Wednesday 18 June 2014

Andrew Carnegie's Letter to the Editor


Pittsburgh Dispatch courtesy

When Andrew Carnegie was growing up in Scotland, he used to listen to men read aloud from the poetry collection of Robert Burns and the novels of Sir Walter Scott in the Tradesmen's Subscription Library, an association started in large part by his father.  When he moved to the United States as a teenager, he looked for a similar library and found one in the town where he settled, Allegheny, Pennsylvania.  However, at the time he was working in a textile factory for the meager salary of $1.20 per week.  Workers were denied a subscription; only apprentices and tradesmen were permitted access to Colonel James Anderson's library.

     Andrew wrote a letter to the editor of the Pittsburgh Dispatch and got immediate results.  The library opened its doors to all Pittsburgh workers from that day on.  The young factory labourer, and later railroad worker, devoured the literary essays of Charles Lamb and Thomas Macaulay.  He loved works of history, especially George Bancroft's History of the United States.  He became a regular reader of the Pittsburgh papers and the New York Daily Tribune.

     Mr. Carnegie did not forget his early years in the United States when he struggled financially.  He wanted to give back to the community.  He invested his steel fortune in libraries.  In the United States, he opened 1689 libraries, in Canada, 125.  These "temples of learning" were known for their turrets, columns and arches, making them among the finest buildings in the towns they served.  As Andrew Carnegie said:  "A library is the best possible gift to a community for it gives people a chance to improve themselves."  How ironic that the multi-millionaire who opened hundreds of libraries in North America and in Britain, was denied access to the one in his hometown.

Andrew Carnegie, age 16, with his brother Thomas courtesy

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