Like so many other great philanthropists, Andrew Carnegie was raised poor. He started work at age nine and steadily progressed upward, making it big in railroads, oil, mining, steelmaking, and more. By 1901, when he sold his last business to J. P. Morgan and dedicated his life to philanthropy, his business was worth $480 million (in 1901 dollars).
Carnegie insisted that giving a beggar a dollar was destructive. Investing in things that would help the beggar pull himself up, however, was help worth offering. So it’s hardly surprising that much of his money went to the causes of education and self-improvement.
Carnegie’s native Pittsburgh was an industrial region that lacked the intellectual and cultural amenities he thought distinguished great cities from the merely good. So in the 1890s he commenced to provide Pittsburghers with a string of great facilities. During the decade he built an art museum, a natural history museum (one of the largest in the nation), a grand music hall, and the central branch of the Carnegie libraries in Pittsburgh. The four structures sprawl across a contiguous four-block portion of the city’s Oakland neighborhood. Carnegie being Carnegie, the sandstone buildings themselves were works of art.
Carnegie’s goal at his Museum of Art was to collect and encourage “the Old Masters of tomorrow.” In this sense, it was America’s first major gallery devoted to modern art—which at the time meant painters like Winslow Homer and James McNeil Whistler.
- Waldemar Nielsen, Inside American Philanthropy (University of Oklahoma Press, 1996), p. 34-5
- S. N. D. North (ed.), A Manual of the Public Benefactions of Andrew Carnegie (Google eBook: The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1919), p. 1-70