Monday, July 21, 2008

Lasting Gifts From A Self Made Man

Andrew Carnegie was a Scottish born immigrant who came to America with his parents in 1848, at age 13. That same year, he got his first job - working as a bobbin boy in a spinning mill, twelve hours a day, six days a week. A self made man, by 1890 he was a "Captain of Industry" and owned and operated the largest and most profitable enterprise in the world, Pittsburgs's Carnegie Steel Company. In 1901, he sold it to J.P. Morgan, who created U.S. Steel.

Andrew Carnegie devoted the rest of his life to giving away his fortune. His interests were in education and scientific research and he untook the project of funding libraries around the world. Between 1883 and 1929, he funded over 2,500 libraries - 1,689 in America, 660 in Great Britain and Ireland, 156 in Canada and others in Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, Serbia and the Caribbean. Virtually anywhere that appied for a grant received funding.

Libraries were built in many styles, from Baroque to Spanish Colonial, and Italian Renaissance to Classical Revival. Most all had elaborate doorways, accessed by stairs, which symbolized man's elevation through learning, and all had lanterns or lightposts outside to symbolize enlightenment. His libraries were the first to feature open stacks, where a patron could browse the selections and choose interesting tomes. Prior to that, libraries had closed stacks where clerks retrieved books. Carnegie believed that anyone who worked hard could find success, and his libraries were a manifestation of that belief, as he strove to provide opportunity to those who would avail themselves of it.

The picture above is the entrance to the Avondale Branch of a Carnegie library in Cincinnati, Ohio. The portrait below of Andrew Carnegie was made in 1913, six years prior to his death at 83. His legacy lives on in Carnegie-Mellon University and his libraries from Maine to California and all around the world.

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