Before we can get to the extraordinary man whose beneficence built America’s premiere concert hall and brought Tchaikovsky to New York in order to break it in, we must deal with a sticky issue of pronunciation.
Andrew Carnegie’s surname is pronounced Car-NEH-gie, with an accent on the second syllable. Likewise, the Car-NEH-gie Corporation of New York; the Car-NEH-gie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching; the Car-NEH-gie Foundation for International Peace, and so forth.
Except when it comes to the music hall. So many generations of well-meaning folks have mispronounced Car-NEH-gie’s name when referring to CAR-ne-gie Hall that the mispronunciation must be defacto accepted, just as we have come to accept – grudgingly, I admit – jew-lery (instead of “jew-wel-ry”) and re-la-tor (instead of “real-tor”).
So, his name: Car-NEH-gie.
The music hall: CAR-ne-gie.
Carnegie’s rags-to-untold-riches story is the stuff of legend, the “American Dream” writ in CAPITAL LETTERS. Born on November 25, 1935 in a one-room weaver’s cottage in Dunfermline, Scotland, the Carnegie family emigrated to Allegheny, Pennsylvania in 1848 in search of a better life. Through intelligence, hard work, perseverance, vision, zero risk aversion, and no small bit of luck, Carnegie became one of the richest men in the world, manufacturing the railroad tracks that knitted together the North American continent during the second half of the nineteenth century. According to the Carnegie Corporation, at its peak, Andrew Carnegie’s wealth was equivalent to around $309 billion today. By comparison, the richest man in the world today (excluding the kleptocrat Vladimir Putin, who is worth only heaven and his accountants know how much) is Jeff Bezos, whose wealth is presently calculated at around $194.7 billion.
In a gilFestival Coronation Marchded age of robber barons, Carnegie was by far the wealthiest, although no “robber” was he. He never forgot where he came from, and he spent much of the second half of his life giving his money away. In December of 1868, the already wealthy 33-year-old Carnegie wrote a letter to himself, a letter that turned out to be his “credo”:
“I propose to take an income no greater than $50,000 per annum! Beyond this I need ever earn, [I will] make no effort to increase my fortune, but spend the surplus each year for benevolent purposes! Let us cast aside business forever, except for others.
I shall get a thorough education, making the acquaintance of literary men. I shall pay especial attention to speaking in public [and] taking part in public matters, especially those connected with education and improvement of the poorer classes.
Man must have no idol and the amassing of wealth is one of the worst species of idolatry! No idol is more debasing than the worship of money! Whatever I engage in I must push inordinately; therefore, should I be careful to choose that life which will be the most elevating in its character. To continue much longer overwhelmed by business cares and with most of my thoughts wholly upon the way to make more money must degrade me beyond hope of permanent recovery. I will resign business at thirty-five, but during these ensuing two years I wish to spend the afternoons in receiving instruction and in reading systematically!”
Carnegie did not resign at 35, though educate himself and dedicate his life to worthy causes he did.
In 1889, Carnegie wrote a book entitled The Gospel of Wealth in which he boldly stated that the rich are trustees of their wealth, which in the end must be used “to promote the welfare and happiness of others.” Carnegie believed it was actually a sin to die rich:
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“A man who dies rich dies disgraced.”