Wild Air

Andrew Carnegie


He was born in 1835. Nine years later, his parents moved their family from their native Scotland to America, in seach of a better life with more opportunity. By the time he retired from business life, he had become one of the two richest men in history, with an inflation-adjusted fortune of over $300 billion, dwarfing those of Bill Gates or Warren Buffet.

By the time he died in 1919, he had given almost all of it away. Because he loved books and music, we today continue to benefit from his generosity, especially in these two important areas.

This giant of a man stood a mere five feet tall. He was known to be friendly and unassuming. By dint of hard work, uncanny business sense, and ambition, he rose from his first job as a $1.20 per week bobbin boy to become the driving personality behind the emerging steel industry, at a time when the United States was engaged in feverish railroad-building.

Although his formal education was limited, Carnegie was a committed scholar. He read avidly, and also wrote several books, mostly expressing his belief in the American democracy and the American form of capitalism.

In 1901, he sold his business interests, and began an eighteen year period of unprecedented philanthropy. His largess included 2,800 libraries in large cities and small towns, the Carnegie Endowment for the Advancement of Teaching, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and grants for over 7,800 pipe organs in both the United States and the United Kingdom. In today’s dollars, Mr. Carnegie’s donations for church organs alone approached $150 million.

One of these organs was the 1912 M.P. Moller organ at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Shelbyville.

Typically, to receive a Carnegie grant, a local parish or congregation would go through a process showing that it had worked to raise money for an organ, but could not achieve the amount necessary. Once approved, the grant would usually match the amount the church had raised.  Raised in the Presbyterian Church in his native Scotland, Carnegie did not discriminate, but gave money for pipe organs based on a church’s need, rather than on its theology.

When asked why he had given all this money for church organs, Carnegie would usually say, “To lessen the pain of the sermon.” Other times, he would say,  You can’t always trust what the pulpit says, but you can always depend upon what the organ says.”  And finally, “I give money for church organs in the hope the organ music will distract the congregation’s attention from the rest of the service.”   

You can read more about Andrew Carnegie and the pipe organ at this informative website, maintained by the Estey Organ Museum in Vermont. The link is:


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