How Would You Spend $309 Billion? Here's How Andrew Carnegie Did It.

Andrew Carnegie sold his company for the equivalent of 2.1 percent of the American GDP, then spent the rest of his life giving it away.

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By Matthew McCreary

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Andrew Carnegie sold his steel company, Carnegie Steel, to J.P. Morgan for $480 million in 1901. According to the Carnegie Corporation, Carnegie's personal peak wealth was about $380 million, or around $309 billion by today's standard. He spent the last 18 years of his life giving away what he called "excess wealth" to public causes, just as he outlined in his 1889 manifesto, The Gospel of Wealth.

In The Gospel of Wealth, Carnegie claimed that charity should act as a ladder, which the worthy would climb. He praised The Cooper Institute, which offered free classes to the underprivileged in New York City, as well as Samuel J. Tilden's $5 million gift to the City of New York to establish a public library.

It's clear to see why Carnegie found these sorts of philanthropic acts to be best: He himself had benefited from such charity when he attended the Free School in his native Dunfermline, Scotland, and when the American Col. James Anderson opened his library to local working boys in Alleghany, Penn.

Carnegie wrote in his 1920 autobiography, "Colonel James Anderson -- I bless his name as I write -- announced that he would open his library of four hundred volumes to boys, so that any young man could take out, each Saturday afternoon, a book which could be exchanged for another on the succeeding Saturday."

As such, you can see quite clearly an emphasis on art, education and world peace in Carnegie's own philanthropy. Here is a small list of his contributions, primarily during his retirement but also through posthumous gifts, which still bear fruit 99 years after Carnegie's death in 1919. You can find more of his charities at this Columbia University Libraries page.

Related: How Billionaire Philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates Settle Disagreements

Carnegie Corporation of New York

Carnegie poured $145 million into his eponymous corporation, which was founded in 1911 "to promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding." Originally, the Carnegie Corporation was intended to create libraries and build church organs, but its purpose has shifted over time. The corporation says it "currently supports four key program areas, including education, democracy, international peace and security, and higher education and research in Africa."

As of 2015, the Carnegie Corporation's endowment was $3.3 billion.

Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs

The Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs was called The Church Peace Union when it was founded in 1914. Its mission, according to its website, is to create "nonpartisan educational resources on international ethics used by professionals, journalists, educators, students, and the greater public."

The nonprofit Carnegie Council convenes more than 50 public events annually.

Carnegie Hall

The New York music hall cost $1.1 million to build in the 1890s, and Carnegie paid the majority of that sum. You can read about the history of its foundation here, but Carnegie Hall has since become one of the most iconic buildings in New York City -- despite nearly being torn down in 1960.

Today, the building is one of about 2,600 buildings in the country listed as a National Historic Landmark. It claimed more than $500 million in net assets in 2017.

Related: 20 Leadership Quotes From the World's Most Influential Leaders

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Carnegie founded the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in 1910 with a gift of $10 million. The Endowment's charter was to "hasten the abolition of war, the foulest blot upon our civilization."

It has provided a wide range of services since its inception, from building libraries in Europe after World War I to conducting research on a global scale to help inform international policy.

Carnegie Institution for Science

The Carnegie Institution of Washington, better known today as the Carnegie Institution for Science, was one of Andrew Carnegie's first projects after selling Carnegie Steel.

Founded in 1902, the science research center has been host to some of the world's greatest researchers, including revolutionary astronomer Edwin Hubble, Nobel Prize winner Alfred Hershey and Nobel Prize winner Barbara McClintock.

Vannevar Bush, the fourth president of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, also headed the U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development during World War II, which included the Manhattan Project.

The Carnegie Library and Museums of Pittsburgh

In an 1881 letter to the Mayor of Pittsburgh, Carnegie offered to donate $250,000 for a free library if the city provided the land and $15,000 annually to maintain operations. However, Carnegie eventually increased his investment to $1 million so that he could build six libraries -- a main library and five neighborhood branches.

These were just a few of the more than 3,000 libraries Carnegie established throughout his life, according to the Carnegie Endowment.

Carnegie also built the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, which he considered the chief satisfaction of his life. The museums included the famous Dinosaur Hall, which has since been expanded into an exhibit called Dinosaurs in Their World and features 19 mounted dinosaurs in active poses.

As of 1994, the Carnegie Museums also hosts The Andy Warhol Museum, which it claims is "one of the most comprehensive single-artist museums in the world and the largest in North America."

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Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie initially donated $2 million to create a technical institute in Pittsburgh, which was originally called Carnegie Technical Schools. It offered two- and three-year certificates in arts and engineering, as well as a college for women.

In 1905, the institution received an additional $1.34 million for building and $4 million in endowment.

In 1967, Carnegie Tech merged with the Mellon Institute to form Carnegie Mellon University. The school's official motto is "My heart is in the work" -- a quote from Carnegie about building the school. Its endowment was listed at $1.72 billion in 2017.

The Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland

Andrew Carnegie gave $10 million to The Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland. Today, that might not sound like such an incredible number, but consider this, from the trust's website: The donation was "yielding over £100,000 per year at a time when the total government assistance to all four Scottish universities was only about £50,000 a year. "

That's right: the trust was giving twice as much as the Scottish government. Since 1901, the trust says that more than 100,000 grants have been awarded for research or in support of tuition fees.

Matthew McCreary

Entrepreneur Staff

Associate Editor, Contributed Content

Matthew McCreary is the associate editor for contributed content at

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