Notes from the White County Historical Society

By Charlene Shields

Notes from the White County Historical Society as they appear in "The Carmi Times."

Copyright ©2001 by "The Carmi Times" Permission to reprint granted to Cindy Birk Conley and the ILGenWeb by Tammy Knox, editor, "The Carmi Times."

Carnegie: philanthropist, and ruthless steel baron

By now most interested persons are aware that our genealogy library is
housed in the old Carnegie building since the Carmi Public Library moved
to new headquarters. I don't have any idea bow many Carnegie buildings
are still standing in this area. Besides Carmi, Grayville and
Harrisburg's buildings are still standing, although Harrisburg no longer
uses its Carnegie building for a library, and I haven't looked for any

Andrew Carnegie was born in Scotland. His family emigrated to America
when Carnegie was 13. His father was an impoverished weaver, and Andrew
Carnegie started life in America as a bobbin boy. Eventually, he became
one of the wealthiest men in America.

After working in railroads for a few years, he saw a greater opportunity
in steel mills. He made shrewd investments in various other financial
concerns. Andrew Carnegie said a man of wealth should give his wealth
away for the public good and not weaken his sons with it. "The man who
dies rich, dies disgraced" was one of Carnegie's sayings. So Carnegie
devoted much of his time and effort to giving his money away.

However, the workers in his steel mills had a different view of this
man. They worked under inhumane conditions, sometimes 12-hour shifts on
floors so hot they had to nail wooden platforms under their shoes. Every
two weeks they worked a 24-hour day, then received one day off. The best
housing they could afford was crowded and filthy. Most died in their
early 40s.

In 1892, 300 hired gunmen were released on unarmed strikers at one steel
plant. The effect was so disastrous it not only stopped the organization
of unions in that plant, but stopped all unions in the steel industry
nationwide until 1936.

Yet this famous philanthropist gave over $40 million to build 2,509
libraries. Was he trying to salve his conscience? This behavior seems to
have been the pattern of several famous and successful men (the robber
barons) of the latter 19th century.


The Genealogy Library is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays through
Saturdays. The first part of the week we had visitors from Fairfield,
Evansville, New Harmony, Vincennes, and Eureka Springs, Ark., as well as
White County. Come in and look around.


Address letters to Genealogy, White County Historical Society, PO Box
121, Carmi, IL 62821.

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The Coordinator for the White County, Illinois ILGenWeb page is Cindy Birk Conley

Copyright © 2001 by Cindy Birk Conley, all rights reserved. For personal use only. Commercial use of the information contained in these pages is strictly prohibited without prior permission. If copied, this copyright notice must appear with the information.