Scotland-born Andrew Carnegie began working at a cotton factory at 13 and amassed a fortune in the steel industry before he began giving it away. Because he believed immigrants such as himself needed to learn about America and its culture, libraries were a major focus of his philanthropy, and Hoosiers became major beneficiaries.
By the time he died in 1919, Carnegie had given away $350 million, more than $55 million of it to establish 2,509 libraries in the U.S. and abroad. Of the 1,679 libraries he established in the U.S., Indiana boasted the most of any state – 164.
The Fort Wayne Woman’s Club League submitted a second request after Carnegie rejected their first. Representatives called on him personally. He told them he had researched the growing city and offered $250,000, so long as the city donated 10 percent of that amount annually for maintenance. Some taxpayers thought the then-$7,500 library budget was too excessive, so the committee asked Carnegie to limit his gift to $75,000. Later increased to $90,000, it was the largest single donation he made in Indiana.
Unfortunately, Fort Wayne’s majestic library, a Grecian-style building supported by six Corinthian columns, was torn down in 1965 to make way for a larger library at the current site.
Other Carnegie libraries have been torn down, repurposed as community centers or municipal buildings, or renovated beyond recognition. But some communities have maintained and protected the priceless gift Carnegie bequeathed, fulfilling the philanthropist’s charge to his foundation to do real and permanent good.
– Karen Francisco