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November: Month of Turkey, Football and a Really Generous Scotsman

Economists and business leaders often speak of the entrepreneurial spirit that immigrants lend to American culture. It’s true. Hard-working people who moved to the U.S. in search of a richer (in more ways than one) life founded many of our country’s most successful businesses. But we’re more inspired by the philanthropic spirit that immigrants bring to American culture. Our country is vibrant and generous and full of promise because people from all over the world make it so.

At the end of this month we’ll all be beside ourselves over Thanksgiving traditions. So we thought it fitting to preemptively honor the birthday of a particularly generous immigrant.

Andrew Carnegie was born on November 25, 1835, in Dunfermline, Scotland. The son of a poor weaver with limited formal education, Carnegie grew up to be one of America’s wealthiest—and most generous—businessmen.

At 13 Carnegie immigrated with his family to Pennsylvania, where he worked in a factory and earned $1.20 a week. After a series of jobs and lucrative investments (in oil particularly), Carnegie amassed a fortune. By 1889, his Carnegie Steel Corporation was the largest of its kind in the world. Carnegie Steel is considered a foundational business that helped form today’s economy.

Carnegie’s generosity nurtured American development on an individual level too. Carnegie passed on the high value his family placed on learning and education to the rest of the country through his financial support of learning institutions.

When Carnegie switched gears from business to philanthropy in 1901, he set his sights on enriching the American education experience by making it more accessible. Carnegie’s first of many major donations was a $5 million gift to the New York Public Library. He went on to establish the Carnegie Institute of Technology—later Carnegie-Mellon University. Altogether, almost 3,000 American libraries exist thanks to Carnegie’s financial support.

Carnegie’s philanthropy is as impressive as his business acumen. Honor him this month by visiting your local library. Support literacy as he did by volunteering at an after-school reading program. No one expects million dollar donations from the average person, but even a small gift in support of education will impact some student.

In this month of blessings and gratitude, we’re reminded of the tremendous gift of education. While Carnegie’s staggering financial contributions to American libraries can never by replicated by most people, the time you spend helping a student’s literacy development can be invaluable.