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Andrew Carnegie | jonmower.com

Andrew Carnegie

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I thought this passage from the November 25, 2006, installment of The Writer's Almanac was very interesting:

It's the birthday of American steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, born in Dunfermline, Scotland (1835). He grew up in Scotland, working as a milk hand for $1.20 per week. But when his family immigrated to America in 1848, Carnegie took a job in a factory in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He sensed instinctively that education would help him work his way up in the world, but at the time education was hard to come by. There were public libraries then, but they weren't free. People were asked to pay an annual fee to become a library member. Carnegie couldn't afford the annual fee at his local library, so he wrote a letter to the editor of the Pittsburgh Dispatch, arguing that poor young people should be given free access to libraries so that they could improve themselves. The director of Carnegie's local library read the letter, and it persuaded him to change the rule.

With the help of the library, Carnegie began teaching himself how to do all kinds of things, including how to use a telegraph. He got a job as a telegraph operator, and then attracted the notice of an executive with the Pennsylvania Railroad, and became the executive's personal secretary and telegrapher. By 1859, just 11 years after he had arrived in America as a poor factory worker, he was named the Pennsylvania Railroad's vice president. He became an investor, and built a steel empire, and then at the height of his career, he sold his company. The sale made him one of the richest men in the world, but he spent the rest of his life giving his fortune away to charity.

Among his many charitable acts was the construction of almost 3,000 libraries across the country. For every library he funded, he required that the town set aside a certain amount of tax funds to keep it running in perpetuity. He also required that many libraries inscribe phrases like "Free Library" or "Free to the People" over the entrance, so that the libraries would always remain free.

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