Commemorating the ‘Greatest Philanthropist in History’: Echoes

Andrew Carnegie's philanthrophy began a trend continued today.

Andrew Carnegie Andrew Carnegie

Aug. 10 (Bloomberg) -- Andrew Carnegie, who died 93 years ago tomorrow, remains a polarizing figure. He has been labeled a great industrialist by some, a robber baron by others. Some argue that his impoverished childhood and work in a cotton mill enhanced his sympathy for workers, while others contend the conditions in his steel mills were inhumane.

Even his unparalleled philanthropy -- which continues to shape the American educational and cultural worlds to a remarkable degree -- has sparked its share of criticism.

According to Martyn Evans, the chief executive of the Carnegie U.K. Trust, Carnegie’s deal with Morgan would eventually make him the world’s richest man -- significantly wealthier than anyone alive today. Carnegie “would be richer than the top six richest people in the world at the moment,” Evans says. “And he chose to give that away.”

Unrivaled Charity

“Andrew Carnegie was, as far as I can tell, the greatest philanthropist in history,” Marx says. “The New York Public Library system was created by a gift of $5.2 million, which in today’s dollars is equivalent to $2.7 billion.”

Ultimately, perhaps Carnegie’s greatest achievement was that he lived up to his own philosophy of distributing wealth within one’s lifetime. As he put it, “He who dies rich, dies disgraced.”

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