Andrew Carnegie: A Legacy of Civic Leadership

Meet Andrew Carnegie Explore his interactive biography.

With good reason, Andrew Carnegie (1835–1919) is often referred to as the “father of modern philanthropy.”

As a young man, before he earned the immense fortune that made him the world’s richest man, Carnegie pledged that he would give away all of his money before dying. He later codified this pledge as a set of recommendations in his essay “The Gospel of Wealth” — its central message, “the man who dies thus rich dies disgraced.”


As the last of 26 cultural, educational, and civic organizations that Carnegie established to fulfill his pledge, Carnegie Corporation of New York, founded in 1911, has the broadest scope with respect to its grantmaking. Our accomplishments include everything from providing support for the research behind the drug insulin, to helping launch PBS television and its mainstay children’s program Sesame Street. Carnegie himself served as the Corporation’s first president and, in the organization’s charter, he intentionally gave his successors the freedom to change the foundation’s grantmaking strategy in keeping with the times. Yet, even with that freedom, the Corporation remains committed to certain ideals that were deeply important to Carnegie during his lifetime.

  • Carnegie immigrated to the United States as a boy and became a naturalized citizen, believing that with rights comes the responsibility of actively participating in America’s democracy. Among its initial achievements, in 1918 the Corporation supported research that laid the framework for our nation’s first immigration policy. In the 1930s, the Corporation funded pivotal scholarship on the systemic racism facing African-Americans — Gunnar Myrdal’s An American Dilemma — that the U.S. Supreme Court later cited in its landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. Today, the Corporation’s Democracy program supports organizations that assist immigrants in becoming naturalized citizens as well as groups that champion the right to vote.
  • Carnegie was a self-educated man, who believed in the importance of reading, and is often associated with the community libraries he subsequently funded worldwide. Throughout the Corporation’s history, it has supported everything from the development of a “New Math” curriculum in the 1950s, to Federal Pell Grants for college-bound students. Today, our Education program continues this work by helping ensure that U.S. students have the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills that they need to compete in a global economy.
  • Carnegie was a pacifist who wanted to prevent armed conflict. Following this legacy, the Corporation has fostered both scholarly exchange as well as behind-the-scenes diplomatic negotiations between competing world powers. During the 1990s, for instance, it helped the United States and the former Soviet Union ensure that so-called “loose” nuclear weapons would not fall into the wrong hands. This very same work continues today — although, as the nature and source of threats has changed, so too the Corporation’s focus has shifted to encompass other regions of the world. In Africa, our work now includes capacity-building at colleges and universities: a critical component of peacebuilding.

Whether it’s preventing armed conflict, preparing U.S. students for today’s economy, or ensuring that all citizens are able to participate in our democracy, Carnegie Corporation of New York takes the long view in funding organizations that bridge the gap between researchers and policymakers. Our mission focuses on promoting “the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding.”


To that end, today the Corporation welcomes you to our new website: an online convening space that foregrounds the work and voices of our grantees in unique ways. An interactive, multimedia-enriched storytelling platform presents the history of immigration reform in the United States, for instance, and there’s even an exciting new way to read and comment on Carnegie’s “Gospel of Wealth” essay. Deanna Lee, in a companion blog post to this one, describes these and more of the site’s innovative features. We invite you to explore, send feedback during this beta launch phase, and keep returning during the coming weeks as we debut more tools.

James Murdock, Director of Digital Strategies
James Murdock is the Corporation’s Director of Digital Strategies