Today I will profile the Man of Steel himself, Mr. Andrew Carnegie.  Carnegie is probably my all time favorite billionaire, as he donated much of his fortune to libraries.  Given that knowledge is power, libraries are a cornerstone of society and serve to improve the lives of future generations.  Those who donate to  libraries serve as a benefactor to many, but those who benefit must work (read) to reap the benefits of the gift.

Andrew Carnegie was born in 1835 in Scotland, where his father worked as a  weaver.  After falling on hard times, the family emigrated to Alleghany, Pennsylvania in 1848.  Carnegie was soon hard at work in a cotton mill.  A couple years later, he became a telegraph messenger boy, where his hard work caused him to rise quickly through the ranks of the Ohio Telegraph Company until he is the superintendent of the Pittsburgh branch of the company.  He moves on to work at Pennsylvania railroad and eventually becomes the superintendent of the company’s western region.

During his youth, Carnegie had the good fortune to be given some opportunities that others might not have enjoyed.  Colonel James Anderson allowed Carnegie and other boys to borrow books from his private library (which Andrew take great advantage of) and one of his bosses at the railroad company helped him with his first investments.  No doubt that Andrew remembered the help he had received, and that this was a basis for his philanthropic philosophy.

A large chunk of Carnegie’s early wealth was gained by investing in railroad-related companies.  After the civil war, Carnegie turned his energies to steel.  Carnegie Steel was able to efficiently mass produce steel rails from railroads and also controlled suppliers of all necessary raw materials.

Carnegie was an incredibly successful business man, but also found the time to write several books and contributed to several magazines.  He often wrote about social subjects.  While Carnegie always had philanthropic intentions, he began donating sizeable chunks of money in his 1840s, beginning first with gifts to his home town in Scotland.

In the 1883 the first “Carnegie Library” was opened in his home town of Dunfermline, Scotland.  Carnegie funded a total of 3000 libraries in the US, spread across 47 states.  He also funded libraries in foreign countries – in countries as close as Canada and as far away as Fiji.

The libraries, though, were just the tip of the iceberg.  He funded the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now part of Carnegie Mellon University) and, of course, Carnegie Hall.  He donated ten million dollars toward the construction of the Hooker Telescope at Mount Wilson.  He gave money to Booker T. Washington’s Tuskeegee Institute.  He funded construction 7000 church organs.  Perhaps most interestingly, he attempted to by independence for the people of the Philippines.  The United States had purchased the Philippines (along with Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Guam) for twenty million dollars at the end of the Spanish-American War.  Carnegie offered to pay the same amount to the US government in an effort to gain independence for the Philippines.  Unfortunately, his offer was not accepted, and the Philippine-American war resulted.

Andrew Carnegie was the second richest man in the world – second only to John Rockefeller of Standard Oil.  When he died, only a small fraction of his wealth remained – he had given the rest away during his lifetime.

Oh – the “small fraction” the remained … it was thirty million dollars … in 1919 dollars.  Not surprisingly, his estate was donated, as well.  Some of our current billionaires (such as Warren Buffet) do their best to follow in Carnegie’s footsteps.  Let’s hope that more of them join in the philanthropic works.

Wikipedia was a source of information for this article.

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Kosmo is the founder of The Soap Boxers and writes on a variety of topics. Many of his short stories have been collected into Kindle books.

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