Tainted Seeds

Pray sleep soundly—all is fixed—your Bonds and mine go as our partners' go—into vaults, Carnegie wrote cousin Dod. 1 The vault, built specifically for their stacks upon stacks of almost $300 million in bonds, was located in friendly Hoboken, New Jersey, out of the New York City taxman's reach. It was in a building that also housed the Home Trust Company, essentially a private bank Carnegie created to handle his financial interests—including the disbursements for his munificence, from major endowments to small pensions—all managed by Robert Franks, his trusted financial secretary since 1883.

Although Carnegie visited the Home Trust building several times, he never laid eyes on the mountainous stacks of bonds. He preferred to be the monkey who heard no evil, saw no evil, spoke no evil, because while money was power, it also had an odious element. He rarely carried cash with him, relying on James Bertram and Franks to handle any transactions. Once, he was even tossed from a London bus for not having the fare; and he was heckled by Mark Twain for years for borrowing a quarter from the author when Twain himself was in dire financial straits. He liked to consider himself above the dirty stuff, yet the very act of rejecting its physical presence gave him a sense of control over money, a need dating back to his family's hungry days.

Now came the penultimate challenge of giving away his accumulated wealth, all $360 million plus. Morley didn't envy him and warned him that he'd have some difficulty “in adapting the principles of accumulation to the business of distribution.” 2 Carnegie, however, was confident: “Thousands of clippings from eleven thousand daily papers reach me. I read them to get my bearings in the new Line of Trade. Some are really strengthening…. Tenacity and steady sailing to the haven we clear for—supreme confidence in one's own ideas, or conclusions rather, after thought—and above all, placing use above popularity.” 3 He knew he'd come under criticism, but would persevere as he always had. His first benefaction on retiring, he was certain, was impervious to slander.


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