With his name emblazoned on the city’s most venerated institutions from libraries and museums to Carnegie Mellon University, Andrew Carnegie’s legacy permeates Pittsburgh. This is why it’s surprising that there’s no public Carnegie statue in Pittsburgh.
There’s a Carnegie bas-relief likeness on the Midtown Towers, but it’s part of a series of famous people, and there are portraits, plaques, murals, busts and quotations scattered across Pittsburgh’s metropolitan area.
In Dunfermline, Scotland, where he was born, there is an Andrew Carnegie statue that gets splattered by birds. Over the years, it’s been egged and stoned by anti-capitalists.
However, in Pittsburgh, where there are numerous public statues of everyone from politicians (such as Richard Caliguiri) to sports figures (Roberto Clemente, i.e.), the stout Scotsman — who went from making money as a messenger to making factories pouring steel that built railroads, bridges and skyscrapers — merits a single statue that is largely concealed from the public.
Pittsburgh’s sole, complete reproduction of Andrew Carnegie sits in darkness at a museum that bears his name. Contrary to his expressly stated desire that his donated endeavors be accessible to everyone, the music hall foyer excludes the public except during special events. But Carnegie Museum of Art let me visit, tour and take pictures for this article.
Who is Andrew Carnegie?
It’s widely known that Andrew Carnegie, who lived from 1835 until 1919, immigrated with his poor Scottish family — mother Margaret, weaver father Andrew and younger brother, Tom — to America in 1848. Andy (“Andra”) Carnegie was 13.
“The Carnegie family moved [from Pittsburgh’s North Side] into a Downtown house on Hancock Street, later renamed Eighth Street,” Peter Krass wrote in his 2002 biography, “and here they experienced smoky Pittsburgh in all its industrial might with soot permeating every corner of their home.”
Carnegie recalled that “[i]f you placed your hand on the balustrade of the stair, it came away black; if you washed face and hands they were as dirty as ever in an hour. The soot gathered in the hair and irritated the skin … life was more or less miserable.”
In 2018’s “Capitalism in America: An Economic History of the United States,” Alan Greenspan and Adrian Wooldridge cast Carnegie’s legacy into a wider context, noting that “steel bridges spanned rivers and steel frames supported skyscrapers. Steel put cheap tools in everybody’s hands and cheap utensils on everybody’s tables. This is why steel gave America its richest man, in the shape of Andrew Carnegie, and its biggest company, in the form of U.S. Steel.”
In his epic 1998 book “The American Century,” Harold Evans writes that when Carnegie sold Carnegie Steel to John Pierpont Morgan’s bank in 1901, “his steel company was producing more steel than the whole of Britain put together.” Evans points out that, though J.P. Morgan paid Carnegie more than $300 million, Carnegie later “gave away $351 million to found 281 public libraries and to endow studies of peace and technology.”
The 5-foot-4-inch tall industrialist regarded self-education as sacred. “The Great Egoist,” as Carnegie was known, traveled the world, studying various religions, French, algebra, Latin and bookkeeping, regarding himself as “a trustee for all civilization.”
Before he was old enough to be eligible to vote, the pro-abolitionist hailed the nation’s new anti-slavery Republican Party, which held its first convention in Pittsburgh. Carnegie would later meet Abraham Lincoln, who visited the office where Carnegie worked, during the Civil War.
Carnegie wrote books about making money, giving to charity and the story of the man who invented steam engines. He read Confucius in China. In India, he read about Buddha and the Hindus, studied Zoroaster in Mumbai, and later wrote that scholarship put his mind at rest.
“I had a philosophy at last,” he wrote. “The words of Christ ‘the Kingdom of Heaven is within you,’ had a new meaning for me. Not in the past or in the future, but now and here is Heaven within us. All our duties lie in this world and in the present.”
“Wedged between two columns”
With William Penn, Theodore Roosevelt, George Washington and others, Carnegie’s likeness is sculpted on Pittsburgh’s domed, 18-story Keenan Building (known today as Midtown Towers), built in 1907 and named for Col. Thomas Keenan, founder of the newspaper that became The Pittsburgh Press.
But Pittsburgh’s only Carnegie statue is a likeness sculpted by John Massey Rhind, a Scottish sculptor whom Carnegie favored. Rhind also sculpted the Carnegie Museum’s figures of Galileo, Bach, Shakespeare and Michelangelo leaning slightly toward Forbes Avenue as well as Ulysses Grant, Abner Doubleday, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and Robert Burns outside Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.
The large bronze statue is not exactly representational. It depicts Carnegie in a stately, seated position. Pushed against a wall between columns in the foyer of the music hall, the statue is hidden in shadow.
Robert Gangewere writes in “Palace of Culture: Andrew Carnegie’s Museums and Library in Pittsburgh” that the foyer — which is 60 feet wide and 135 feet long, with a 45-foot high ceiling of sculptured plaster and gold leaf —was “the largest marble project in the world.” Carnegie envisioned the foyer to match the scale of the Paris Opera.
“[A]n ornate balcony … circles the room,” Gangewere writes in the book. “At the far end of the foyer is the seated bronze statue with Andrew Carnegie holding court for those who visit [what was then known as] the [Carnegie] Institute, but in fact wedged between two columns and often overlooked.”
A former editor of Carnegie magazine and adjunct professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University, Gangewere concludes that “while the foyer’s sumptuous display of marble and golden surfaces would befit a king, the message here is in fact the reverse: this is a people’s palace, and the founder himself is present as a businessman.”
That a vivacious industrialist who enthusiastically provided Pittsburghers with tools to improve their lives could be replicated as a statue that is largely concealed from the Pittsburghers he sought to empower is incongruous at best.
One of Carnegie’s final acts was to dedicate a sculpture (to Scotsman Robert Burns) during his last visit to Pittsburgh. Indeed, Carnegie wrote in “The Gospel of Wealth” that “[t]he man who erects in a city a truly artistic arch, statue or fountain makes a wise use of his surplus … ”
The city’s monuments honor those killed or lost in war as well as sports legends Honus Wagner, Bill Mazeroski, Willie Stargell, Mario Lemieux and Roberto Clemente. There’s even a bridge named for environmentalist Rachel Carson. Yet Carnegie has no Pittsburgh memorial on a comparable scale.
Whatever may survive the purge of America’s memorialized, sculpted capitalists, founders and military figures, in Carnegie’s case, any “surplus” remains essentially, crucially unspent.
Scott Holleran recently won the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania’s Golden Quill award for Best Sports Journalism for his retrospective on Roberto Clemente. Holleran is writing his first novel.