Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Andrew Carnegie & His Libraries

Tuesday, September 20, 2016
Punch cartoon
Loretta reports:

Andrew Carnegie was one of those rich guys who ended up giving away something close to 90% of his money. This would still leave a large chunk of change, because he was extremely rich, one of the richest Americans of all time.

One of his methods for unloading his money was building libraries. A lot of libraries. I knew nothing about Carnegie libraries until my husband, after one of his photographic expeditions in Worcester, MA, told me the city had three of them. This entry in the The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; Earth edition, explains what they were and the conditions Carnegie required the town to meet.
Greendale Branch
If you scroll down this page of the Worcester Public Library site, you can read the vital statistics about our three Carnegie-funded branches.
Greendale Branch detail
Mr & Mrs Carnegie attended the cornerstone layings of all three libraries, as described here. I loved that, having come unprepared for a cold, raw, Worcester day, Mr. Carnegie stopped at a store to get rubbers. Here’s more about that day, complete with illustrations and links. It’s well worth reading, for a glimpse into the past, and some idealism we could use today.
South Worcester Branch
The Greendale Branch, now renamed, is still a library.
The Quinsigamond Branch is now part of a school.
The South Worcester Branch has been converted to private residences.
South Worcester Branch detail
Is there a Carnegie Library in your town? Look around. You might be surprised, as I was.


Karen Anne said...

The problem with this is Carnegie got his money by sucking dry his workers - terrible working conditions, abysmal wages, he shut down plants when workers tried to unionize.

This is from PBS:

The life of a 19th-century steel worker was grueling. Twelve-hour shifts, seven days a week. Carnegie gave his workers a single holiday-the Fourth of July; for the rest of the year they worked like draft animals. "Hard! I guess it's hard," said a laborer at the Homestead mill. "I lost forty pounds the first three months I came into this business. It sweats the life out of a man. I often drink two buckets of water during twelve hours; the sweat drips through my sleeves, and runs down my legs and fills my shoes."

For many the work went without a break; others managed to find a few minutes here and there. "We stop only the time it takes to oil the engine," a stop of three to five minutes, said William McQuade, a plate-mill worker in 1893. "While they are oiling they eat, at least some of the boys, some of them; a great many of them in the mill do not carry anything to eat at all, because they haven't got time to eat.

The demanding conditions sapped the life from workers. "You don't notice any old men here," said a Homestead laborer in 1894. "The long hours, the strain, and the sudden changes of temperature use a man up." Sociologist John A. Fitch called it "old age at forty."

For his trouble, the average worker in 1890 received about 10 dollars a week, just above the poverty line of 500 dollars a year. It took the wages of nearly 4,000 steelworkers to match the earnings of Andrew Carnegie.

Cathy Spencer said...

I knew that we had Carnegie libraries in Ontario, Canada, but had no idea that there were as many as 111 until I found this link: http://www.mtc.gov.on.ca/en/libraries/carnegie.shtml. His efforts contributed greatly to literacy in small communities.

History Maven said...

You may wish to look at Abigail Van Slyck's great book on the Carnegie libraries, Free to All: Carnegie Libraries & American Culture, 1890-1920 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995).

Actonbooks said...

In his lifetime Carnegie was for a time perceived as the virtuous benefactor of the working man, but his is a story not without its darker side. Through his own writing (of which there is much), Carnegie the bombast often re-varnishes truth to suit his narrative. What does not get mentioned in his autobiographical material is often telling. Carnegie was no worse than many in his position, but he was perhaps no better. In later life Carnegie was accused of grossest hypocrisy as he protested the rights of the working man on one side of the Atlantic while trampling them on the other.
Though on paper he was never more than a major shareholder in his companies, there was always a looming presence of Carnegie in the company’s business, which he ran like a prince runs his estate. His view of the way companies should be managed – as partnerships guided by a wise all-powerful senior partner (himself) -- was more of the 18th century than the dawn of the 20th. Internecine rows finally split the company, as Carnegie the semi-retired shareholder interfered and poked around at board decisions once too often. That rupture was only arbitrated by Carnegie’s decision – one which he was forced to make -- to sell out and retire.

On a personal level the life of Carnegie is a story that Freudians would love to pick apart. He was the son of an ineffectual father and a strong, almost domineering mother. She was undoubtedly the glue who held the family together, both in Scotland and in Pittsburgh. But of her two sons, Andrew was not her favourite, though he was the one whose financial success bought her security. In fact, Pittsburghers in general thought more of the brother, both as a businessman and as a man. It was the brother that first began making money in steel until big brother muscled in and took over.

Andrew Carnegie doted on his mother and because of this strange bond he would not marry until she died, though he was of an age when other men are grandfathers. His on-again, off-again courtship of a woman much younger than himself for years looks now somewhat strange from a 21st century perspective, though unremarkable among the delicate manners of the East Coast haut monde of the 19th century.

margueritelou said...

Here's a map of all the Carnegie libraries in New Zealand http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/interactive/41604/carnegie-libraries-in-new-zealand

Ana said...

Our University Library, an excellent one, was that one Serbian library listed.
Although it doesn't provide free service for all, at least not anymore :P .

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