The Philanthropy of Andrew Carnegie

When it comes to famous philanthropists, no one stands out quite like Andrew Carnegie. Retiring at the age of 66 as the world’s richest man, the Scottish-born industrialist is estimated to have given away over $350 million during his lifetime. 

Arriving in America in 1848 with his parents and younger brother, Andrew began his career as a bobbin boy in a cotton mill. Working through several jobs, he formed his first business in 1865, eventually creating the Carnegie Steel Company. Selling this company to J.P. Morgan for $480 million in 1901, he then dedicated the rest of his life to helping others. 

A Nation of Libraries 

From funding scientific research to establishing a pension for teachers, Carnegie’s philanthropy helped millions of people across the country and beyond. However, it is his contribution of $60 million to funding the building of 2,509 libraries worldwide that he is most remembered for. Of those, 1,795 were in the United States, and the others were built throughout Europe, South Africa, Barbados, Australia, and New Zealand. Carnegie’s funding earned him the nickname, the “Patron Saint of Libraries.”

The first Carnegie library was opened in 1883 in Scotland, based at Andrew’s birthplace of Dunfermline. The first commissioned in America was then established in his adoptive hometown of Alleghany, Pennsylvania (although the first to actually open was in Braddock, PA). 

Initially focusing on locations he had a personal interest in, he soon began receiving requests from municipalities across America. Andrew believed that the rich should give so that those less fortunate can improve their lives, once stating that a “man who dies rich, dies in disgrace.”

These Carnegie libraries were designed to be instruments of change, helping to serve the local community, becoming a necessary institution. 

A Lasting Legacy 

Carnegie’s legacy can still be seen today. Many of his libraries are still in use, with one of the most famous being the world-renowned New York Public Library system which is based in 31 Carnegie buildings. Alongside providing access to libraries, his many corporations are still dedicated to the principles of philanthropy and helping those less fortunate.