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Carnegie

The gift of knowledge, his legacy still thrives.



Andrew Carnegie was a Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist who provided for over 2,509 Carnegie libraries, built between 1883 and 1929.


He donated $56 million to build the 2,509 libraries throughout the world including 1,679 new library buildings across America. A typical Carnegie grant was about $10,000 — approximately $650,000 in today's dollars.

Many Americans first sought the worlds of information and imagination offered by reading when they walked through the doors of a Carnegie library. One of 19th-century industrialist Andrew Carnegie’s many philanthropies, these libraries entertained and educated millions. Between 1886 and 1919, He donated nearly 90 percent of the fortune he accumulated through the railroad and steel industries.


Books and libraries were important to Carnegie, from his early childhood in Scotland and his teen years in Allegheny/Pittsburgh. There he listened to readings and discussions of books from the Tradesman's Subscription Library.

Nearly all of Carnegie's libraries were built according to "a specific formula," requiring financial commitments for maintenance and operation from the town that received the donation. Carnegie required public support rather than making endowments because, as he wrote:


"An endowed institution is liable to become the prey of a clique. The public ceases to take interest in it, or, rather, never acquires interest in it. The rule has been violated which requires the recipients to help themselves. Everything has been done for the community instead of its being only helped to help itself.”


Carnegie required the elected officials—the local government—to:

  • demonstrate the need for a public library;

  • provide the building site;

  • pay staff and maintain the library;

  • draw from public funds to run the library—not use only private donations;

  • annually provide ten percent of the cost of the library's construction to support its operation; and,

  • provide free service to all.

Imagine, his gift to the people supplied knowledge to millions worldwide due to his generosity.


Beginning in 1899, Carnegie's foundation funded a dramatic increase in the number of libraries. This coincided with the rise of women's clubs in the post-Civil War period. They primarily took the lead in organizing local efforts to establish libraries, including long-term fundraising and lobbying within their communities to support operations and collections. They led the establishment of 75–80 percent of the libraries in communities across the country.


Carnegie's personal experience as an immigrant, who, with help from others, worked his way and became wealthy, reinforced his belief in a society based on merit, where anyone who worked hard could become successful. This conviction was a major element of his philosophy of giving; in general, his libraries were the best-known expression of this philanthropic.


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