I love books. (The Guernsey Literary & Potato Pie Society, which I mentioned I was reading the other day, ended up to be one of my all-time favorites.) I love geography & history. And I love a good story.
Andrew Carnegie is a good story.
Andrew Carnegie (born 1835) immigrated to the United States with his parents in 1848. Times were hard in Scotland, and his family decided to move to America for the prospect of a better life. They had to borrow money to do so.
His first job at age 13 in 1848 was as a bobbin boy, changing spools of thread in a cotton mill 12 hours a day, 6 days a week in a Pittsburgh cotton factory. His starting wage was $1.20 per week.
(That's a 72 hour week, making under 2¢ per hour.)
He later became a telegraph messenger earning $2.50 per week, and was promoted to operator. He advanced quickly for the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, and eventually made his fortune in the steel industry. He built Pittsburgh's Carnegie Steel Company, which he sold for $480 million in 1901.
His life has often been referred to as a true "rags to riches" story.
Carnegie devoted the remainder of his life to large-scale philanthropy, with special emphasis on local libraries, world peace, education and scientific research.
Books and libraries were important to Carnegie, beginning with his
childhood in Scotland. His personal experience as an immigrant,
who with help from
others worked his way into a position of wealth, 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, and of his libraries which are his best known gifts.
Carnegie believed in giving to the "industrious and ambitious; not those
who need everything done for them, but those who, being most anxious
and able to help themselves, deserve and will be benefited by help from
A total of 2,509 Carnegie libraries were built between 1883 and 1929, including some belonging to public and university library systems. 1,689 were built in the United States, 660 in Britain and Ireland, 125 in Canada, and others in Australia, New Zealand, Serbia, the Caribbean, Mauritius and Fiji.
Carnegie required recipients to 1) Demonstrate the need for a public library. 2) Provide the building site. 3) Annually provide ten percent of the cost of the library's construction to support its operation. And 4) Provide free service to all.
The architecture was typically simple and formal, welcoming patrons to
enter through a prominent doorway, nearly always accessed via a
staircase. The entry staircase symbolized a person's elevation by
learning. Similarly, outside virtually every library was a lamppost or
lantern, meant as a symbol of enlightenment.
I've seen several Carnegie Libraries, and I wished I'd photographed them all. But that thought hadn't occurred to me until now, and I have just two of them in my archives.
This is the Carnegie Library in beautiful Bayfield, Wisconsin.
I happened to photograph the library while out for a stroll, admiring the local architecture last summer.
Built in 1903, it was under some exterior repair / upkeep during our visit.
The other Carnegie Library in my photo archives was taken as I passed through Crookston, MN on the way to northwest North Dakota two years ago. (see our prairie photo tour here)
I took this photo of the library (built in 1907) in Crookston, because something caught my eye as I passed by. Zoom view:
CARNEGIE PVBLIC LIBRARY. This perplexed me and has puzzled me ever since, wondering why the spelling?
Regardless, Andrew Carnegie definitely left his mark on our world.
I'm inspired by his beliefs and generosity.
Do you have a Carnegie Public Library near you?
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