Vos: Discover Carnegie’s Gift | Opinion

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At the recent Sheldon Prairie Museum open house, I was repeatedly asked how Sheldon received the money for the Carnegie Library, so I decided to write a column about it.

Legendary philanthropist Andrew Carnegie initiated an expansion of public libraries in the United States. The Sheldon Library was just one of 2,000 libraries in Europe, North America and English-speaking countries to be built with Carnegie funds.

Carnegie was born on November 25, 1835 in Dunfermline, Scotland. He was the second son of Will, a hand weaver, and Margaret, who sewed for a shoemaker. Andrew Carnegie and his family immigrated to Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, in 1848. Being poor, Carnegie began working full time at age 12 in a cotton mill as a spooler and earned $ 1.20 per week. As an immigrant, he faced prejudices and disadvantages. Carnegie was only 5 feet 3 inches tall. He was ambitious and became a telegraphic messenger for the Pennsylvania Railroad.

With little formal education, Carnegie self-taught using books from a library of just 400 books. Carnegie and several other local boys spent Saturday afternoons in this little library open especially for them.

During the Civil War, Carnegie was drafted. Rather than serve in the military, he paid another man $ 850 to take his place. It was common practice at the time.

Carnegie has made profitable investments in coal, iron and oil. He was involved in the manufacture of sleeping cars and in the Keystone Bridge Co., which made iron bridges. Carnegie made his first fortune in his early 30s.

Carnegie, 45, met Louisa Whitfield, 23, through her father. Their friendship developed because they both loved horses. They were married on April 22, 1887. Louisa signed a prenuptial agreement that waived her right to Andrew’s fortune, but gave her stocks and bonds for an annual income for life. Marriage contracts were unusual at the time. They lived in a manor house in Manhattan and spent part of their summers in Scotland, where they owned a castle on 28,000 acres. After 10 years of marriage, they gave birth to a daughter named Margaret.

According to Carnegie, the accumulation of wealth by a few people was possible in a capitalist society, but if it happened, he felt a moral obligation to give his fortune before dying for the benefit of the society. Carnegie decided he was going to give his wealth to the public. Mark Twain called Andrew Carnegie “Saint Andrew” because a large portion of his charitable donations were named after Carnegie, such as Carnegie Hall, Carnegie Endowment for Peace, and Carnegie Libraries.

In 1870 Carnegie entered the steel business. He built an industrial empire based on steel making. In 1901 he sold the Carnegie Steel Co. for $ 480 million to banker John Pierpont Morgan and devoted himself to philanthropy and donated over $ 350 million. JP Morgan merged it with a group of other steel companies and formed US Steel, the world’s first billion dollar company.

From poor boy to millionaire, it was a dream. Carnegie created the Carnegie Corporation of New York to provide grants to build libraries 1892-1917. At that time, 101 libraries were built in cities of Iowa with $ 1,495,700 and he donated $ 210,000 to academic institutions for college libraries.

A group of people from Sheldon applied for a Carnegie grant. Carnegie’s donations depended on tax dollars to support libraries. Carnegie’s grants required local matching commitments. If a community wanted to be eligible for a grant, it had to demonstrate that it needed a public library, provide a site for the library, and pledge to support library services and maintenance with tax funds equivalent to $ 10. % of annual grant. This meant that a grant of $ 10,000 required a city to spend $ 1,000 of support money each year. As a result of these provisions, public libraries have become a civic responsibility, along with school and police protection.

Carnegie believed America was unique since anyone who worked hard and used their wits could be successful with any luck. He felt that a library was the perfect place to encourage people to expand their studies. Public libraries received its highest priority and received a greater share of its money.

Sheldon received the money from Carnegie on February 28, 1906. Sheldon agreed to donate the money, build, maintain the structure, and provide support of $ 1,000 each year. The towns of Belmond, Guthrie Center, Harlan, Manson and Oelwein could have received grants, but they did not qualify for the grants. Sheldon began building the Carnegie Library in 1906, completed it and opened it in 1908. The total cost of the Sheldon Library was $ 20,000. Carnegie paid $ 10,000. Sheldon paid $ 10,000 and Sheldon provided the land where it was built. The Sheldon Carnegie Library opened on March 26, 1909.

By the time of his death, Carnegie had ceded 90 percent of his wealth. From 1896 to 1925, the number of libraries increased from about 900 to 3,900.

Andrew Carnegie died after three days of bronchial pneumonia on Monday August 11, 1919, at his summer home in Sleepy Hollow, NY. However, her funeral services were held in Lenox, MA. His wife, Louisa, 89, died on June 24, 1946 and was buried next to her husband.

When the Sheldon Carnegie Library overtook the building space, a new library was built across the street in 1969 and all of the contents of the old library were moved to the new building.

The old library sat empty for seven years, except for the time it was used for the offices of the Area Education Agency 4.

Sheldon Ralph Hollander Sr., appeared before Sheldon City Council and asked them to grant the Sheldon Historical Society the use of the Carnegie Building as a museum.

The Sheldon Historical Society held their monthly meeting in the Israel Sheldon Hall of the Carnegie Library and figured the vacant building would be the perfect location for a center for arts, crafts, recreation, pictures, and art. artifacts.

Sheldon City Council agreed with the historical society and did not demolish the library building and make parking. The Carnegie Library became the Sheldon Prairie Museum after several renovations. The dedication ceremony took place on March 26, 1969.

As far as we know, Sheldon is the only Carnegie bookcase with an interior dome. Other Carnegie libraries had exterior domes. Over the years, other libraries have had water leak issues and have the domes removed, but Sheldon’s dome has not had water issues. In fact, no one remembered the inner dome because it had once been closed to the ledge. While an air conditioner was about to be installed, workers discovered the dome in the attic. The museum’s board had to decide to remove the panels that closed the dome and opened it so people could see the dome. There is no record of the dome closing or why it was closed. Today, a beautiful replica chandelier from the 1900s enhances the dome.

On April 11, 1977, the Sheldon Carnegie Library building was added to the National Register of Historic Places list, the only American monument to Sheldon. This precious monument deserved to be preserved and honored.

Andrew Carnegie was one of the richest men in history. He even passed John D. Rockefeller. Carnegie spent around $ 53 million on libraries. Sheldon was one of the lucky towns to be chosen to receive a Carnegie Grant due to the foresight of Sheldon’s founding fathers. Carnegie’s charitable donations totaled $ 350,695,650 and his estate was in the neighborhood of $ 500 million, although some reports counted other numbers.


Millie Vos is the Secretary / Treasurer of the Sheldon Historical Society and the Museum Director and member of the Board of Trustees of the Sheldon Prairie Museum. This is part of a series of historical articles on Sheldon. Members of the Sheldon Historical Society receive an annual newsletter with articles like this one.


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