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1895-Rare Steel Plate Engraving: Carnegie Library Pittsburg
This Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh steel plate engraving is the culmination and embodiment of centuries of history: of the art form of engraving, of sheet metal and steel production, of the Industrial Revolution in Pennsylvania and America, of the Carnegie Steel Co., and of Andrew Carnegie’s prolific career as a steel magnate and philanthropist.
The production of steel sheet metal did not emerge until the Industrial Revolution, the result of centuries of experimentation and technological advancement that gradually allowed first for the production of sheet metal on increasingly larger scales via rolling mills, then the increasingly efficient production of increasingly higher quality steel via improved furnaces. It wasn’t until the introduction of the Bessemer Converter in 1857, that an efficient and economic method of producing steel plate on a mass scale was available.
Ever a pioneer and astute business man, Andrew Carnegie was the first American to import the Bessemer Converter from England and integrate it into his steel production process. He far surpassed the competition in productivity and profits as a result, catapulting him and the country to the heights of industrial success and to the forefront of the global steel industry.
With the increased production and widespread availability of steel in the first half of the 19th century, steel plate replaced copper as the metal of choice for engraving purposes. Its popular appeal can be attributed to its harder nature which allowed for finer lines and more detailed designs to be etched into the metal, and a far more enduring quality to the engravings than its copper counterparts. The introduction of steel to the world of engraving inevitably resulted in a more industrial, mass-produced approach to what was formerly considered an art.
As the first true steel magnate, Andrew Carnegie is said to have contributed over $350 million in his lifetime to philanthropic endeavors that centered around educational and cultural offerings promoting research, music & the arts, science and world peace; including numerous personal gifts, the building of over 2,500 libraries across the English-speaking world, the founding of many of the world’s greatest universities, and establishment of an array of charitable organizations still active today. He was primarily concerned with providing the world and average man with the necessary resources and opportunities to build himself up and succeed, as he did. He asserted time and again that the rich have a duty to use their wealth to contribute to “the improvement of mankind” and “…promote the welfare and happiness of the common man.” Famously writing, “The man who dies thus rich dies disgraced.”
The Carnegie Public Library in Pittsburgh continues to carry out and embody Carnegie’s philanthropic vision and spirit, acting as an unparalleled resource for educational, professional development, and cultural offerings to the local community to this day.