January 21, 2021 Organ Note

For Carnegie, Organs were like Pringle’s Potato Chips. He Couldn’t Stop with Just One!

Carnegie Organ, Christian Church, Virginia, Illinois

How would you spend $300 billion? That was Andrew Carnegie’s net worth, in 1901, in today’s dollars. He had just sold Carnegie Steel to J. P. Morgan. He was 66 years old. He had limitless money and no job. What to do?

He started spending. First on himself, his houses, his art collection, and his organs. Then he started to spend on others. He established a peace league, an ethics institute, an international affairs council, a research and educational institution, a museum, libraries, a heroes fund, a teacher’s retirement fund, and several trusts to serve “the deserving and aspiring poor.”

And then there were the church organs. It started small. In 1873 Carnegie gave his first pipe organ to his family’s Swedenborgian church in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania. Then it snowballed. Applications poured in from the large cathedral in Pittsburgh to small village churches across the country and abroad. As Carnegie said, “every church seemed to need a better organ than it had….”

To qualify for consideration, churches pledged to play spiritually uplifting music. Church organists were required to contribute their talents to the social and cultural advancement of their larger community. Congregations had to make the organ available for students to take lessons and for community recitals.

If a church qualified, Carnegie donated half the organ cost. The congregation was responsible for the remaining half. Carnegie believed that money should be distributed in ways that “stimulated…further efforts for [individuals’ and groups’] own improvement.” For churches, that meant good stewardship.

Carnegie organ grants were awarded all across the United States. Pennsylvania received more grants than any other state –1351. The grants extended far beyond national borders to all English speaking populations, including Canada, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Africa, Australia, British Guiana, British West Indies, Gibraltar, India and New Zealand. Carnegie funded almost 8,000 church organs in all.

Carnegie was a desultory and unenthusiastic church goer. Perhaps an agnostic. So, why did Carnegie do this? On one occasion he explained, “You can’t always trust what the pulpit says, but you can always depend upon what the organ says.” On another, he said, “It lessened the pain of the sermons.”

At Christ Church, we are privileged to hear sermons that illuminate our faith and music that uplifts our spirits. Our organ is funded through our good stewardship. We can depend on Pam and Charles to provide us with choral and organ music that amplifies the meaning of our scriptures, liturgy and, despite Carnegie’s feelings, sermons.


Read past organ notes here.