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Designated Landmarks

Carnegie Library
457 4th Avenue

Landmark Designation: 1995

National Register: 1992

Construction Date: 1912

Architectural Style: Renaissance

Andrew Carnegie was an unorthodox old Scotsman who rose from humble origin to become one of the richest men of his ear. He attributed his success to "tenacity and steady sailing...supreme confidence in ones own ideas...and above all placing use above popularity." Carnegie also excelled through his own initiative, by doing the best he could in every job he tried, by cultivating new ideas and strategic partnerships, and by making many shrewd and well-timed investments.

Carnegie came to American at the age of 13 with his parents as steerage class immigrants. His parents were poor, but they had a "literary and radical bent" who had resented the idea of privilege by "right of birth" and the Calvinist view of man and Gold. But in the classic Scottish tradition, Carnegie always retained a candid view of himself and the world. He got his first job as a laborer earning $1.20 per week in a textile mill. By attending night school, he learned accounting and telegraphy. He joined the railroad as a part time telegrapher and rose rapidly in the industry after the Civil War. Through his work he made investments and learned about iron. He left the railroad to work in the budding steal industry and upon the exploding Industrial Revolution, Carnegie's steel enterprise catapulted into a multi-million dollar empire. At age 65, Carnegie decided to bail out of the business. After an earlier buy-out deal with Rockefeller fell through, he sold his steel company to railroad tycoon J.P. Morgan in 1901 for a considerably more profitable figure of $480 million.

Yet Andrew Carnegie's fortune and its distribution haunted him. In 1889, he wrote an essay titled "Wealth" which was widely read in Britain and American. Carnegie rebuked his own "millionaire class" with his candid and novel views. He thought that the rich man should neither leave his fortune to his heirs to fight over, nor should he leave it in trust for Public use after his death. He believed that wealth "shall not have a degrading pampering tendency upon its recipients" and that while mend could accumulate great wealth in a democracy, they also had a "responsibility to return that wealth in a way that will not destroy society's own responsibility to preserve individual initiative." Carnegie offered a third alternative: "The problem of our age is the proper administration of wealth, " Carnegie wrote, "...there remains then, only one mode of using great fortunes...the reconciliation of the rich and poor...in which the surplus wealth of the few will become, in the best sense, the property of the many...administered for the common good...and this wealth can be made a much more potent force for the elevation of our race."

So Carnegie began the tedious and often difficult task of giving away money. He began donating funds to start free libraries as one of his first philanthropic efforts believing that tit made opportunities available for those who chose to take advantage of them. His practice required cities to help fund the effort did much to help create a system of free public libraries in America. He required the town to provide funding for books and maintenance and to provide a site that was preferably in a central location. The amount of the grant was based on a city's size: usually two dollars per capita. Carnegie gave over 60 million dollars to build 2509 libraries throughout the world.

Reference
HPC 1995-2