Andrew Carnegie, one of the world’s greatest philanthropists, was born in Scotland in 1835. His father, a handloom weaver, found it increasingly difficult to get work as Scottish factories grew, so in 1848 he brought his family to Allegheny (now Pittsburgh), Pennsylvania.
Carnegie first began working at the age of 12. A turning point in his life came when Colonel James Anderson opened his personal library to working boys. Largely self-educated through access to this library, Carnegie, through study, hard work and shrewd investments, became one of the premier industrialists of his time.
By 1873, Andrew Carnegie had recognized America ’s need for steel and, concentrating on steel production, he began his acquisition of firms which were later consolidated into the Carnegie Steel Company. By 1900, the Carnegie Steel Company produced one quarter of all the steel in the United States and controlled mines, ships and railroads. In 1901 the U.S. Steel Corporation was formed to buy Carnegie out. Carnegie had long been interested in selling and transferred the company for $250 million in bonds, then retired to devote himself to various philanthropic interests.
Andrew Carnegie took a keen interest in social and political issues and loved to promote his ideas and opinions in print. He was convinced that access to information was life’s key. He praised America ’s educational system, arguing that “Of all its boasts, of all its triumphs, this is at once its proudest and its best.” In 1889 he wrote an article which asserted that it was the duty of rich men and women to use their wealth to benefit the welfare of the community. He wrote that a “man who dies rich dies disgraced.”
Access to the private library of Colonel Anderson was fundamental to Carnegie’s own success in life—a success he wanted to see duplicated for everyone. His legacy lives on in the benefactions (totaling about $350 million) which established over 2,800 free public libraries in the United States, Great Britain, and Canada including the one in Stoughton, Wisconsin!