On March 12, 1901, Andrew Carnegie, one of the world’s foremost industrialists, offered the city of New York $5.2 million for the construction of sixty-five branch libraries. The Scottish immigrant’s fortune eventually would establish many more libraries and charitable foundations.
The man who enters a library is in the best society this world affords; the good and the great welcome him, surround him, and humbly ask to be allowed to become his servants…
Andrew Carnegie, excerpt from addressExternal at the dedication of The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, November 5, 1895
Born in 1835, Carnegie immigrated to the United States in 1848 with his parents. Working in American industry and making shrewd investments, he amassed a fortune before the age of thirty. In the 1870s, he noted the potential of the steel industry and founded J. Edgar Thomson Steel Works near Pittsburgh, which eventually evolved into the Carnegie Steel Company. The company boomed, and in 1901, Carnegie sold it to financier J. P. Morgan for $480 million, received $250 million as his personal share, and retired.
Carnegie devoted the rest of his life to writing and philanthropic activities. Believing that any accumulated wealth should be distributed in the form of public endowments, Carnegie founded 2,509 libraries in the English-speaking world, including ones in Michigan, New York, Ohio, Vermont, and Washington, D.C. He also established several trusts and helped found Carnegie Mellon University. At the time of his death in 1919, Carnegie had given away over $350 million.