Andrew Carnegie

On this date in 1837, tycoon turned philanthropist Andrew Carnegie was born in Dumfermline, Scotland. In 1848, he traveled with his family to Allegheny, Penn. He entered the workforce at 13 as a bobbin boy in a cotton mill, worked at Western Union and the Pennsylvania Railroad, then founded the Keystone Bridge Works and the Union Iron Works in Pittsburgh. In his book The Gospel of Wealth (1899), he proposed that the rich are obligated to give away their fortunes. He began his philanthropy in his thirties, first endowing his native town, and eventually establishing seven philanthropic and educational corporations. His principal desire was to promote free public libraries. When he began his campaign in 1881, they were scarce in the United States. His $56 million built 2,509 libraries. By the time of his death he had given away more than $350 million.

Carnegie rejected Christianity and sectarianism, and was delighted to replace those views with evolution: "Not only had I got rid of the theology and the supernatural, but I had found the truth of evolution," he wrote in his autobiography (p. 339). After encountering missionaries on an ocean voyage to the Pacific, Carnegie wrote humorously in his diary that he would "never forgive" the missionary for a particularly ridiculous sermon. When applied to for money by those same missionaries to China, Carnegie wrote them: "I think that money spent upon foreign missions for China is not only money misspent, but that we do a grievous wrong to the Chinese by trying to force our religion upon them against their wishes." (Carnegie to Ella J. Newton, Foochow, China, Nov. 26, 1895) When asked to sell five acres of his land for a "free" cemetery open to all Protestants, Carnegie wrote he would be delighted to give the land away, "provided it were open to all who desired to rest there of every sect or of none. . . . We poor mortals while living our short span are far too sharply separated. Surely, we should not refuse to lie down together at last upon the bosom of mother earth." (Carnegie to Benjamin M. Gemmill, Jan. 23, 1915). In making preparations for his death, Carnegie wrote of "deep regrets that one isn't allowed to live here in this heaven on earth forever, which it is to me. None other satisfactory." (Letter to John Ross, Feb., 11, 1913) To Elizabeth Haldane, he added, "More and more I realize we should think less & less of 'Heaven our Home!' more & more of 'Home our Heaven.' " (Letter, Nov. 21, 1913, Haldane Papers, National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh.) D. 1919.

“The whole scheme of Christian Salvation is diabolical as revealed by the creeds. An angry God, imagine such a creator of the universe. Angry at what he knew was coming and was himself responsible for. Then he sets himself about to beget a son, in order that the child should beg him to forgive the Sinner. This however he cannot or will not do. He must punish somebody--so the son offers himself up & our creator punishes the innocent youth, never heard of before--for the guilty and became reconciled to us. . . . . I decline to accept Salvation from such a fiend.”

—Andrew Carnegie, to Sir James Donaldson, Principal of St. Andrews University, June 1, 1905. Letters (except to Haldane) in Library of Congress collection, cited by Joseph Frazier Wall, Andrew Carnegie, 1970.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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