Andrew Carnegie’s life at library

The centennial celebration of T.B. Scott Free Library’s Carnegie building continues with a study of Andrew Carnegie’s life by a scholar of the great philanthropist.

Ellsworth Brown of Madison, director of the Wisconsin Historical Society, will present “Andrew Carnegie: The Great Library Benefactor’s Life & Mission” on Sunday, Nov. 6, at 1 p.m. in the library’s Community Room. (Packer fans, fear not: you’ll have plenty of time after the presentation to enjoy the Packers-Chargers game, which kicks off at 3:15 p.m.)

Coffee and cookies will be provided, courtesy of First Street Coffee Station, The Checkered Churn, and Half Baked Bakery in Ballyhoos.

Dr. Brown, the 13th Director of the Wisconsin Historical Society since 2004, and previously the president of Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh for over ten years, is an expert on Andrew Carnegie’s life and work.

The idea of public libraries as we know them – open to all, supported by public funds, and permitting circulation of materials off premises – was still a novel idea in the U.S. in the late 1800s.

Merrill Public Library (renamed T.B. Scott Free Library in 1891) was established in 1889 in Merrill City Hall, supported by T.B. Scott’s bequest of $10,000 to the city after his 1886 death.

By the mid-1890s, T.B. Scott Free Library was already overcrowded. As early as 1902, support from Andrew Carnegie for a new building was suggested. Carnegie’s requirement that a community guarantee ten percent of his grant annually for library maintenance required careful consideration. Finally, in 1909, the city council agreed to commit $2,500 per year which, in combination with a $17,500 Carnegie grant (easily worth over $400,000 in today’s dollars), funded construction of the $20,000 library building that opened to the public on Aug. 11, 1911.

Andrew Carnegie was born in 1835 in Scotland, emigrated with his family in 1848 to the U.S., and became the second richest man in the world (after John Rockefeller) as the owner of U.S. Steel. His was a classic “rags to riches” story.

Carnegie gave away almost all of his wealth, including over $60,000,000, a vast sum in present day dollars, to build over 2,811 free public library buildings in the United States. They were often known as “Carnegie libraries.” Carnegie envisioned that libraries would “bring books and information to all people.”

Carnegie’s life was not without controversy, however. Despite his philanthropy, many questioned the accumulation of his incredible wealth from the labor of low paid workers. U.S. Steel crushed workers’ attempts for increased pay in the bloody Homestead Strike of 1892. Carnegie’s reputation was also tarnished by his membership in the club blamed for the Johnstown Flood in 1889 that killed 2,209 people after a substandard dam broke. Sunday’s program will explore the complex story of this rich and generous man in what promises to be a lively presentation.

Sunday’s program is open to the public and free of charge. Contact the library at 715-536-7191 with questions.

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