric, however, was tarnished by the Homestead Strike of 1892, in which seven steelworkers lost their lives in a fight with Pinker-ton detectives who had been hired to help Carnegie break the union.

After selling his steel interests to J. P. Morgan for nearly $500 million in 1901, Carnegie turned his full attention to implementing his gospel of wealth. By the time of his death eighteen years later, he had donated more than $333 million to underwrite such causes and organizations as the Simplified Spelling Board, 7,689 church organs, the Carnegie Hero Fund, the Church Peace Union, the Carnegie Institute of Pittsburgh (which included an art gallery, library, concert hall, and the Carnegie Institute of Technology), the Carnegie Institute of Washington, D.C., the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He also provided the money to construct the Pan American Union building in Washington, D.C. (to promote peace in the Western Hemisphere), a Court of Justice in Costa Rica (to arbitrate disputes between Central American countries), and The Hague Peace Palace in the Netherlands (to house the World Court). In 1911, Carnegie endowed the Carnegie Corporation with $125 million, and over time, he relinquished control of his philanthropy to the directors of the corporation.

Among all his philanthropic interests, Carnegie particularly liked libraries. He often boasted that around the world the sun always shone on at least one Carnegie library. Between 1890 and 1919, he donated $56 million to construct 2,811 libraries in the English-speaking world (including $41 million to construct 1,679 American public libraries in 1,412 communities and $4.3 million to erect 108 academic libraries in the United States). In 1917, Carnegie also donated the money to erect 36 libraries in camps located throughout the United States that trained soldiers for participation in World War I. The sheer size of Carnegie’s philanthropy generated a competition between communities to establish libraries; it also helped create a climate of giving that encouraged other library philanthropists.

A typical Carnegie grant first required communities to provide a suitable site for the library. Once that had been established, Carnegie would agree to donate a sum (usually $2.00 per capita of the local population) to be used in the erection of a building—as long as the community promised to fund the library annually at a rate of 10 percent of the original gift.

Not all communities welcomed Carnegie grants, however. In Wheeling, West Virginia, for example, local labor leaders who remembered the Homestead Strike of 1892 rejected efforts by city fathers to accept a grant. “There will be one place on this great green planet where Andrew Carnegie can’t get a monument with his money,” steel-worker Mike Mahoney told labor delegates at a meeting called to defeat the library levy in 1904. (Seven years later, Wheeling opened a public library with labor support, but without Carnegie money.) In scores of other communities, Carnegie grants were rejected for gender and race reasons. In some, the male elite rejected efforts by local ladies’ clubs to add yet another institutional responsibility to the local tax burden. In others (especially in the South), the local white elite worried that to accept a “free” library would force them to offer racially integrated services.

Communities that successfully solicited Carnegie grants were often inexperienced in library design and architecture. To address this problem, James Bertram, Carnegie’s private secretary, commissioned a set of six model library blueprints. In part, this had the effect of homogenizing public library architecture in small-to mediumsized communities. A typical classically designed Carnegie building required a library user to climb ten or more steps to enter through (usually) double doors. At that point she (the large majority of patrons were women and children) could turn left and descend to a lower level, where she generally found a restroom, heating plant, and meeting room available for community groups such as the local women’s club and the Rotary Club. If the patron chose not to descend to the lower level, she could step forward to the circulation desk. Located in the middle of an open space (and often under a dome), the U-shaped circulation desk stood waist high and functioned as the command post of the librarian. From behind the desk, the librarian (almost always a woman) could, without moving, look right and monitor activities in the children’s wing. The librarian could also look left into the adult reading room, where periodicals and newspapers were available. Behind the librarian were stacks filled with books that the American Library Association (ALA) had recommended in bibliographical guides (e.g., Booklist magazine, the ALA Catalog ). These guides were funded in part by the interest that accrued on a $100,000 endowment made by Carnegie in 1902.

After Carnegie’s death on August 11, 1919, in Lenox, Massachusetts, the Carnegie Corporation continued to favor most of his philanthropic interests, especially librarianship and higher education. The legacy of Carnegie’s philanthropy was significant. Organizations that he founded and institutions that he helped to build during his lifetime evolved into essential agencies for creating, acquiring, organizing, and disseminating multiple forms of communication and information.

Carnegie, Hattie - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Social and Economic Impact, Chronology: Hattie Carnegie [next] [back] Carnegie, Andrew - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Chronology: Andrew Carnegie, Social and Economic Impact

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