Original Document
Original Document
Andrew Carnegie, "Presentation of the Carnegie Library to the People of Pittsburgh," November 5, 1895.

Mr. Carnegie's Address.

My Dear Good Friends of Pittsburgh, and Citizens of the Greater Pittsburgh that is to be:

The Library Commissioners who have so admirably managed the trust committed to them, expressed some weeks ago their desire that upon this occasion I should state the reasons which induced me to establish among you the institution about to be opened, and the objects which I had in view. With your indulgence, I shall now do so.

The development of a man's intellectual and moral being advances with his years, and with the experience which years alone can give. In childhood and early youth we have, fortunately, time for nothing but play, and in early manhood time for nothing but life's struggle. The keenness of the strife leaves but little time for thought. It is only just, therefore, to take little or no account of the follies of youth, and to expect but little from it, or even from early manhood. Indeed, we should not expect much from those who have to engage in the struggle for existence during the second term of twenty-one years, except, perhaps, the absence of folly and the presence of negative virtues. For positive, good work for others, and conduct flowing from experience and thought, perhaps we do not extend the term too much in fixing it as far on in the second term of twenty-one years. Reference is not made here to those born to assured competency, but to such as are born to the best heritage of all, poverty, which entails, upon us the necessity to render some daily useful service to his fellows, and brings us under the divine order which proclaims that "Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labor until the evening."

It is distasteful to speak of one's self, but as I am called upon to give reasons for what I have done, necessarily these must be purely personal.

It is long since I entered upon the third term of twenty-one years, and into the ranks of those who would push aside considerations of a pecuniary character, and long since I reached that toward the attainment of which Junius says all our efforts should be concentrated, viz., a competency for the reasonable and necessary wants of life for yourself and those dependent upon you, without which, he declares, no man can be independent, scarcely honest. It was only reasonable, therefore, that I should then cease to take absorbing interest in, and give unremitting attention to, the details of business; although never has my pride and interest in the general results of our business, and of the prestige and honor of the firm, or of the prosperity of Pittsburgh been lessened for one moment. I had then more time to study, to travel, scarcely less important than study, and what was more natural than that the social conditions of men, and especially the problem of the creation and distribution of wealth, should force themselves upon me. Every thoughtful man must at first glance be troubled at the unequal distribution of wealth, the luxuries of the few, the lack of necessaries of the many, and giving away to feeling without regard to judgment, he is very sure to commit many grievous mistakes. For all the foolish, and not only foolish, but injurious gifts I may have made in my early days, and these have not been few, from contributions of considerable sums down to the trifles given to the street beggar, of whose habits I was ignorant, I crave forgiveness, and hope that they may be attributed to the inexperience of the youth of mature age.

Fellow-citizens, one has not to study deeply or to travel far to learn that the path of the philanthropist is difficult, and to find, through sad experience, that how to do genuine good and not mischief by the giving of money, is one of the most difficult problems with which man has to deal. When I read aloud to Mr. Thorndike Rice, editor of the North American Review, at his request, my first essay upon wealth, and came to the passage which stated that for every thousand dollars spent in so-called charity nine hundred had better be thrown into the sea, because it was so given as to increase the very evil it was intended to cure, Mr. Rice interrupted me, saying, "Make it nine hundred and fifty out of the thousand," and I did so. You will perceive, when forced to the conclusion this indicates, how restricted the field for the wise use of surplus wealth becomes. My views of wealth and its duties soon became fixed, and to these I have ever since sought to give expression upon fitting occasions; which are, that under existing industrial conditions, which we shall not see changed, but which may be modified in the course of centuries to come, surplus wealth must sometimes flow into the hands of a few, the number, however, becoming less and less under the operation of present conditions, which are rapidly causing the general distribution of wealth day by day, the proportion of the combined earnings of capital and labor going to labor growing greater and greater, and that to capital less and less. To one to whom surplus comes, there come also the questions: What is my duty? What is the best use that can be made of it? The conclusion forced upon me, and which I retain, is this: That surplus wealth is a sacred trust, to be administered during life by its possessor for the best good of his fellow-men; and I have ventured to predict the coming of the day the dawn of which, indeed, we already begin to see, when the man who dies possessed of available millions which were free and in his hands to distribute, will die disgraced. Great applause. He will pass away "unwept, unhonored, and unsung," as one who has been unfaithful to his trust. The aim of millionaires should be to deserve such a eulogy as that upon the monument of Pitt: "He lived without ostentation, and he died poor." There must sometimes be surplus wealth, then, and it is our duty to use this for public good. But having proceeded thus far, the most serious question of all remains: How is good to be accomplished? How is wealth to be used so that it will not tend to pauperize the community, or to increase the very evils we would fain extirpate? Distributed equally among all the people in the morning, we know that there would be pandemonium at night. Imagine a man with millions looking upon the poorer districts of a great city, and saying, "I shall cure all this." To the wretched poor he says: "You have not your share of wealth, takes this;" and to each one he gives his portion. A few nights later this zealous philanthropist takes his friend to see what he has accomplished, the evils of poverty he has cured. Imagine the sight they behold! Poverty, wretchedness, misery, and crime cured, or even diminished? No, all these increased. The hitherto well-doing and industrious have seen the thriftless and idle in receipt of unearned funds, and these hitherto self-respecting people have said: "Why should we rise in the dark and go forth to toil till dark? There is no special reward for the toiler; the idle receives equally with the industrious; we shall join their ranks." Distribute more millions, and the area of poverty, pauperism, and drunkenness is extended in ever-increasing circles of demoralization. The true benefactors and reformers of society would call aloud to the unwise giver: "Down on your knees and crawl for pardon! You have done more injury than can be cured by all the good you can ever do in a long life." And so in greater or less degree does every man who gives to a cause, society, or institution which is not most wisely and carefully designed and managed so as to encourage the habits of industry, thrift, temperance, morality, and self-help - the best help of all - and to discourage idleness, drunkenness, and dependence upon others. We hear much in these days of the poor, submerged tenth. There is danger that undue interest in this class may render us less disposed to regard the vastly more precious class, and one much more worthy of our attention - the swimming tenth - the industrious workers who keep their heads above water and help themselves, though sometimes requiring our assistance, which should never be withheld in times of accident, illness, or other exceptional cause, and always deserving our sympathy, attention and recognition, and the outstretched hand of brotherhood.

Considerations such as these must render it difficult for any man, if he be seeking solely the lasting good of his fellows, and not his own gratification or popularity, to determine just how to administer surplus wealth so as to work good and not evil. It may be said, if surplus wealth brings such difficulties, much better try to prevent its coming. Distribute every month, for instance, your surplus gains among those you employ. This would be indiscriminate giving again - our supposed millionaire's plan of curing evils - by distribution. The habits and needs of each employe [sic] and the use he would make of the gifts, we should be bound to ascertain. We should no more desire to give to unworthy employes [sic] than to others of like character or habits. From a business point of view, also, this would be a disastrous use of wealth both for employer and employe. Business in our day is a matter of small margins, a trifling sum per day upon each man employed. The firm that fails to apply the strictest rules of business will soon find itself of no use whatever to the community, for it will have no employment to give. The continuance of any business depends upon success. It must be successful or slowly sink. Let the slightest laxity of management appear and its success is endangered; but even were it otherwise, the plan suggested does not commend itself as justifiable or wise, because there are higher uses for surplus wealth than adding petty sums to the earnings of the masses. Trifling sums given to each every week or month - and the sums would be trifling indeed - would be frittered away, nine times out of ten, in things which pertain to the body and not to the spirit; upon richer food and drink, better clothing, more extravagant living, which are beneficial neither to rich nor poor. These are things external and of the flesh; they do not minister to the higher, the divine, part of man. The surplus money gathered in one great sum and spent for the Cooper Institute of New York, the Pratt Library of Baltimore, for the Pratt Institute of Brooklyn, the Drexel Institute of Philadelphia, or by my friend and partner, and your distinguished fellow-citizen, Mr. Phipps, for the conservatories Applause, prolonged, until Mr. Phipps, who sat on the platform near Mr. Carnegie, rose and bowed to the enthusiastic audience, or by Mrs. Schenley for our park Great applause, or spent by Seth Low for the Columbia College Library, is put to better and nobler ends than if it had been distributed from week to week in driblets among the masses of the people. Concentrated in one great educative institution, lasting for all time, its usefulness is forever, and it ministers to the divine in man, his reason and his conscience, and thus lifts him higher and higher in the scale of being; he becomes less and less of the brute and more and more of the man. I am not content to pass down in the history of Pittsburgh as one who only helped the masses to obtain greater enjoyment of those appetites which we share equally with the brutes - more to eat, more to drink, and richer raiment. "Man does not live by bread alone." I have known millionaires starving for lack of the nutriment which alone can sustain all that is human in man, and I know workmen, and many so-called poor men, who revel in luxuries beyond the power of those millionaires to reach. It is the mind that makes the body rich. There is no class so pitiably wretched as that which possesses money and nothing else. Money can only be the useful drudge of things immeasurably higher than itself. Exalted beyond this, as it sometimes is, it remains Caliban still and still plays the beast. My aspirations take a higher flight. Mine be it to have contributed to the enlightenment and the joys of the mind, to the things of the spirit, to all that tends to bring into the lives of the toilers of Pittsburgh sweetness and light. I hold this the noblest possible use of wealth. Applause.

What we must seek, then, for surplus wealth, if we are to work genuine good, are uses which give nothing for nothing, which require co-operation, self-help, and which, by no possibility, can tend to sap the spirit of manly independence, which is the only sure foundation upon which the steady improvement of our race can be built. We were soon led to see in the Free Library an institution which fulfilled these conditions, and which must work only for good and never for evil. It gives nothing for nothing. Applause.

The taste for reading is one of the most precious possessions of life, and the success of Allegheny and Braddock Libraries proves that the masses in this community fully appreciate this fact, and are rapidly acquiring it. Applause.

I should much rather be instrumental in bringing to the working man or woman this taste than mere dollars. It is better than a fortune. When this library is supported by the community, as Pittsburgh is wisely to support her library, all taint of charity is dispelled. Every citizen of Pittsburgh, even the very humblest, now walks into this, his own library, for the poorest laborer contributes his mite indirectly to its support. The man who enters a library is in the best society this world affords; the good and the great welcome him, surround him, and humbly ask to be allowed to become his servants; and if he himself, from his own earnings, contributes to its support, he is more of a man than before. Applause.

Our newspapers have recently quoted from a speech in which I referred to the fact that Colonel Anderson - honored be his memory - opened his four hundred books to the young in Allegheny City, and attended every Saturday to exchange them; and that to him I was indebted, as was Mr. Phipps Applause, for admission to the sources of knowledge and that I then resolved that if ever surplus wealth came to me - and nothing then seemed more unlikely, since my revenue was one dollar and twenty cents a week as a bobbin boy in a factory; still I had my dreams - it should be devoted to such work as Colonel Anderson's. The opening to-night of this library, free to the people, is one more realization of the boyish dream. But I also come by heredity to my preference for free libraries. The newspaper of my native town recently published a history of the free library in Dunfermline, and it is there recorded that the first books gathered together and opened to the public were the small collections of three weavers. Imagine the feelings with which I read that one of these three was my honored father. He founded the first library in Dunfermline, his native town, and his son was privileged to found the last. Applause. Another privilege is his - to build a library for the people, here in the community in which he has been so greatly blessed with material success. I have never heard of a lineage for which I would exchange that of the library-founding weaver. Many congratulations have been offered upon my having given for this purpose, which I have declined to receive, always saying, however, that I was open to receive the heartiest congratulations upon the City of Pittsburgh having resolved to devote part of its revenues to the maintenance of a library for its people. Applause.

Ladies and gentlemen, I hope sufficient reasons have been given for devoting surplus wealth to the founding of the Library....

Mr. Mayor, before closing let me say one word to you, as representing the City of Pittsburgh. The city grows apace. This site, you remember, seemed to many as not central. To-day it is certainly not too far east for the centre of the Greater Pittsburgh which already appears upon the horizon. The plan made for branch libraries may soon be inadequate and require further attention. Already we have an important library at Braddock, which ranks with that of Allegheny City. Its work is so valuable that a commission recently appointed to report upon institutions connected with vast industrial works has given it first place, a result for which we are chiefly indebted to Mr. and Mrs. Gayley. For some years a surplus has been desired that I might be able to give a similar library to Homestead, which is to be my next use of wealth. Applause. I hope to be able to go forward with that work the coming year. We intend to follow that with a similar library for Duquesne Applause, and hope also to be able to provide a library for a community which has been so partial as to adopt our name, much to the surprise of Mrs. Carnegie and myself Applause, but I will not deny also, much to our satisfaction; for we should rather stand well with our fellow-citizens in and around Pittsburgh than receive the plaudits of all the world besides. Great applause.

By the time the Greater Pittsburgh comes we shall thus have several libraries, which it may perhaps be thought best to incorporate with the general library system of Pittsburgh. Such other districts as may need branch libraries we ardently hope we may be able to supply, for to provide free libraries for all the people of Pittsburgh is a field which we would fain make our own, as chief part of our life work. Great applause. Although thus desirous to preempt the library field, it will not be inferred that we see no other proper use for surplus wealth - a list of which we shall be most happy to supply to any enquiring millionaire upon application. Great laughter and applause. I have dropped into the plural, for there is one always with me to prompt, encourage, suggest, discuss, and criticise; whose heart is as keenly in this work as my own, preferring it to any other as the best possible use of surplus wealth, and without whose wise and zealous co-operation I often feel little useful work could be done. Prolonged and enthusiastic applause, which was received by Mrs. Carnegie with a very happy smile.

Mrs. Carnegie and myself, who have given this subject much thought, and have had it upon our minds for years, survey to-night what has been done; the use to which we have put our surplus wealth, the community to which we have devoted it, and say to ourselves, if we had the decision to make again we should resolve to do precisely as we have done. Great applause. We feel that we have made the best use of surplus wealth according to our judgment and conscience; beyond that is not for us; it is for the citizens of Pittsburgh to decree whether the tree planted in your midst shall wither or grow and bear such fruits as shall best serve the county where my parents and myself first found in this land a home, and to which we owe so much. Applause.

There is nothing in what we have done here that can possibly work evil; all must work good, and that continually. If a man would learn of the treasures of art, he must come here and study; if he would gain knowledge, he must come to the library and read; if he would know of the great masterpieces of the world in sculpture or architecture, or of nature's secrets in the minerals which he refines, or of natural history, he must spend his time in the museum; if he is ever to enjoy the elevating solace and delights of music, he must frequent this [music] hall and give himself over to its sway. There is nothing here that can tend to pauperize, for there is neither trace nor taint of charity; nothing which will help any man who does not help himself; nothing is given here for nothing. But there are ladders provided upon which the aspiring may climb to the enjoyment of the beautiful and the delights of harmony, whence comes sensibility and refinement; to the sources of knowledge, from which spring wisdom; and to wider and grander views of human life, from whence comes the elevation of man. Applause.

We now hand over the gift; take it from one who loves Pittsburgh deeply and would serve her well. Great and prolonged applause.

Credit: Andrew Carnegie, "Presentation of the Carnegie Library to the People of Pittsburgh, with a Description of the Dedicatory Exercises," November 5, 1895. Printed by order of the Corporation of the City of Pittsburgh.
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