• A photo of Andrew Carnegie, 1875. Courtesy of The New York Public Library.

    More info
    Select an item:
    Carnegie, Andrew
    • Standardized Rights Statement
    • http://rightsstatements.org/vocab/UND/1.0/
    • Partner
    • The New York Public Library
    • Contributing Institution
    • Manuscripts and Archives Division. The New York Public Library

  • A letter written by Andrew Carnegie discussing the New York City Carnegie libraries. Courtesy of The New York Public Library.

    More info
    Select an item:
    Letter from Andrew Carnegie, discussing NYC Carnegie Libraries
    • Date
    • 1901-03-12
    • Creator
    • Carnegie, Andrew, 1835-1919.
    • Standardized Rights Statement
    • http://rightsstatements.org/vocab/NoC-US/1.0/
    • Partner
    • The New York Public Library
    • Contributing Institution
    • Manuscripts and Archives Division. The New York Public Library

  • A manual of Andrew Carnegie's philanthropic projects, including public library funding, 1919. Courtesy of HathiTrust.

    More info
    Select an item:
    A manual of the public benefactions of Andrew Carnegie
    • Date
    • 1919
    • Creator
    • Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
    • Rights
    • Public domain. Learn more at http://www.hathitrust.org/access_use
    • Partner
    • HathiTrust
    • Contributing Institution
    • New York Public Library.

  • Andrew Carnegie's autobiography, 1920. Courtesy of HathiTrust.

    More info
    Select an item:
    Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie
    • Date
    • 1920
    • Creator
    • Carnegie, Andrew, 1835-1919.
    • Description
    • Editor's note signed: John C. Van Dyke. Bibliography: p. [375]-376.
    • Rights
    • Public domain. Learn more at http://www.hathitrust.org/access_use
    • Partner
    • HathiTrust
    • Contributing Institution
    • University of Virginia.

Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie became one of the wealthiest industrialists in America but gave much of his fortune away for the "improvement of mankind." When asked about the best philanthropic gift he could give to a community, his answer was a free library.

Carnegie, who was born in Scotland and moved with his family to Pittsburgh at thirteen years old, grew up in poverty. A turning point for young Carnegie, which would help guide his work as a philanthropist years later, was spending Saturday afternoons at a local private library at the invitation of a wealthy Pittsburgh man.

Carnegie eventually became superintendent of the city's division of the Pennsylvania Railroad, but quit after seeing new opportunities in the iron industry after the Civil War. It proved a risk that paid off in a big way. Carnegie's Keystone Bridge Company (which worked to replace wooden bridges with iron ones), his later Carnegie Steel Company, and investments in the United States Steel Corporation, made Carnegie a fortune as a steel tycoon. But some of his big business choices had dire consequences for working-class Americans—like the Homestead Strike and the Johnstown Flood—that tarnished his reputation and then fueled his desire to rehabilitate it through philanthropy.

In his autobiography, Carnegie remembered that, as a child, "I resolved, if wealth ever came to me, that it should be used to establish free libraries." And he did, providing public libraries to communities across the country, all engraved, at his request, with an image of a rising sun and "Let there be light."