I’ve asked myself this question over the years.
Andrew Carnegie was a really important person in the history of libraries in our country. However, he didn’t actually donate to build Fort Atkinson’s library.
According to our history books, Carnegie was asked but denied the request (citing the fact that we already had a library building). So when the citizens wanted to replace the house which served as a library with an actual library building, they had to rely on other benefactors, including the generous descendants of Dwight Foster.
Andrew Carnegie’s contributions for the good of public libraries in America were beyond significant. His gifts profoundly improved the library experience for thousands of communities. He donated to many Wisconsin libraries, including Jefferson. You can read about that (and more) at the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center.
Carnegie had a number of quotations that I admire. One is, “The man who dies rich dies disgraced.” He was certainly an example of someone who lived his philosophy, giving away almost 90 percent of his fortune before he died.
There is an interesting piece about Carnegie on the National Park Service’s web site (Carnegie Facts). It indicates that by the time of his death, Carnegie had given gifts to various charities totaling nearly $350 million. I’m unsure what the present value of that amount of money would be. I’m not going to do the math on that (I’ve got other math problems taking priority). Anyway, I think it’s sufficient to say it’s a whole bunch of money.
Andrew Carnegie was a wise and complex man who believed in libraries as the place where you “teach people how to fish.” I happen to think that this is one of the highest purposes of libraries. And a task for which we are inherently well-equipped.