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Andrew Carnegie was an exemplary follower of his own "gospel of wealth." He believed that Americans who had excess wealth should give it away, and indeed, he gave away 90 percent of his personal fortune before he died. This is not a well-remembered fact, but it is a very important one because it established a model for philanthropy that has been followed by others (for example, Charles F. Feeney, the founder of the Atlantic Philanthropies).

Andrew Carnegie founded Carnegie Corporation of New York in 1911 to encourage the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding, and he served as its first president. The Corporation was one of the first general-purpose foundations in this country and has greatly influenced public policy over the years. Its notable accomplishments include the improvement of library services, funding of important studies of race relations in the United States, founding of the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Corporation (now TIAA-CREF), contribution to the development of the Federal Pell Grant, support of research in cognitive science, which led to the development of the children's television show Sesame Street, and initiatives to address peace and security in the nuclear age. Specifically, some of the most outstanding grants in Carnegie's history during the period covered by the two phases of the oral history, 1911–97, include funding for the following:

As demonstrated by the list above and by the oral-history interviews on this Web site, the Corporation's commitment to its core mission of advancing knowledge and understanding has fueled a very diverse group of causes and social projects. Yet its devotion to its mission has stayed remarkably consistent over the years.