TwHP Lessons

Carnegie Libraries:
The Future Made Bright

[Cover photo] Richfield Public Library
(Richfield Pubic Library, Richfield, Utah)

[Cover photo] Andrew Carnegie
(Library of Congress, LC J694-353A)


any Americans first entered the worlds of information and imagination offered by reading when they walked through the front doors of a Carnegie library. One of 19th-century industrialist Andrew Carnegie’s many philanthropies, these libraries entertained and educated millions. Between 1886 and 1919, Carnegie’s donations of more than $40 million paid for 1,679 new library buildings in communities large and small across America. Many still serve as civic centers, continuing in their original roles or fulfilling new ones as museums, offices, or restaurants.

The patron of these libraries stands out in the history of philanthropy. Carnegie was exceptional in part because of the scale of his contributions. He gave away $350 million, nearly 90 percent of the fortune he accumulated through the railroad and steel industries. Carnegie was also unusual because he supported such a variety of charities. His philanthropies included a Simplified Spelling Board, a fund that built 7,000 church organs, the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and the Carnegie Endowment for Peace. Carnegie also stood out because some questioned his motivations for constructing libraries and criticized the methods he used to make the fortune that supported his gifts.


About This Lesson

Getting Started: Inquiry Question

Setting the Stage: Historical Context

Locating the Site: Maps
 1. Carnegie libraries in the United States, 1920

Determining the Facts: Readings
 1. Andrew Carnegie
 2. Applying for a Carnegie Library
 3. Obtaining a Carnegie Library
 4. Examples of Carnegie Libraries
 5. Distribution of Carnegie Libraries, 1920

Visual Evidence: Images
 1. Sample library building plans
 2. Medford Free Public Library,
 Medford, Wisconsin

 3. Carnegie Free Library,
 Connellsville, Pennsylvania

 4. Richfield Public Library, Richfield, Utah
 5. Carnegie Library, Spokane, Washington
 6. Carnegie Library, Girard, Kansas
 7. Harper's Weekly, March 30, 1901

Putting It All Together: Activities
 1. Additional Research on Carnegie
 2. Famous Philanthropists
 3. Spending a Fortune
 4. Libraries in the Local Community

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This lesson is based on the Medford Free Public Library, the Carnegie Free Library, and the Carnegie Libraries of Washington Thematic Resource, several of the thousands of properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places.



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