Scottish Philanthropist Andrew Carnegie

Widely regarded as one of the most important philanthropists of his era, Andrew Carnegie was born in a small cottage in Dunfermline, Scotland, on 25 November 1835, and was named after his grandfather. With the country going through hard times, his father, William Carnegie, decided to move his family to the United States in 1848, where they settled in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. Andrew started work at age 13, as a bobbin boy, changing spools of thread in a cotton mill for twelve hours a day, six days a week, while his father earned money weaving and peddling linens and his mother Margaret supplemented the family income by binding shoes.

From these humble beginnings, Andrew Carnegie worked his way up to accumulate a fortune, through his willingness for hard work, along with his exceptional intelligence and insight into society and human nature. While his rise in the business world was astonishing, and reportedly helped along by some insider trading in the early days, some would say Carnegie’s most significant contribution to the world came in his later years when he pursued his love for the written word and put his wealth to use in philanthropic ways.

Among his philanthropic works was the establishment of a free library in the town of his birth, and in 1881, during a coach trip through Scotland, his mother laid the foundation for the library bearing her son’s name in Dunfermline, Fife. Carnegie became quite involved in expressing his political views at this time, buying a number of English newspapers which he used to advocate the abolition of the monarchy. All the while continuing in his successful business career, Carnegie wrote a number of controversial books and became a regular contributor to several magazines, on both sides of the Atlantic.

Andrew Carnegie wrote in his 1886 book Triumphant Democracy: “Surplus wealth is a sacred trust which its possessor is bound to administer in his lifetime for the good of the community.” And from 1901, he took this to heart as he turned his attention to using his wealth on philanthropic projects. After buying Skibo Castle in the Highlands of Scotland, Carnegie divided his time between his homeland of Scotland and New York City. He donated generously to educational institutions, establishing the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland in 1901, which continues to function today. A total of 3,000 Carnegie libraries were eventually built or funded with the money donated by Andrew Carnegie – some after his death on 11 August 1919 – with the majority being in the United States and Britain, as well as in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Serbia, the Caribbean and Fiji, and the first of which was the Carnegie Library in Dunfermline. He also bought and gifted the Pittencrieff Park to the people of Dunfermline as a public leisure venue which is still enjoyed today.