Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Andrew Carnegie was born just before Victoria’s reign began. He moved from Fife, in Scotland, to Pennsylvania when he was thirteen years old, in 1840.

His first job was as a bobbin-boy in the factory where his father worked. He made $1.20 US per week. Week, mind you. During this time, he took advantage of Colonel James Anderson’s decision to open his library to working class boys every Saturday night. (Actually, he had to fight to get in, but that's another story.) Andrew was a great reader, and with over 4,000 volumes to choose from, he was a great borrower of Colonel Anderson’s books.

His second job was working in the telegraph office, for $2.50 per week. What a great improvement in wages! Soon, he became one of only three people to learn telegraphy by ear, enabling him to transcribe it without first writing down the dots and dashes. This brought him to the attention of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, who took him on at $4.00 per week. He was eighteen at the time. A rapid advancement through the company, profitable partnerships, wise investments, coupled with his natural charm and literary knowledge, meant that Andrew Carnegie became an extremely wealthy man. His next step was to use that wealth for others.

Mr. Carnegie built his first library in his home town of Dunfermline, Scotland, in 1883. It was followed by libraries throughout the United States, Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, the West Indies, Fiji, and Canada.

How different life would be today without our public libraries! While my town no longer has a “Carnegie Library” in service, several of the smaller towns in Ontario still use the building Andrew Carnegie built for them. It goes without saying that our current library system would not have come into existence without his libraries to run. For that, I am forever grateful.

The Ontario Library system is running a contest right now. The title is “Telling Our Stories” and if you’re an Ontario resident, you can vote for the stories you like the best. Everyone can read them. is the link.

At the time of his death, Andrew Carnegie had given away $350,695,653. While some of that money went to things besides libraries (Carnegie Mellon University, Carnegie Hall, etc.), the stories above highlight the incredible, continuing value derived from his investment.

Thanks, Andrew!

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