What Roles Do Philanthropists Play in Influencing Others? Andrew Carneige-The Gospel of Wealth

9, 10, 11, 12

To acquaint students with Andrew Carnegie's Gospel of Wealth and enable them to determine if it provides the philosophy for today's philanthropists.

Lesson Rating 
PrintOne 50 Minute Class Period

The learner will:

  • cite three main points of Carnegie's philosophy and provide three to five examples of contributions he made to both his era and ours.
  • list one philanthropic activity of contemporary leaders and compare and contrast their philosophies with Carnegie's Gospel of Wealth.
  • list three benefits of private action for the common good.
  • describe three ways that the transfer of wealth affects social policy.
  • illustrate the disparity in American ideals and reality with three examples.

American history text, general reference book or Internet access


American Experience. "Andrew Carnegie." https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/carnegie/

Fugate, Sandy. "In Carnegie's Footsteps," For the Benefit of All. Battle Creek (1997): p. 46-48.


  1. Anticipatory Set: Write on the board:

    "He who dies rich, dies disgraced," and, "He who dies with the most toys wins."

    Ask the class to explain the meaning of these very different quotes.

  2. Explain to the class that in an 1889 article entitled Wealth, Andrew Carnegie stated that the man who dies rich, dies disgraced. He also said, "The amassing of wealth is one of the worst species of idolatry." Ask students to interpret the last statement.

  3. Using a general reference book or visiting the Internet at https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/carnegie/, have students become familiar with Andrew Carnegie. The Internet address provides the entire script of The American Experience: The Richest Man in the World, which is the story of Carnegie's drive to become successful.

    Explain that his Gospel of Wealth philosophy enabled Carnegie to build colleges, libraries and cathedrals while funding educational trusts, scientific research and peace organizations, and distributing more than $350,000,000 in his lifetime.

    • Discuss how Carnegie's techniques made him successful and provided the wealth to carry out his philanthropy.
    • Carnegie also said that his philanthropy "provides a refuge from self-questioning." What do students think he meant?
    • Ask students if they agree with Carnegie's Gospel of Wealth.
    • Discuss: What were the social conditions under which Andrew Carnegie realized his full potential as a leader and was willing to take private action for public good?
  4. A current philanthropist is Bill Gates, Microsoft chairman and chief executive. He and his wife Melinda are sharing their wealth by supporting causes they believe are most important to solve. He has been quoted as saying that he is "the steward of a share of society's resources." He also wrote, "Giving away money effectively is almost as hard as earning it in the first place. One thing is for sure: I won't leave a lot of money to my heirs, because I don't think it would be good for them."

    Have students research Bill Gates and his philanthropy this year and in previous years. 

    Have students discuss the approach taken by Bill Gates. Do they agree with his approach? How does Gates' style of giving compare with the approach Carnegie took?

  5. Ted Turner gave one billion dollars to the United Nations for philanthropic projects indicating several general areas that he felt were necessary but leaving the specifics up to the United Nations. He also called on other wealthy persons to do the same by saying, "We have to create a foundation. I am putting every rich person in the world on notice." What do students think about Turner's contribution? Should Americans focus their efforts on worldwide projects? Why or why not?

  6. The common phrase: "He who dies with the most toys wins!" stands in contrast to the example of Tom Monaghan, former owner of Domino's Pizza who sold his company to investment firm Bain Capital Inc. for over one billion dollars. He plans to "die broke" by giving away the major share of his money before he dies and his emphasis is on spiritual matters for the remainder of his life.

    Ask students if they agree with Monaghan's ideas. Unlike Gates and Turner, Monaghan will not continue to raise more money by staying in business. Is this a good idea?

  7. These men were heads of large businesses. In the example of a corporation, the focus of its leader is on doing what is best for the company and its shareholders. This is a legal and moral obligation. Do citizens have that same obligation to each other and the country to do what is best for the common good?

  8. Many philosophers and current writers have focused on the "disparity of wealth" and the many needs of society that are not being met.

    • Ask students to make a list of the examples they can find in our society that reflect this disparity.
    • Can these needs be fixed?
    • If students were given the opportunity to contribute funds to help society, on what three areas would they focus? Why?

    Give each student time to reflect upon the questions and jot down their thoughts.

    Number the students off from one to five and break them into groups to share their ideas. Divide the class into sections based on which approach they personally support and lead a general class discussion on the topic.

  9. As an assignment, ask students to list their own philanthropic efforts over the last year, both monetarily and through volunteer action. Ask them to analyze their giving and determine its value. Complete the task by writing a personal "giving plan" for the next year. If there are any changes, list specific reasons for the change.


Essay on the Gilded Age in which students are to describe Carnegie's Gospel of Wealth philosophy and give arguments for and against it. The formal five-paragraph essay should include an introduction about the history of the times and the economic conditions faced by the government and the people. This should be followed by three paragraphs, which explain the different views of philanthropists and provide examples. Criticize the views and provide examples, and formulates a conclusion about which view is best.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark HS.5 Describe civil society advocacy organizations and their relationship to human rights.
    2. Standard PCS 03. Philanthropy and Economics
      1. Benchmark HS.4 Give examples of how civil society sector giving by individuals and corporations can impact communities.
  2. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Define and give examples of motivations for giving and serving.
      2. Benchmark HS.11 Discuss the concept of corporate citizenship and corporate responsibility for the common good.