Address of President Coolidge at the Annual Observance of Founder’s Day at Carnegie Institute

Title: Address of President Coolidge at the Annual Observance of Founder’s Day at Carnegie Institute

Date: October 13, 1927

Location: Pittsburgh, PA

Context: Coolidge remarks on the historical contributions of Pittsburgh to the nation, as well as the personal contributions of Andrew Carnegie 

Ladies and Gentlemen:

This occasion is an illustration of the power of expansion which lies in sound and humane principles. It seems like an immeasurable distance from an insignificant frontier fort to an international art exhibition. From the few straggling log huts of a trading post in the wilderness, to a manufacturing metropolis producing an annual tonnage many times in excess of that of any other city in the world, might be thought to require the development of several centuries. From the savage domain of still more savage men, under the uncertain and disputed sovereignty of two kings of the Old World, to an orderly municipality of a self-governing American Commonwealth, represents progress in government usually covered by the rise and fall of many dynasties. Yet that distance has been traversed, that development has been secured, and that progress has been made by the city of Pittsburgh in the short space of a little over 150 years.

These results have not been accomplished by any magic. They have been brought about by a supreme effort, by the making of sacrifices that reached to life itself, by the endurance of long years of war and of unending toil through many years of peace. Our economics, our Government, are not the result of accident or fortuitous circumstances. Dreams and visions have played little part in them. They have come from men who could face facts and were willing to grapple with realities; from men whose hands were hardened at the plow, whose faces were blackened at the forge, whose bodies had been exposed to the fire of hostile forces. These are the foundations on which our country has been built. Our order, our peace, our prosperity find in them their main supports. Out of them has come the flower of our civilization with its guaranties of liberty, its enormous material resources, its educational institutions, unfolding into the beauties of architecture, of sculpture, of music, and of painting.

All of this has been characteristic of the inner meaning and the triumph of American life. It is exemplified in the history of every important center of population and in the record of every prominent man in the making of our country. We are rather accustomed to think of Washington as a Virginia aristocrat, General of the Army, President of the Republic, master of the beautiful estate at Mount Vernon, clad in silks and velvets, as he is pictured by Peale or by Stuart. His career ended with all of these, but it had its beginnings under much more arduous circumstances. It may well be a matter of pride to the people of this city that his earliest public service in civil and military capacities is so closely associated with this locality. He first came through here in 1753 on his way to carry a protest to the French at Le Boeuff against their plan for the military occupation of the Ohio region. His guide was Christopher Gist, for whom one of your streets is named, and he had the assistance of the Seneca chief, Geuyasuta, fittingly remembered in the designation of your suburban town. It was a journey of great hardship. In the intense cold of winter they swam their horses across the Allegheny. The return was even more perilous. A treacherous Indian guide shot at Washington, who spared his life and then traveled with frosted feet all that night and the next day to escape from further attack. He was thrown from a raft into the icy current of the Allegheny and barely saved by Gist from drowning. This adventure has been commemorated in your city by the Washington Crossing Bridge.

In 1754 Washington caused fortifications to be thrown up at the point, which are still marked by the blockhouse built some 10 years later. This post was almost immediately taken by the French and named Fort Duquesne. Washington led an expedition against it, but failed. He came here also with ill-fated General Braddock, who, by neglecting his advice, was surprised, defeated, and slain by the French and Indians not far from the rear of this building. But in 1758 Forbes and Washington captured those fortifications, which were named Fort Pitt, in honor of the great English Prime Minister. The ax, the spade, and the musket played a very important part in this locality in the great struggle between France and England for the control of North America. In the Indian uprising under Pontiac the fort was again under attack, and there was considerable frontier warfare in this vicinity. Washington made the last of his five journeys here in 1770, when Pittsburgh, according to his journal, consisted of 20 log houses.

For some years this locality was on the exposed frontier of the resolute Colonies. They were people accustomed to hardships who did not hestitate to defend, with muskets in their hands, what they believed to be their rights. After the close of the Revolutionary War, Pittsburgh became a part of Pennsylvania. It was of sufficient importance to support a newspaper in 1786, known as the Pittsburgh Gazette, which has been since published without interruption and was lately merged in the Post-Gazette. The little community having a desire for educational facilities, the next year the Pittsburgh Academy was chartered by the legislature. This developed into the University of Pittsburgh. Soon post riders carried the mail between here and Philadelphia. Commerce began to roll westward in covered wagons, followed by passengers in stage coaches. But it was not until 1854 when what is now the Pennsylvania Railroad reached this city.

This American community, not without the shedding of some of its blood, the enduring of many privations, and always by the sweat of its brow, was gradually coming into existence. The pioneer stock were hewing down the forests, starting their settlement, providing for education, beginning their commerce, opening lines of communication, making ready to write that wonderful epic of coal and oil and steel, paint that inspiring landscape of hillside and water front, decorated by gigantic commercial structures throbbing with the movement of industrial life and surmounted by cloud and fire. They were making a practical application of the abiding principles of progress to the affairs of this life. An almost incomprehensible success was destined to crown their efforts.

People have come here from our own country and from many distant lands until the city with its environs has a population in excess of 1,000,000. Your manufactures of iron and steel stand first in all the world, and you hold a leading place in coal and coke, in glass, and electrical machinery. Your mines and mills produce an enormous tonnage, which, it is claimed, exceeds the total rail and water tonnage of the five greatest seaports in the world—New York, Boston, London, Antwerp, and Hamburg. You are the fifth city in the Nation in bank capital and surplus, and your clearing-house exchanges of $9,198,000,000 for last year put you in sixth place.

Such a development as has come to Pittsburgh is representative of the material prosperity of many of our industrial centers. Its rewards are widely distributed by reason of high wages among the great mass of the people. While the ranks of unskilled labor have not yet come into their full enjoyment, their condition is greatly improved over what they ever before received. The question for the determination of the American people is no longer whether they will be able to secure prosperity, but rather what use they will make of their prosperity. It is only in its use that we can justify its existence. The answer will undoubtedly be found in the religion, the education, and the art of the people. But we have gone far enough to see that the great mass of the wealth of our country has not been used merely for selfish indulgence and ostentatious luxury. It has been used to raise the life of the people into a higher realm.

It is in this direction that the leaders of your economic life have been going, followed by the great body of your people. It is this spirit which has dominated the growth of your community. It is apparent in your stately edifices dedicated to religious worship, in your school buildings, and in your charitable and philanthropic institutions. A fitting example of this development is this beautiful music hall. Around it are similar institutions already in existence or under construction. The courthouse and the Jewish Building for Young Men and Women, the new home of the board of education, and the Cathedral of Learning for the University of Pittsburgh, with your many club buildings, will all combine to give to the life of your city a wide variety of architectural beauty. Important as these are in determining the dominant features of your community, yet we should look in another direction for the ultimate object of all these efforts. Their final abiding place is around the fireside. The chief evidence of your success, your art, your devotion, is in your happy and contented homes. Gradually, through long years of incessant toil under the guidance of inspired leaders, we have been perfecting our civilization and raising the standard of the material, mental, and moral life of the people.

It was one of your great citizens, moved by a deep love of humanity and a desire to promote these ends, who established Carnegie Institute. Coming here an alien, he began work in this city when a mere child for $1.20 a week. He rose rapidly to the position of superintendent of the Pennsylvania Railroad, where he came to realize that the Bessemer process would bring the steel rail into general use. He became one of the great producers of steel, which brought him a large fortune. I once heard him say that in the Old World wealth was quickly appropriated by the nobility and used chiefly for the benefit of the aristocracy, but in America he wished it kept for the people and dedicated to the uses of democracy. In accordance with this policy, out of what he called his surplus wealth, he built a free library and added a museum of natural history and a gallery of fine arts, which are now housed in this imposing structure. The library has grown until it contains 622,000 volumes. Its practical value is apparent in its annual circulation of about 3,000,000 among the people of Pittsburgh.

Mr. Carnegie was an intensely practical man. He only had the advantages of the most meager schooling in his youth. Perhaps he was compensated for this loss by having parents endowed with a most sturdy character. Wishing, however, to provide the youth of the coming generations with training that should especially fit them for industrial life, he started a trade school which later became the Carnegie Institute of Technology. This is now attended by 6,700 students, representing every State in the Union and most of the countries of the world. By these methods, Mr. Carnegie, in common with most of the other men of large wealth in our country, has made great outlays for the service of the people and for the extension of the principles of democracy.

Good thoughts and good deeds have an inherent power for development. They grow and expand. What was in its inception a local art gallery for the benefit of this immediate locality quickly assumed the nature of an international institution. You are now holding the Twenty-sixth International Exhibition of paintings. About 15 foreign countries are represented. There are around 400 pictures by about 80 artists, of whom 30 are Americans. Later these pictures will be shown at the Brooklyn Museum of Arts and Sciences, and for the first time the exhibit will go west of the Rocky Mountains to San Francisco.

The exhibition this year has been made possible through the generosity of two of your distinguished citizens, Andrew W. Mellon and Richard B. Mellon. They stand out as men who are devoting themselves to the service of humanity, one by remaining as a leader in great financial and industrial enterprises and the other by turning his great talents to the administration of public finance as Secretary of the Treasury of the United States, where his leadership in the last six years has been greatly instrumental in restoring the economic equilibrium of the world. What has been taking place in your city is characteristic of many groups of men over the entire Nation. Men of large resources in our country more and more devote themselves to the service and welfare of the people.

It should not escape our attention that this is an international exhibition. It is wholly contemporaneous in its conception. Mr. Carnegie was in nowise deficient in his reverence for the men and the work of the past, but he would never have been content with the somewhat negative results of investigation. He knew that what has been done is done. He was a creator with a desire to encourage and promote creation in others. While it is highly desirable to study and appreciate the art of the past, and bestow due honor upon the old masters, yet if there is to be progress, if there is to be vitality, if there is to be a growing creative purpose in this field, it will be because of the approbation that is bestowed upon those who at present are its devoted exponents. He therefore provided for the purchase annually of not less than two American pictures painted within the year.

In accordance with this principle this exhibition consists of paintings, with few exceptions, of living artists done within the past five years. People who view it will have an opportunity to see what is characteristic in contemporaneous art in each of the countries represented. The advantage of an international contest of this kind is that no country thereby loses anything. The stimulation, the education, the generous rivalry in well-doing that it confers upon those who participate leave all concerned richer than they were before in art and its appreciation. From much humbler beginnings great issues have been evolved. It may be that in the spirit which animates the conduct of these exhibitions lies the germ of a better world relationship.

While this occasion has its international aspects, which we hold of vast importance, we should also remember that it is a distinctly American effort. It is one of the contributions which our country is making to the art of the world. Our people very early showed a desire for portrait painting, which was carried on among the Puritans and the Quakers mostly by visiting Englishmen. But by the middle of the eighteenth century our own art had so advanced as to produce Gilbert Stuart and Benjamin West, who succeeded Sir Joshua Reynolds as president of the Royal Academy, which in later years assigned prominent parts to such Americans of genius as Whistler, Abbey, and Sargent. Of a recent date are La Farge, Homer, and a long line of their contemporaries, many of whom are still living, who hold a high place in the estimation of the world. In the interpretation of the life and spirit of our times, it is generally agreed by art critics that our own countrymen have reached a stage where they do not yield in excellence to the work now being done in any other region. Our country is not deficient in painters. We have reached conditions that are likely to increase their numbers and improve their work.

While it will always be desirable to stimulate and encourage the production of fine paintings, it is even more desirable to stimulate and encourage their wide appreciation by the people. It is a fundamental principle of our institutions that freedom, education, and wealth are not to be reserved for the few, but are to be reached through equal opportunity which is open to all. We have staked American on the potential capacity of the average citizen. Truth and beauty are inseparably related. A general contemplation of fine paintings can not fail to provide an inspiration which will result in the improvement of the character of the people. It is for this reason that the painter and the founder of art galleries rank high as public benefactors. They raise people to a spiritual level which they could not otherwise attain.

That is the evolution which has been going on in our country. It does not always proceed smoothly. It is far from complete. In fact, we have as yet only laid out a part of the plan. But enough has been done so that we know we are going in the right direction. We are under great obligation to those who have given light and leading to this movement. Mr. Carnegie stands out preeminently as one of these. But he would have been first to insist upon a wide distribution of the honor and glory. He was accustomed to say that he had made his success by gathering around him men who knew more than he did. It is not he alone that is entitled to credit for the possessions which went into his vast philanthropies. They were the joint result of himself and all those who were associated with him, down to the humblest worker in his mills. They all have their share in this international art exhibition. They are all reaping its benefits. Yet we all realize that it was his leadership which made it possible.

A better understanding has come to the American people in recent years of this method by which we are all cooperating to work out a common destiny. It has brought a great harvest of contentment and a great increase of effort and efficiency in production. In its light the relation between employer and employee has been so greatly improved that much of the old friction no longer exists. Under a new realization of their mutuality of interest an industrial peace has come, which a short time since would have been thought impossible.

There are still some who sit apart, who do not see, who can not understand. To them our industrial life is the apotheosis of selfishness. They can not realize that the rattle of the reaper, the buzz of the saw, the clang of the anvil, the roar of traffic are all part of a mighty symphony, not only of material but of spiritual progress. Out of them the Nation is supporting its religious institutions, endowing its colleges, providing its charities, furnishing adornments of architecture, rearing its monuments, organizing its orchestras, and encouraging its painting. But the American people see and understand. Unperturbed, they move majestically forward in the consciousness that they are making their contribution in common with our sister nations to the progress of humanity.

Citation: Everett Sanders Papers, Library of Congress

The Coolidge Foundation gratefully acknowledges the volunteer efforts of Tiana Luo, who prepared this document for digital publication.

One Response to “Address of President Coolidge at the Annual Observance of Founder’s Day at Carnegie Institute”

  1. Tiana Luo

    A reminder of the power of American industriousness and its influence on the cultural sphere. Here, Coolidge vividly describes moments shaping Pittsburgh history, and connects the spirit and intentions of the Carnegie Institute founder to the nation’s current efforts in furthering human progress.

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