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Andrew Carnegie: The Richest Man in the World | Article

Philanthropy 101

Andrew Carnegie was fond of saying, "The man who dies rich dies disgraced." He made his fortune and then, unlike any industrialist of his time, began systematically to give it away. He had some guiding principles in his philanthropy. Here are some of those.  

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

A Library of Your Own
By the first few years of the 20th century, Carnegie had refined the giving of libraries into a neat, streamlined procedure. Over 33 years, he provided funds for 2,811 libraries in all, including 23 in New Zealand, 13 in South Africa, and one in Fiji. Ordering a library from Carnegie was as easy as ordering a sofa from the Sears Catalog.

Step One: Make the request. Submit the request in writing to Carnegie's New York home, and be sure to include the population of your town.
Step Two: Provide the site. Preferably, the town should provide land near the center of town
Step Three: Pledge annual spending for maintenance. Carnegie usually required towns to match 10 percent of his gift annually.

Not all people appreciated Carnegies largesse. He was sometimes criticized for giving "bookless libraries." He usually provided $2 per resident toward library construction, but asked the towns to fill the bookshelves. Some towns found the prospect too expensive.

Other times, objections were more political. Labor unions often lobbied towns to reject a library to protest Carnegie's labor policies. "I would sooner enter a building built with the dirty silver Judas received for betraying Christ than enter a Carnegie library," an overwrought glassworker once commented. 225 communities turned down his money.

Interior of Carnegie Library, Pittsburgh

Not all Carnegie libraries were well built. After receiving complaints about shoddy construction, Carnegie began sending out standard building plans. Before long, in small towns across the country, a new architectural style, popularly known as "Carnegie Classical," took hold.

Many believed that Carnegie required builders to engrave his name above the entrances to his libraries. This was not true, although he certainly never objected. Upon request, he sent a photograph of himself to hang just inside the main door. The only design element Carnegie specifically asked to be included was "a representation of the rays of a rising sun, and above 'LET THERE BE LIGHT.'"

Scientific Philanthropy 
"Of every thousand dollars spent in so-called charity today," Carnegie wrote in 1889, "it is probable that nine hundred and fifty dollars is unwisely spent." He developed these guidelines for "scientific philanthropy:"

Don't spoil your heirs.
Carnegie believed inherited wealth spoiled the heirs. "I should as soon leave to my son a curse as the almighty dollar," he said.

Give with warm hands.
Carnegie wrote that "Men who leave vast sums [in their wills] may fairly be thought men who would not have left it at all had they been able to take it with them."

Help those willing to help themselves.
"It were better for mankind that the millions of the rich were thrown into the sea than so spent as to encourage the slothful, the drunken, the unworthy," Carnegie wrote.

For Carnegie, himself a self-educated man, libraries seemed the ideal gift. They appealed to his bootstrap sensibility for self-improvement. Carnegie also acknowledged a handful of other acceptable gifts. In 1889, he presented the seven "wisest" fields of philanthropy, listed in this order:

  • Universities
  • Free libraries
  • Hospitals
  • Parks
  • Concert halls
  • Swimming baths
  • Church buildings

Carnegie's list generated more than a few irate letters to the editor from ministers, who were upset to find churches listed behind swimming pools.

The ABCs of World Peace
Etymologists were atwitter. Orthographists were aghast. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was vexed. The British were appalled. For a few months in 1906, it seemed as if the entire English-speaking world joined the debate over Andrew Carnegie's latest venture for world peace: the simplification of the English language.

Carnegie believed that by building more common sense into the spelling of the English language, it would become "the lingua franca of the whole world." If everyone spoke the same language, he reasoned, world peace would come. As an added bonus, the printing industry would save "several millions a year" by dispensing with "useless letters."

In March of 1906, Carnegie formed the Simplified Spelling Board and funded it handsomely with $25,000 per year. The Board's first task was to persuade 50 distinguished American writers to promise to use the new spelling for twelve words -- program, catalog, decalog, prolog, demagog, pedogog, tho, altho, thoro, thorofare, thru, and thruout.

Among the writers to sign on were William Dean Howells, William Graham Sumner, Josiah Strong, and Mark Twain. Even the staid New York Times supported the effort, though one of its columnists suggested that the reform begin with "Androo Karnage." The Fonetik Speling Assosiashun ov Kulumbia University attracted a large following. Through the summer, the Simplified Spelling Board expanded its list of words to 300 and claimed a major victory when President Theodore Roosevelt ordered all government documents to be printed with the new spellings. Then the tide turned.

The English were amused if perhaps a bit offended at this assault on their language. "We ventur to think," mocked one London newspaper, "that even (or evn) Mr. Karnegi (or Karnege) and Prezident Ruzvelt (or Rusvelt) mite manage to get along very wel with the langwige that was gud enuf for ... Washingtun, Erving, Longfelo, Walt Witman, and uthers who have aded lustre to the Amerikan name." The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was less amused. When the solicitor general submitted a legal brief with the president's new spellings, Justice Fuller made it clear that he preferred they be "dropt."

The House of Representatives delivered the knockout punch when, after raucous debate, the congressmen voted 142-25 to ban the new spellings from federal documents. The next day Roosevelt yielded. "I am sory as a dog," Twain wrote Carnegie. "For I do lov revolutions and violense."

Twelve years and $300,000 later, Carnegie was disappointed to find that the new spellings had not caught in, not even in the reports of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. Carnegie gave up, writing to the director of the Board, "I think I hav been patient long enuf" -- E-N-U-F -- "I have a much better use for Twenty-five thousand dollars a year."

Scourge of Campus 
Princeton president Woodrow Wilson was determined. Officials of other universities had never had much luck in soliciting donations from Andrew Carnegie, but none had pushed so hard. Princeton had "Scottish connections," Wilson stressed: "She has been largely made by Scotsmen, being myself of pure Scots blood, it heartens me to emphasize the fact."

In 1904, Carnegie visited Princeton. Accompanied by Trustee Grover Cleveland, Wilson took the steel baron over every inch of the campus. He reviewed plans for new graduate school facilities, pointed out the inadequate libraries and laboratories, introduced Carnegie to the faculty-and, most fatefully, toured the athletic facilities.

Carnegie perked up at discussion of Princeton's football program. He disapproved of football, which he felt groomed America's promising young men for violence and deception. Football, Carnegie felt, was an indirect threat to the cause of peace. Presented with an opportunity to act, he seized upon it.

"I know exactly what Princeton needs, and I intend to give it to her," he announced. "It is a lake," Carnegie told the surprised Wilson. "Princeton should have a rowing crew to compete with Harvard, Yale, and Columbia. That will take young men's minds off football." The cooperative effort of Rowing, Carnegie hoped, would provide a better model for global relations than gridiron sport.

Two years and $400,000 later, the three-mile lake was completed. At the opening ceremony, Carnegie told grumbling undergraduates that he hoped the lake would replace the football field as the center of Princeton's athletic attentions: "I have never seen a football game, but I have glanced at pictures of such games, and to me the spectacle of educated young men rolling over one another in the dirt was-well, not gentlemanly."

Carnegie vs. Rockefeller
Carnegie and oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller were rivals in the field of philanthropy. The newspapers kept score. Here's a snapshot of the race to give it away:

The Box Scores

Year Newspaper Carnegie Rockefeller
1904 The Times of London $21,000,000 $10,000,000
1910 The New York American $179,300,000 $134,271,000
1913 The New York Herald $332,000,000 $175,000,000

The Carnegie Legacy
Carnegie was often frustrated by criticism of his philanthropic efforts. Nothing Carnegie had done in business was as roundly criticized as the things he did "for the benefit of all mankind." Although his gifts pleased many, conservatives called him a socialist, and the general public frequently accused him of trying to use his millions to prostitute universities-even science itself.

Years later, the public can look back more charitably. The foundations established by Carnegie have given away close to $2 billion and have funded some of the century's most significant initiatives. Here is a very abbreviated rundown of what some of Carnegie's foundations have achieved.

The Carnegie Corporation of New York

By 1911, Carnegie had given away over $43 million for libraries and close to $110 million for other causes. He formed the Carnegie Corporation of New York to give away the $150 million that remained. The Carnegie Corporation's mandate was to "promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding." Since then, it has given large grants to the other Carnegie trusts as well as universities, colleges, schools and educational entities--including public television's "Sesame Street."

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Founded in 1910 with $10 million from Carnegie, the Endowment is the oldest public policy institution in the United States concentrating on issues of war and peace. Over the years, it has funded conferences and publications on major policy issues, as well as funding the work of researchers such as Sigmund Freud and Gunnar Myrdal.

The Carnegie Institution of Washington
Though encouraged to finance a national university, Carnegie feared that such an endeavor might weaken existing schools. Instead he chose in 1901 to create a national research institution that would be a resource for all universities. With Theodore Roosevelt's support, Carnegie endowed the Institution with $10 million, adding $2 million in 1909 and another $10 million in 1911. Since then scientists on the Institution's payroll have, among other accomplishments:

  • Discovered the expansion of the universe
  • Proved DNA is the genetic material
  • Devised applications as varied as radar and hybrid corn
  • Opened Mayan ruins in Central America
Andrew Carnegie. Caricature by Albert Levering. Illustrated in Life, April 13, 1905. Courtesy: Library of Congress.

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching
Founded by Carnegie in 1905 to provide pensions for teachers, the foundation established the first widespread educational standards for the nation's colleges and universities. In addition, the foundation developed standardized, machine-scored tests, a function that merged into the Educational Testing Service in 1947. Because the foundation only gave money to secular schools, it was also responsible for the decision of many colleges to drop their religious affiliations.

The Carnegie Hero Funds
These international organizations continue to give medals and money to those who are injured in an attempt to "preserve and rescue their fellows." Since 1904, over $20 million has been awarded to these "heroes of peace."

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