Friday, April 26, 2013

The Gifts of Philanthropy

Read the published version of Charlotte Canelli's column in the April 26, 2013 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

 Today everything seems to be big business. Music, sports, the film industry, beauty and even education (with its online colleges and professional degrees) are some of today’s big businesses.  And let’s not forget health care, one of the fastest-growing businesses today.

Big businesses always begin as a small business; often it is the result of a good idea of one or several entrepreneurs. And plenty of hard work.

Over a century and a half ago, four men were creating some of what would become the biggest businesses in the United States in the 20th Century. They were Andrew Carnegie (steel), John D. Rockefeller (oil), J.P. Morgan (banking) and Jay Gould (railroads).

Jay Gould’s name is synonymous with the Pullman car, the Erie and Union Pacific Railroads and Western Union telegraph. He was born in New York in 1836 but died of tuberculosis at the relatively young age of 56 before the beginnings of the new century.

James Pierpont Morgan, born in 1837 in Hartford, CT, was educated at the English High School of Boston.  As a banker and financier, his interests in efficiency and modernization made all the difference for American business and he was a major financier in a period of political reforms and social activism between the 1890s and 1920s.  He was one of the masterminds behind the mergers of Edison and Thornson-Houston to form General Electric and Federal Steel with Carnegie Steel and others to create the US Steel Corporation.  Morgan’s era was a period of astounding growth of the American economy and the birth of many of our largest corporations. Morgan became an art collector and benefactor, leaving his entire mansion and very extensive collections of books to The Morgan Library and Museum in New York. He died at the age of 75 in 1913.

John D. Rockefeller, born in 1839 in New York, was the father of the Standard Oil empire.  Rockefeller also founded educational institutions (among them the University of Chicago) and the Rockefeller Foundation located in New York City. The foundation’s mission was “to promote the well-being of mankind throughout the world.” The Rockefeller Foundation created the Harvard and Johns Hopkins Schools of Public Health.

Rockefeller became attracted to philanthropy when he was strongly influenced by Andrew Carnegie’s essay, The Gospel of Wealth published in 1889.  In fact, Rockefeller wrote to Carnegie and praised Carnegie for setting the bar high for other men of wealth and expecting them to emulate his example. Carnegie’s essay explained that an affluent industrialist is blessed with making money but he should understand that it is also his responsibility to give a substantial share of it away. Without philanthropy, wealth is insignificant. In fact, Carnegie wrote "the man who dies thus rich dies disgraced."

Andrew Carnegie’s story is the perfect example of the rags-to-riches tale.  He was born in a small village in Scotland in 1935 and as a boy emigrated to the United States with his parents in the middle of the 19th century. Not long after, he had saved enough money to make some lucrative investments in American businesses such as railroad sleeping cars, oil, and oil derricks. By the 1870s, he had established the Carnegie Steel Company in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After selling that business to J. P. Morgan in 1901, he embarked on living his life as a philanthropist as argued in The Gospel of Wealth.

Carnegie dedicated the remainder of his life to giving his wealth to world peace, education, science, and health.  To lovers of libraries, however, we remember him as the benefactor of the Carnegie libraries. He began this legacy by establishing a free library in his hometown of Dunfermline, Scotland in 1883. After his death, his legacy had expanded to 3000 libraries across the world.

When awarding a library grant, Carnegie required that the local authorities balance that grant by providing two things:  the land on which to build it and a budget with which to operate it. Carnegie created nearly 2,000 libraries in the United States. 43 Carnegie libraries were built between 1901 and 1922 in Massachusetts towns including Needham, Ashland, Somerville and Walpole.  They also included the libraries in colleges: Radcliffe, Tufts, Smith, Mount Holyoke and Wellesley.

Carnegie died at the age of 83 in Lenox, Massachusetts in 1919.  He left behind a marvelous legacy of buildings, trusts and foundations that exist today.

In “The Tycoons: How Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Jay Gould, and J.P. Morgan Invented the American Supereconomy”, author Charles R. Morris describes their influence on our country and on the American psyche.  Other books on industrialists in the past two centuries are “The Change Makers: From Carnegie to Gates, How the Great Entrepreneurs Transformed Ideas into Industries” by Maury Klein (2003) and “American Entrepreneur: The Fascinating Stories of the People Who Defined Business in the United States” by Larry Schweikart and Lynne Pierson Doti.  The 2010 edition includes P. T. Barnum and Ray Kroc and computer and Internet entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs of Apple, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, and 145 other visionaries in American business.

George H. Morrill, owner of the Morrill Ink in Norwood, Massachusetts, built the Norwood Library in memory of his daughter, Sara Bond Morrill. He gave the keys and deed to our town in January 1898 in a relatively modest ceremony.  It’s interesting to note that it wasn’t until a few months later, in April 1898, that Andrew Carnegie gave the first grant for a public library to be built in the United States. By 1913 George H. Morrill’s company would become the largest printing ink manufacturer in the world, 15 years after he proved his legacy of philanthropy in Norwood.

If any of the books above piqued your interest in American industrialists, visit the library’s website and the link to the Minuteman Library Network to put one of them on hold.  You may also call 781-769-0200 and speak to a librarian who will place the request for you.