Is it true that Andrew Carnegie paid to have the town of Carnegie named after himself? | You Had to Ask | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Is it true that Andrew Carnegie paid to have the town of Carnegie named after himself?

Question submitted by: Bill Evans, Carnegie

Not really. The town of Carnegie was indeed named after the industrialist, and he did in fact make a generous gift in return. But even though a politician does favors for a corporation and gets large sums of money, that doesn't mean that there was a quid pro quo.


Or so Tom DeLay might argue.


In fact, if anyone had ulterior motives at work here, it was the politicians who named the town after the industrialist, not the industrialist himself.


The story begins in the early 1890s, when two adjoining municipalities, the boroughs of Chartiers and Mansfield, decided to merge. (This was back at the dawn of time, when people still believed in gnomes and municipal consolidations were still possible.) When voters approved the merger, the question of what to call the town arose. According to a 2004 Post-Gazette history of Allegheny County's 130 municipalities, the leaders of Chartiers and Mansfield "went to New York City and talked with Andrew Carnegie about naming the new town in his honor." Carnegie not only assented to the honor, but pledged to do a favor for the fledgling borough in return.


The next year, at the November 1895 dedication ceremony for the newly built Carnegie Library complex in Oakland, Carnegie publicly announced how he would fulfill his promise.


"We ... hope also to be able to provide a library for a community which has been so partial as to adopt our name," Carnegie told onlookers. According to transcripts of the dedication speech on file with the Carnegie Library's main branch, Carnegie said that news of the town's name came "much to the surprise of Mrs. Carnegie and myself, but I will not deny also, much to our satisfaction ..." After all, he said, "[W]e should rather stand well with our fellow-citizens in and around Pittsburgh than receive the plaudits of all the world besides."


The size of the gift was notable. Carnegie originally gave the town $200,000 to build and furnish the library, and an additional $10,000 to buy books. In later years, he upped his initial gift by more than $40,000 to help meet expenses.


This was an unusual move. Of course, Carnegie gave libraries to lots of towns -- even those that had the temerity to be named after someone else. But in general, writes biographer Joseph Frazier Wall, "Carnegie would give only the building and insist upon the town's taxing itself for the books and maintenance." Carnegie himself wrote that he would "help such communities only as are willing to co-operate. ... I think that an institution ... is scarcely worth maintaining unless the community appreciates it sufficiently to tax itself for maintenance." According to Wall, out of some 2,500 Carnegie libraries built around the world, there were only five exceptions to this rule. One was the library Carnegie built in his birthplace of Dunfermline, Scotland, and three more were built in Mon Valley towns where Carnegie operated huge steel mills: Braddock, Duquesne and Homestead. The fifth was Carnegie itself.


Interestingly, Carnegie usually didn't even insist on having naming rights to the libraries themselves. Wall notes that while "the public generally believed that Carnegie insisted that his name be engraved above the front entrance of the libraries he gave," this in fact "was not true." Carnegie was not exactly modest -- Wall notes that upon request, Carnegie was only too willing to provide a photograph of himself for hanging inside the structure. But generally, Carnegie's only stipulation was "that there should be placed over the entrance ... a representation of the rays of the rising sun, and above LET THERE BE LIGHT." And sometimes, the officials ignored even that request.


However, in the case of Carnegie, Pennsylvania, the steel titan did demand "that both his first and last names be included in the Library's title," writes Glenn Walsh, a local historian who has served on the Board of Trustees at the library in question and maintains a Web site about its history. Carnegie demanded this, Walsh surmises, "apparently to ensure that people knew that the Library was named after him -- not after the town (even though the town was named after him!)" Thus, while there are many "Carnegie Libraries" in the world, "no other public library bears both his first and last names."


Then again, not too many public officials in the world got the better of Andrew Carnegie in a business deal.

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