Teach PA History
Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
Background Information for Teachers

For many individuals, there is no such thing as having "too much money." In the latter-half of the nineteenth century, however, the rapid expansion of wealth among American businessmen became a volatile issue. On the one hand, proponents of the capitalist system argued that the accumulation of wealth was simply the just reward for business success. On the other hand, supporters of Socialism believed that the disproportionate sums held by business leaders reflected serious social problems. Among businessmen, Andrew Carnegie stood out not only for his meteoric rise to become the richest man in the world, but also for his determination to spend his fortune through philanthropic endeavors. Meanwhile, social reformers such as Henry George argued that charity on the part of the rich was "too little, too late" and that the tax system should be reconfigured to achieve a more balanced distribution of wealth.

This lesson provides students with a meaningful opportunity to consider the questions of wealth and economic equality through a variety of primary documents written by some of the protagonists of this debate. By analyzing the statements of Carnegie, George, and their contemporaries students will gain insight into Gilded-Age opinions on topics such as work, profit, property, and charity. At the same time, students will be invited to develop their own positions on these topics as they relate to current situations. While the main characters in this debate have strong Pennsylvania roots, the broad topic is applicable to classrooms everywhere.

Further Reading

Carnegie, Andrew. North American Review., 653-654. University of Northern Iowa, (June 1889).

This is the original article in which Carnegie expresses the duty of the wealthy to direct the distribution of their money to the good of society. Also available online.

Carnegie, Andrew. The Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie and The Gospel of Wealth. New York, NY: Signet Classics,, 2006.

This modern compilation of Carnegie primary sources will give you a look at Carnegie through his own thoughts and words.

Edge, Laura Bufano. Andrew Carnegie: Industrial Philanthropist . Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publishing Group, 2003.

In this book, Edge covers the complex, often contradictory pulls of Andrew Carnegie–providing workers low wages on the one hand, yet establishing wonderful public institutions on the other. Illustrated with descriptive images of nineteenth century life, the book provides a well-balanced look at the Carnegie's role as an industrial philanthropist. Written for middle school to lower high-school students, its 128 pages is accessible reading. Edge provides helpful tools such as chapter notes, glossary, bibliography, and a research website list.

Fels, Mary. Joseph Fels: His Life-Work . Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, LLC, 2006.

Written by his wife, this is a republishing of Joseph Fels" life work in social reform. In this easy-to-read book, the reader will discover Joseph Fels as a Philadelphian philanthropist with a keen interest in promoting Henry George's ideas of single-tax reform.

George, Henry. Progress and Poverty. New York, NY: Cosimo Classics, 2005.

This classic book of Henry George tackles the issue of the unequal distribution of wealth and its societal consequences. He finds that land ownership is the root of this inequality, and proposes a solution of land taxation and the cessation of all other forms of taxation.

Trachtenberg, Alan. The Incorporation of America: Culture and Society in the Gilded Age. New York, NY: Hill and Wang, 1982.

This book is an effective overview of the developments of the late nineteenth century. The author's particular focus is on cultural consequences of those developments. A "must read" for those teaching this period and quite accessible at under 250 pages.

Weisman, Steven R. The Great Tax Wars. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 2002.

This book is a detailed study of the debate over federal tax policy from the time of the Civil War through the institution of the income tax and the passage of the 16th Amendment. The rapid industrialization of the country serves as a backdrop to the debate.

Web Sites

Library of Economics and Liberty, "George, Progress and Poverty: Library of Economics and Liberty"

Online access of Henry George's publication: Progress and Poverty: An Inquiry into the Cause of Industrial Depressions and of Increase of Want with Increase of Wealth: The Remedy.

The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics: Library of Economics and Liberty, "Biography of Henry George (1839-97)"

This biography written by Charles Hooper clearly explains George's philosophy of "the single tax" (Land Value Tax). It also offers a critique as well as several links of his selected works.

The Henry George Foundation of America, "Who Was Henry George?"

This non-profit organization was established in 1926 to further Henry George's concepts and promote land value taxes. Agnes George de Mille, the granddaughter of Henry George, was upon its board of directors until her death in 1993.

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, "Collection 1953-Joseph and Mary Fels Papers"

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania holds the Papers of Joseph and Mary Fels. The abstract and background notes of this collection are useful for gaining quick biographical information about these individuals. In addition you will find a chart of materials in their collection.

The New York Public Library, Henry George Papers, 1840s-1950

This New York Public Library website lists materials within the Henry George Papers: correspondence, writings, family diaries, notes, memoranda, and other miscellaneous items.

The School of Cooperative Individualism, "Some Fruits of Landlordism"

This School of Cooperative Individualism website contains an article from Joseph Fels reprinted from Twentieth Century Magazine, April 1910.

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, "Henry George"

This encyclopedia entry includes information of George's life and death, economic theory, policy proposals, critique of his views, links to his works, and relevant website links.

Broadcasting Service (PBS), The American Experience|, "The Richest Man in the World: Andrew Carnegie"

In addition to their excellent television documentaries, PBS" American Experience series has created multimedia websites for many of their programs–including this one on industrialist Andrew Carnegie.

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh-Bridging the Urban Landscape, "Andrew Carnegie: A Tribute"

One of the best known of Carnegie's philanthropic gifts was the creation of the Carnegie Library System in Pittsburgh. This online exhibit from their website provides useful background information.

Saint Anselm College, Philosphy Department, Humanities Page, Manchester, New Hampshire, "Carnegie"

This St. Anselm College course website provides an extensive list of online resources related to Carnegie.

The Robert Schalkenbach Foundation, "Who Was Henry George?"

This essay written in 1979 by Henry George's granddaughter, Agnes George de Mille, provides excellent illustrations and informative text about Henry George.

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