You’ve heard, of course, of Johnny Appleseed, who planted apple trees wherever he went in America. But have you heard of the man who planted and nurtured libraries all across this great country?
In less than half a century, beginning in 1883, this man was responsible for funding the construction of 2,509 libraries, with the majority — 1,689 — built in the United States. Thirty-five of those were erected in Missouri. In southwest Missouri, he was responsible for libraries in the towns of Bolivar, Marshfield, Springfield, Joplin, Carthage, Nevada, Aurora and Webb City.
All these libraries were known as Carnegie Libraries for the simple reason that the man who made them possible was Andrew Carnegie.
Andrew Carnegie was born on Nov. 25, 1835, in Dunfermline, Scotland, to William and Margaret (Morrison) Carnegie. His father was a weaver. His mother worked for her brother, who was a cobbler. She also sold potted meats that she made herself. Andrew had a job as a milk-hand on a local farm.
In 1848, when Andrew was 13, his parents decided to attempt to make a new start in the United States. They moved to Allegheny, Pennsylvania. Once there, Andrew got a job as a bobbin boy in a cotton mill. He spent 12 hours a day, six days a week, changing the spools of thread in the mill. He earned $1.20 per week.
Andrew’s father also worked in a cotton mill, but then returned to his weaving and peddling his homespun linens on the street. Andrew’s mother got a job binding shoes.
In 1849, Andrew became a telegraph messenger boy for the Ohio Telegraph Company. This less-demanding job paid more — $2.50 per week. He quickly learned all the business locations where he delivered telegrams and the owners or managers of those businesses.
After a year, he was promoted to telegraph operator. He also continued his self-taught education through the largesse of Col. James Anderson of Allegheny, who, each Saturday, opened his home library to his employees so they could better themselves through reading.
Andrew’s father helped create a Tradesman’s Subscription Library, which is a private library where the members pay a subscription and decide which books are purchased through the use of those subscription fees. There, Andrew participated in group readings and the discussions concerning what the book had to say.
By 1853, when he was just 18, Andrew had worked his way into the position of secretary to the superintendent of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Western Division. Andrew’s father died in 1855, but before long Andrew was making enough money to buy his mother a house.
In December of 1859, he became the superintendent of the Western Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad. That job paid him $1,500 per year, which was a substantial salary in those days.
After the Civil War began in 1861, Andrew was pegged to organize a military telegraph system for the Union.
When that job was completed, he returned to the railroad. In 1864 he invested $40,000 on property in Pennsylvania that yielded profitable oil wells and almost tripled his investment in one year.
After the war, Andrew began investing in small iron mills and factories. He quickly figured out that the advent of steel meant that track rails would soon be made from that material rather than the softer iron.
Andrew moved to New York City in 1867 because that was the marketing center for steel products. He also became involved in the use of steel for bridges and oil derricks. In 1873 he started his own company — the Carnegie Steel Company — to manufacture steel rails. In five years that company was worth $1.25 million dollars.
He began to acquire other businesses and eventually his business empire included the Thomson Steel Works, the Pittsburgh Bessemer Steel Works, the Hartman Steel Works, the Union Mill, the Union Iron Mills, the Lucy Furnaces, the Frick Coke Company, several ore mines and the Keystone Bridge Works.
Through the latter business, Andrew was involved in the building of the Eads Bridge in St. Louis. The Eads Bridge spanned the Mississippi River and was the longest arch bridge in the world and the very first bridge built with steel. It was completed in 1874 and paved the way for a new market in steel bridges.
At one point, Andrew Carnegie was the richest man in the world. In 1901 he sold Carnegie Steel to U.S. Steel for $480 million — around $14 billion in today’s money. Andrew’s share of that was just about half.
He was 66 years old and he and his wife spent six months each year in Scotland, where he had purchased a castle and the remainder of the year in their New York City mansion.
Andrew was a published author and wrote 10 books, including “An American Four-in-hand in Britain,” “Triumphant Democracy” and “Gospel of Wealth.” He also became friends with fellow author and Missourian Mark Twain.
Andrew he had already began his greatest contribution to America — the use of his vast wealth to aid in building libraries.
Next week: Carnegie libraries begin to dot the countryside.