Carnegie Libraries: A History of Library Philanthropy from Steel

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post Gena writes about a resource beloved by genealogists, the local library—and how thousands were built thanks to the generosity of businessman, steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.

Many genealogists are thankful for a resource that helps them immensely with their family history research: the local library. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, communities throughout the English-speaking world owed their local libraries to the generosity of one man: businessman, steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.

Between the years 1883 and 1929, more than 2,500 libraries were built with donated Carnegie money, including a staggering 1,689 in the United States alone!

A recent History Channel mini-series, “The Men Who Built America,” told the story of those late 19th century tycoons who helped industrialize and bring innovation to the United States, including Andrew Carnegie. While the wealth that Carnegie amassed building his steel empire later benefitted the public, he was not without controversy. Along with his business success, Carnegie was also known for his indirect roles in the tragedies of the 1889 Johnstown Flood and the deadly Homestead Strike in 1892. Carnegie, no matter how benevolent, was not a universally-liked man during his time.

While he spent his working years building Carnegie Steel, his later years were devoted to philanthropy including establishing thousands of libraries in the United States, the United Kingdom and other English-speaking countries. Carnegie wrote that the rich had a moral obligation to distribute their wealth, and that is what he did—and continues to do long after his death in 1919, thanks to endowments set up during his lifetime.*

Was your town granted money for a Carnegie library? To secure a new library, communities had to write a letter requesting funding. They were then provided a form to fill out with questions about the community’s present library and finances. Funding for a Carnegie library was not an outright gift. Those seeking funding were required to provide the land and funding for the continued operation and maintenance of the library each year, about 10% of the initial funding amount.**

Though these conditions made some communities angry, who saw them as a drain on taxpayer money, others understood the educational opportunity made possible by the offer of a Carnegie library. The first Carnegie library in the United States was opened in 1902 in New York City.

Here is an example of an announcement in an old newspaper for the approval of a library in the California town of Nevada City.

Carnegie Library for Nevada City, Evening News newspaper article 29 February 1904

Evening News (San Jose, California), 29 February 1904, page 1

This library building still stands and now houses the Doris Foley Library for Historical Research, a research facility for Nevada County history.

While some of those Carnegie-funded libraries still exist and function as active libraries, including the one pictured below in the Southern California town of Beaumont, there are many that have not stood the test of time or were converted to other uses.

photo of the Carnegie library in Beaumont, California

Photo: Carnegie-funded library in Beaumont, California. Credit: Gena Philibert-Ortega.

In some cases a city’s growing population meant that a bigger library was eventually needed. This happened in San Diego, whose booming population outgrew its cramped library (opened in 1902) over the decades. That San Diego library was the first Carnegie library in California.

photo of the Carnegie library in San Diego about to be demolished, San Diego Union newspaper photograph 17 July 1952

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 17 July 1952, page 3

Interested in learning more about Carnegie libraries? Here are some websites for Carnegie libraries and images:

Want to know even more about Carnegie libraries? The Andrew Carnegie Collection housed at the Carnegie Mellon University Libraries includes documents regarding Carnegie libraries.

* History Channel. Andrew Carnegie. http://www.history.com/topics/andrew-carnegie. Accessed 31 March 2013.

** Determining the Facts. Reading 2: Obtaining a Carnegie Library http://www.nps.gov/nr/twhp/wwwlps/lessons/50carnegie/50facts3.htm. Accessed 31 March 2013.

GenealogyBank Is Growing Rapidly!

Every day we add more newspapers to GenealogyBank’s online newspaper archives, updating our coverage for more than 3,000 newspapers.

Rain, snow, it doesn’t matter—we digitize and post daily papers published today across America, as well as newspapers published 300 years ago. Millions of records are added every month to our archives.

We add new titles and expand the date ranges of newspapers already in our collection.

When we add a back run of a newspaper we may not yet have tracked down every issue ever published by that newspaper. However, we digitize and put online all the issues we can find, while continuing to track back issues with the goal of someday getting every possible issue online.

Here is just a partial list of what we have been working on in the past few weeks. I think it will give you a sense of the enormous scale of the service that GenealogyBank is bringing to genealogists online. Notice that we found one more issue of the Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia) and over 1,500 issues of the American & Commercial Daily Advertiser (Baltimore, Maryland): as we find back issues we digitize and index them, then put them online.

It’s a great day for genealogy.

Location Newspaper

Issues

Pages

Start

End

Albany, NY Albany Evening Journal

           51

        209

1856-01-29

1875-03-03

Annapolis, MD Maryland Gazette

              6

           25

1824-03-11

1829-01-15

Augusta, GA Augusta Chronicle

              1

              3

1792-01-07

Baltimore, MD American and Commercial Daily Advertiser

    1,518

    6,220

1844-06-10

1853-12-31

Baltimore, MD Baltimore American

              9

        130

1903-04-18

1911-05-03

Bangor, ME Bangor Weekly Register

              1

              5

1831-06-21

Beaumont, TX Beaumont Enterprise

              6

        123

1906-05-04

1910-04-26

Beaumont, TX Beaumont Journal

              1

           28

1910-09-11

Bellows Falls, VT Bellows Falls Gazette

           21

           87

1841-01-30

1851-03-28

Benicia, CA California Gazette

              1

              4

1852-02-07

Bennington, VT Vermont Gazette

              1

              4

1874-09-05

Biddeford, ME Justice de Biddeford

           18

        122

1896-08-06

1905-04-06

Boston, MA American Traveller

           24

           98

1825-07-26

1835-12-29

Boston, MA Boston Courier

              1

              4

1845-05-05

Boston, MA Boston Daily Advertiser

              1

              4

1874-01-22

Boston, MA Boston Herald

              5

           96

1864-04-28

1897-03-14

Boston, MA Boston Post

              6

           24

1858-07-12

1865-09-28

Boston, MA Repertory

              4

           16

1822-01-22

1823-03-15

Boston, MA Weekly Messenger

              4

           19

1829-01-15

1831-03-31

Brattleboro, VT Vermont Phoenix

              1

              4

1866-09-28

Camden, SC Camden Journal

              4

           16

1841-03-24

1841-09-08

Charleston, SC Charleston Courier

              3

           12

1808-01-23

1808-10-24

Charleston, SC Charleston News and Courier

        552

    2,271

1873-03-20

1886-04-10

Charleston, SC South-Carolina State-Gazette

              6

           48

1801-10-22

1801-12-31

Cherry Valley, NY Cherry-Valley Gazette

           42

        191

1821-01-02

1825-07-12

Chillicothe, OH Scioto Gazette

        103

        429

1835-04-29

1837-12-14

Cincinnati, OH Cincinnati Daily Times

        162

        654

1875-11-02

1876-12-30

Columbia, SC South Carolina State Gazette

              4

           17

1823-11-28

1829-02-28

Concord, NH New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette

              2

           12

1879-10-09

1888-04-05

Egg Harbor City, NJ Egg Harbor Pilot

        480

    2,777

1872-08-03

1904-12-24

Emporia, KS Emporia Gazette

        104

        653

1912-06-01

1912-09-30

Exeter, NH Freeman’s Oracle

           25

        140

1786-08-29

1789-08-04

Frankfort, KY Guardian Of Freedom

              5

           22

1798-06-19

1804-05-26

Galveston, TX Galveston Weekly News

              1

              8

1881-10-13

Grand Rapids, MI Grand Rapids Press

           11

        226

1901-02-26

1922-12-07

Hallowell, ME Hallowell Gazette

              2

              9

1860-11-03

1861-04-06

Harrisburg, PA Patriot

           11

        104

1885-02-21

1917-01-16

Harrisburg, PA Unparteyische Harrisburg Morgenroethe Zeitung

        926

    3,794

1799-03-12

1840-11-05

Hartford, CT Connecticut Courant

           79

        326

1851-01-04

1876-12-21

Hartford, CT Connecticut Courant

              6

           24

1842-01-15

1843-09-16

Jackson, MI Jackson Citizen Patriot

              9

        158

1903-10-31

1922-08-02

Jonesboro, AR Jonesboro Daily Tribune

              1

              8

1921-03-02

Jonesboro, AR Jonesboro Evening Sun

              2

           12

1905-12-16

1921-04-23

Lancaster, PA Lancaster Journal

           17

           69

1817-11-03

1817-12-10

Litchfield, CT Litchfield Republican

           11

           44

1855-06-07

1856-06-13

Miami, OK Miami District Daily News

        180

    1,444

1917-09-05

1923-01-12

Morristown, NJ Genius of Liberty

        136

        552

1798-05-31

1801-03-26

Natchez, MS Ariel

              1

              8

1826-09-29

Nebraska City, NB Daily Nebraska Press

              3

           12

1873-12-03

1875-10-27

New Bern, NC North Carolina Sentinel

              7

           28

1827-07-14

1830-10-16

New Haven, CT Columbian Register

           71

        286

1826-02-11

1874-02-21

New Haven, CT Connecticut Herald

              2

              8

1831-06-21

1832-09-04

New Orleans, LA Courrier de la Louisiane

              1

              4

1823-12-08

New Orleans, LA Times-Picayune

              5

        132

1907-03-20

1914-01-23

New York, NY Commercial Advertiser

              4

           16

1843-05-29

1848-12-29

New York, NY Courrier des Etats-Unis

        702

    3,308

1876-07-09

1891-03-31

New York, NY Evening Post

           62

        267

1821-01-02

1874-05-30

New York, NY Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper

           71

    1,156

1867-07-13

1869-03-13

New York, NY Morning Telegraph

              1

              8

1872-11-17

New York, NY National Advocate

              9

           36

1822-01-01

1826-08-15

New York, NY New York Herald

              1

           12

1875-08-10

New York, NY New York Herald-Tribune

           51

        514

1874-11-19

1896-05-09

New York, NY Statesman

              2

              8

1824-04-23

1824-06-29

Newark, NJ Centinel Of Freedom

              2

              8

1863-01-13

1869-08-24

Newark, NJ Newark Daily Advertiser

    2,143

    8,729

1850-01-02

1857-12-31

Northampton, MA Hampshire Gazette

        165

        670

1830-03-10

1843-12-26

Norwich, CT Norwich Courier

        448

    1,849

1834-01-08

1876-08-16

Pensacola, FL Pensacola Gazette

              6

           24

1829-11-21

1840-12-19

Philadelphia, PA National Gazette

              2

              8

1831-11-08

1840-11-10

Philadelphia, PA Public Ledger

              4

           16

1859-07-19

1859-11-15

Pittsburg, PA Commonwealth

           33

        135

1805-09-14

1808-03-02

Portland, ME Portland Advertiser

              3

           12

1833-10-22

1834-10-25

Portland, ME Portland Daily Press

           22

           88

1872-02-07

1882-02-09

Portland, OR Daily Oregon Herald

           23

           92

1871-02-12

1872-10-09

Providence, RI Manufacturers’ and Farmers’ Journal

              2

           12

1869-01-28

1869-05-13

Richmond, VA Richmond Times Dispatch

              1

           50

1921-07-10

Richmond, VA Richmond Whig

              3

           17

1864-06-21

1872-06-07

Richmond, VA Virginia Patriot

              2

              8

1815-06-14

1815-10-25

Salem, MA Salem Observer

        784

    3,204

1824-01-03

1874-01-10

Salem, MA Salem Register

              6

           24

1853-11-07

1873-03-10

Salem, NJ Salem Standard and Jerseyman

              6

           24

1821-10-10

1829-03-11

Salt Lake City, UT Salt Lake Telegram

        752

    8,358

1902-01-30

1922-01-29

San Francisco, CA Weekly Pacific News

              2

              8

1850-03-01

1851-02-01

Saratoga Springs, NY Saratoga Sentinel

              1

              5

1829-01-27

Savannah, GA Georgian

              1

              4

1822-05-04

Schenectady, NY Cabinet

              8

           32

1818-09-23

1819-12-01

St. Albans, VT St. Albans Advertiser

              1

              4

1875-08-03

St. Albans, VT St. Albans Daily Messenger

           44

        346

1879-07-19

1922-05-31

St. Albans, VT St. Albans Messenger

              3

           16

1848-01-26

1891-11-12

St. Augustine, FL Florida Herald and Southern Democrat

              7

           28

1829-07-15

1839-05-09

Steubenville, OH Steubenville Herald

              2

              8

1816-06-21

1817-07-04

Trenton, NJ Trenton Evening Times

        136

    3,350

1902-06-22

1922-12-31

Trenton, NJ True American

              1

              4

1808-12-12

Tulsa, OK Tulsa World

              1

           20

1922-05-17

Utica, NY Columbian Gazette

              4

           16

1807-08-18

1811-05-14

Washington, DC Washington Sentinel

        101

        431

1853-10-02

1854-02-09

Washington, PA Washington Reporter

              4

           16

1847-05-01

1863-05-27

Washington, PA Washington Review and Examiner

              1

              4

1853-09-17

Waterford, NY Waterford Gazette

              2

              8

1804-04-03

1804-04-24

West Springfield, MA American Intelligencer

           13

           52

1796-05-10

1797-06-27

Wilmington, DE Delaware and Eastern-Shore Advertiser

              1

              4

1795-04-25

Wilmington, DE Mirror of the Times, and General Advertiser

              2

              8

1800-02-05

1800-02-08

Worcester, MA National Aegis

              1

           16

1873-08-23