Carnegie Centennial

Sept. 26, 2012

Carnegie's legacy at Pacific University celebrates the power of education and potential.

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Andrew Carnegie didn’t believe in handouts.

The steel magnate was a social Darwinist, a “pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps” sort who saw no place for government welfare or charity.

And yet, he also was one of the greatest philanthropists of his time—one who gave away every dime of his fortune and whose legacy continues to support peace and education efforts worldwide.

The dichotomy demands some explanation, said Larry Lipin, Pacific professor of history and environmental studies, who gave a presentation Wednesday marking the centennial of the University’s own Carnegie Hall.

Carnegie, he said, was born in relative poverty and saw his own father’s craftsman job replaced by industrialization and mechanics. He grew to resent his father’s failure to evolve in the changing world, and he became a proponent, and leader, of industrialization.

Carnegie Steel, later U.S. Steel, became the first U.S. corporation to be worth $1 billion—and this in the early 1900s. Carnegie hobnobbed with the founders of the railroads, employed union breakers in Pennsylvania and eventually retired to a castle in Scotland, Lipin said.

Along the way, he wrote repeatedly about wealth, about the proper use of wealth, and even about the lack of wealth. Carnegie’s remarks on the poor were unforgiving, Lipin said: He believed people achieved what they aspired to and those at the lower ends of the socioeconomic spectrum were there because they didn’t try hard enough.

But—and this is the important caveat—Carnegie was a true believer in the American dream, the idea that anyone, regardless of their origins, had the potential to work hard and change their fortune. And, he didn’t think that those born to fortune should be necessarily better off than those born without.

People didn’t have a right to wealth; they had a right to opportunity.

It’s unknown if Carnegie had his own children—but if he did, they didn’t inherit the fortune (Carnegie believed in high estate taxes and opposed the idea of passing a fortune onto one’s heirs). Every dime of Carnegie’s empire went to philanthropy projects specifically targeted to giving people the opportunity to better themselves and their circumstances.

Libraries, in particular, were a passion of Carnegie’s: He funded more than 3,000 libraries in small towns, at universities and around the world as public houses of knowledge where people could access the information and technology they could turn to work and success.

Of those, Carnegie supported only three academic libraries in the West, and only one in the Pacific Northwest: Pacific University’s Carnegie Hall.

Carnegie offered the Pacific money for the building in 1905 but required that the University come up with matching funds for long-term maintenance of the facility (do for yourself, again, was a big part of his giving mission). It took seven years, but in 1912, Carnegie Hall became Pacific’s first academic library building, a home for the substantial collection of texts that the University had housed in a room in Marsh Hall.

This year, Pacific University celebrates the centennial of Carnegie Hall, which now serves as a home for the College of Arts & Sciences Psychology Department, among other things. The growing library collection moved to Scott Library in 1967 and to the current University Library in 2005.

A centennial celebration of Carnegie Hall will take place at 3 p.m. Friday as part of Homecoming 2012. Join us on the lawn in front of the historic building for remarks and cake as we remember the legacy of Andrew Carnegie’s belief in, if nothing else, human potential and the power of education.

(Another piece of Pacific history will be on display during the celebration. Come see the tail of the original Boxer statue!)