History Scotland

THE SCOTTISH LIBRARY benefactions of Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie was Scotland’s greatest philanthropist and although he funded activities ranging from world peace to church organs, parks and museums, his first and greatest love was libraries. He funded the building of more than 2,800 libraries all over the English-speaking world. Despite his world vision, Scotland was where he began his library philanthropy and, relative to population, Scotland received more libraries than England, Wales or Ireland; 50 out of 77 local authorities in Scotland benefited from his largesse. Carnegie died on 11 August 1919, so the fact that we are beyond his centenary makes now a good time to revisit his legacy.

Carnegie was born in Dunfermline in 1835, the son of a chartist handloom weaver, and he emigrated with his family to Allegheny (now part of Pittsburgh) in 1848. He found work initially as a bobbin boy in a cotton mill, then as a telegraph boy, where his quick-witted intelligence was noted by his employers. His rise was rapid, first as a railroad superintendant, next as a speculative investor and then an iron and steel magnate, ruthless in the pursuit of money, with the result that by the 1890s he was one of the richest men in the world. Like many great men, especially those who lived a long life, Carnegie’s life was full of contradictions, and his ruthless pursuit of free enterprise capitalism sat uneasily with his radical family background.

Although an avowed pacifist and peace campaigner, he was happy to sell steel to the American navy for its expanding battle fleet. The extension of the United States navy was a part of the United States’ emergence as an imperial power, something which Carnegie himself vigorously opposed. Carnegie’s relations with his steel workers were, as he himself was keen to point out, initially cordial. In 1892 there was a strike at the Carnegie Steel Company’s Homestead mills. Carnegie himself was on a shooting holiday near Loch Rannoch at the time and the response to the strike was co-ordinated by his business associate Henry Clay Frick, who brought in 300 special operatives employed by the Pinkerton detective agency to break the strike. In the ensuing confrontation, ten men were killed and about

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