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Andrew Carnegie: The Philanthropic Pioneer behind America's Libraries

Andrew Carnegie was a self-made industrialist who became one of the wealthiest men in America. Born into a working-class family in Scotland, Carnegie later migrated to the United States where he amassed his wealth through the steel industry. Very good and all, but what does that have to do with books? If you’ve spent much time around libraries you may have heard the name Carnegie thrown around a time or two. That’s because Andrew Carnegie was a philanthropist who significantly contributed to the establishment and expansion of American public libraries by donating millions of his wealth to build over 1,600 libraries across the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Carnegie's life story serves as an inspiring tale of rags to riches, yet it was his belief in the power of knowledge and education that set him apart from many of his contemporaries. Carnegie once declared,

A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.
- Andrew Carnegie

His commitment to this belief led to his monumental contributions to public libraries throughout America and around the world. In this article, we will explore the life of Andrew Carnegie, his incredible fortune, his contributions to the library system, and the enduring impact of his philanthropic efforts. Join us as we delve into the fascinating journey of this philanthropic pioneer!


Andrew Carnegie was born on November 25, 1835, in Dunfermline, Scotland. His parents were handloom weavers, a profession that was becoming increasingly redundant due to the advent of industrialization. Seeking better opportunities, the Carnegie family immigrated to Allegheny, Pennsylvania in 1848, where Andrew began his journey towards unprecedented financial success.

In the United States, Carnegie started his career as a bobbin boy in a cotton factory, earning a meager $1.20 per week. Despite the challenging circumstances, he didn't let his modest beginnings deter his ambitions. Carnegie's career trajectory took a dramatic turn when he took a job as a telegraph messenger and later as a telegraph operator at the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. He was a voracious reader, and it was his passion for learning that fueled his ambition.

He often frequented the private library of Colonel James Anderson, a local industrialist who opened his collection of 400 books to working boys. This access to knowledge profoundly influenced Carnegie, instilling in him a lifelong love for libraries.

His diligence, intelligence, and ability to make crucial decisions propelled him through the ranks, and by his early thirties, Carnegie had made his fortune in the railroad business.


Andrew Carnegie's wealth was a result of his strategic investments and his keen business acumen. His early investments in oil, ironworks, and railroads paved the way for his incredible wealth. However, it was his venture into the steel industry that catapulted him into the league of the richest men in America.

In the late 19th century, Carnegie started the Carnegie Steel Company, which rapidly became the largest and most profitable industrial company in the world. In 1901, he sold his company to J.P. Morgan for an astonishing $303 million, of which Carnegie’s share was worth $225 million, (about $7.9 billion today) making him one of the wealthiest individuals in the world.

However, Carnegie was not one to hoard his wealth. He firmly believed in the concept of the "Gospel of Wealth," a philosophy that argued that the rich have a moral obligation to distribute their wealth in ways that benefit society. True to his belief, Carnegie embarked on a journey of philanthropy, dedicating the remainder of his life to giving away his vast fortune.


Andrew Carnegie's philanthropic journey is most famously associated with his generous donations to public libraries, which is, of course, what we’re here to talk about. He believed that libraries were fundamental to self-improvement and societal progress. His first library donation was to his birthplace, Dunfermline, Scotland, in 1881. However, it was here in America where his contributions to libraries were the most profound.

Between 1883 and 1929, Carnegie funded the construction of 2,509 libraries across the globe, with 1,679 of them in the United States. Some of the most notable libraries donated by Carnegie include the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, the Carnegie Library of Homestead, and the Carnegie Library of Atlanta. Each of these libraries, some of which are pictured below, was designed with an open floor plan to allow for maximum light and space, reflecting Carnegie's belief in openness and access to knowledge for all.

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

The Carnegie Library of Homestead

Carnegie's requirements for communities wishing to receive a library were simple – provide the land and pledge to maintain the library through public funds. His approach not only provided communities with access to valuable resources but also fostered a sense of communal responsibility towards the preservation of knowledge and learning.


The impact of Andrew Carnegie's library donations is immeasurable. His libraries have touched countless lives by providing free access to knowledge and fostering a culture of learning. They have served as community centers, educational resources, and pillars of public service.

Carnegie's libraries democratized access to education and knowledge, breaking barriers of class and socioeconomic status. They have been instrumental in promoting literacy and lifelong learning, driving societal advancement and personal development. Moreover, his libraries laid the groundwork for the modern public library system, setting a precedent for future philanthropic endeavors in the publishing sector. Beyond libraries, Carnegie's philanthropic efforts spanned various domains including education, science, and world peace.


Andrew Carnegie's life is a testament to the power of perseverance, ambition, and the pursuit of knowledge. From humble beginnings to outlandish wealth, his story is an embodiment of the American dream. Yet, it is his philanthropic legacy that truly sets him apart.

Through his generous donations, Carnegie transformed the concept of the public library, making it a cornerstone of American communities. His belief in the transformative power of knowledge and the significance of public libraries has left an enduring impact that continues to resonate today.

As we reflect on the life and contributions of Andrew Carnegie, we at HIP are reminded of the profound difference one individual can make. His legacy continues to inspire us, reinforcing the importance of philanthropy and the role of libraries in our society. Andrew Carnegie was not just a self-made industrialist; he was a philanthropic pioneer who used his wealth to enrich the lives of others, creating a lasting legacy through America's libraries.

Thanks for joining us for this week’s edition of Scripta, the comprehensive literary blog that provides insightful coverage for authors, captivating books, emerging publishing trends, and the art of writing, all under one roof. Scripta is brought to you by Huntsville Independent Press, and we hope that each week, you’ll leave here a little wiser than you were before.

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Written by:

Joshua Adams

Owner / Publisher

Huntsville Independent Press



Huntsville Independent Press is the premiere publishing imprint of the Southeast United States, and we want to help you, the author. HIP provides, at no cost to our signed authors, a better solution for the publication of your story. Our contracts are non-restrictive and offer higher royalties for our authors. No HIP advance is taken out of royalties. Your advance from us is a one-time payment for the privilege to publish your book and is not a loan. Our passionate team of editors work diligently to ensure that the uniqueness of your story is preserved through the editing process. While you’re here, feel free to look around to see if Huntsville Independent Press is the right home for your work. We are always happy to have talented authors find a publishing home here with us.



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