Lesson #5: Give Back

"I couldn't imagine," Carnegie said upon his retirement, "what I could ever do with so much money."

In the June, 1889 issue of the North American Review, Carnegie published an article entitled the “Gospel of Wealth” in which he argued that it was the duty of all rich men and women to use their wealth to benefit the welfare of the community. “No man can become rich without himself enriching others,” he said. “The man who dies rich dies disgraced.”

It is towards this end that Carnegie spent the last of his years devoted to. Between 1901-1915, Carnegie dedicated himself to giving away nearly all of the wealth he had worked so hard to amass. In addition to establishing public libraries in every U.S. state except for Alaska and Delaware, Carnegie also created libraries throughout the U.K., in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the West Indies, and Fiji. He agreed to build and equip the facilities so long as the local authorities agree to maintain them. In total, Carnegie had funded over 3,000 libraries.

Carnegie also gave $2 million to create the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, as well as an equal sum towards the launch of the Carnegie Institution in Washington, DC. Until he died, he would continue funding these, and other schools. He established generous pension funds for his former workers as well as for American college professors. He also paid for the construction of 7,000 church organs. From Carnegie Hall in New York City to the Peace Palace at The Hague, Carnegie’s donations continued to flow well after his death.

“Surplus wealth is a sacred trust which its possessor is bound to administer in his lifetime for the good of the community,” said Carnegie. “You're achieving God's mission for humanity and country through capitalism, but by Christianity and your own sense of patriotism, you have a duty to better mankind.”

Carnegie recognized that it was his duty to give back to the communities who had helped him acquire his wealth. Indeed, he claimed that the duty of the man of wealth was, “First, to set an example of modest, unostentatious living, shunning display or extravagance; to provide moderately for the legitimate wants of those dependent upon him; and, after doing so, to consider all surplus revenues which come to him simply as trust funds.”

Carnegie took great care and interest in deciding exactly how to then administer those funds. “Those who would administer wisely must, indeed, be wise, for one of the serious obstacles to the improvement of our race is indiscriminate charity,” he said. “It was from my own early experience that I decided there was no use to which money could be applied so productive of good to boys and girls who have good within them and ability and ambition to develop it.”

It was in creating a fortune and subsequently being so eager and willing to disperse that fortune for the public good that Carnegie earned his legacy as one of the most successful entrepreneurs in history.

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