“The problem of our age is the proper administration of wealth, that the ties of brotherhood may still bind together the rich and poor in harmonious relationship.” The opening line of Andrew Carnegie's book The Gospel of Wealth paints an accurate picture of Carnegie's life and gives us an example of how to treat our wealth.
Carnegie became one of the first millionaires in America when he built his Carnegie Steel Company into one of the richest companies in the late 1800s. His story isn't steeped in wealth, though, as he originally immigrated to the United States from Scotland with his parents. He began his career as a factory worker and worked his way to business owner.
Despite the wealth Carnegie amassed from his profitable business, he is most well-remembered as one of the world's most benevolent philanthropists. In 1901, he sold Carnegie Steel Company to JP Morgan for $225 million, thus entering retirement. But his life was only just beginning as he focused his efforts and monies on giving to others.
Andrew spent the next eighteen years of his life establishing libraries, universities, places of learning, and scientific endeavors across the United States, United Kingdom, and other English-speaking countries of the world. Although he freely donated his money, Carnegie didn't believe in handouts. He specified that if a city or town wanted him to fund a library, they must be willing to match his gift. He wanted the libraries to be a joint endeavor.
Carnegie didn't believe in passing wealth on to posterity as he cited the British aristocracy as a model of the spoiling of generations, “I would as soon leave my son a curse as the almighty dollar.” By his death in 1919, Carnegie had given away roughly $350 million of his wealth in philanthropic endeavors, and the remaining $30 million was given to foundations and charities.
“Surplus wealth is a sacred trust which its possessor is bound to administer in his lifetime for the good of the community.” Andrew Carnegie certainly lived out his philosophy and inspired many of his wealthy friends to follow his pattern of giving. His greatest legacy isn't that he amassed such great wealth, but that he willingly gave away what he had.
When you sit down to plan your legacy and designate your monies in your will or trust, remember that philanthropic giving allows you to leave a legacy beyond your family. Whether you have much wealth or little, take time to look into giving to a local school, church, library, arts program, or university. Ask your attorney about foundations or charities to which you can designate a portion of your estate. Follow the Carnegie example, “I resolved to stop accumulating and begin the infinitely more serious and difficult task of wise distribution.”