American Portraits

The Gospel of Wealth: Andrew Carnegie, Philanthropy, and Identity

In this lesson, students will evaluate Andrew Carnegie’s actions to understand his approach to the principle of identity.

Founding Principles

Civic Virtue image

Civic Virtue

A set of actions and habits necessary for the safe, effective, and mutually beneficial participation in a society.

Individual Responsibility image

Individual Responsibility

Individuals must take care of themselves and their families and be vigilant to preserve their liberty.

Private Virtue image

Private Virtue

The idea that only a knowledgeable and virtuous citizenry can sustain liberty.


In early January, 1900, Wall Street banker J.P. Morgan and industrialist Charles Schwab talked all night in the mahogany-lined library in Morgan’s home on Madison Avenue. When dawn broke, Morgan asked, “Would Carnegie sell?” Schwab could not answer the question and went to sound out Carnegie’s wife, Louise. She hoped that her husband, 65, would retire from the cares of business and suggested that Schwab play golf with Carnegie (and let him win) to bring up the topic….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

How does Andrew Carnegie’s example help us to better understand our own identities?

Virtue Defined

Identity answers the question, “Who am I?”

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will evaluate Andrew Carnegie’s actions to understand his approach to the principle of identity.


  • Students will analyze the life and work of Andrew Carnegie.
  • Students will understand how Andrew Carnegie developed his own identity.
  • Students will learn how they can better develop their identity.


The American economy grew rapidly during the eighteenth century. The early industrialization of the first half of the century led to the development of the first railroads and factories. Power was generated by water and steam. During the second half of the eighteenth century, the second industrial revolution began, powered by coal and oil. Steel began to be mass produced and was used to build thousands of miles of railroad track, bridges, and skyscrapers.

This economic expansion increased the size, scope, and complexity of business operations. The modern corporation, featuring the new forms of management needed to organize operations and strategy on massive scales, was created. Industrialists and bankers such as Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, and others built massive companies and contributed to the rapid growth of the American economy. They amassed great fortunes, which they used to build large mansions and assemble world-famous art collections.

However, they also believed that they had a responsibility to cultivate civil society and promote the betterment of humanity. Collectively, they donated billions of dollars of wealth to enduring institutions, foundations, music halls, museums, libraries, universities, and churches. They are remembered not only for their roles in building the modern American economy, but also for their charity.


  • Industrialization
  • Corporation
  • Industrialist
  • Carnegie Steel
  • Tangible
  • Inordinate
  • Endow
  • Philanthropist

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

For more robust lesson treatment, check out our partners at the Character Formation Project

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Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • Who was Andrew Carnegie?
  • Why is Andrew Carnegie known as an industrialist and a philanthropist?
  • How does Andrew Carnegie’s work as an industrialist shape his identity? How does being a philanthropist shape his identity?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

  • Brands, H.W. Masters of Enterprise: Giants of American Business from John Jacob Astor and J.P. Morgan to Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey. New York: Free Press, 1999.
  • Livesay, Harold C. American Made: Men Who Shaped the American Economy. Boston: Little, Brown, 1979.
  • Livesay, Harold C. Andrew Carnegie and the Rise of Big Business. Boston: Little, Brown, 1975.
  • Wall, Joseph Frazier. Andrew Carnegie. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1970.

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