Penn State History Lesson: The University’s First Bromance
There’s a classic Penn State legend about how the campus got two of its oldest buildings: Schwab Auditorium and the Carnegie Building. According to myth (or your friendly campus tour guide), the two buildings’ namesakes were quite competitive with one another. Charles Schwab and Andrew Carnegie were big businessmen from Pittsburgh, each a tycoon in the steel industry.
The legend says that Schwab and Carnegie extended their aggressive business tactics to their relationship. They both decided to give the university money to construct buildings on campus, and they both wanted to have the bigger and better one. So naturally, they started a competition with one another. Construction began on Schwab in 1902; ground broke on Carnegie the following year.
According to the story, the two men corresponded the entire time their buildings were being constructed. Each wanted their building to be bigger, because whoever had the larger building would obviously be the superior being. Schwab Auditorium ended up being larger in square footage, with 34,433 square feet compared to Carnegie’s 34,317.
To construct his building, which was the school’s first library, Carnegie invested $100,000. Initially, Schwab gave the university the same amount of money for the auditorium, which was originally intended to be a chapel. However, the building ended up costing Schwab $120,000 (those extra 116 square feet cost a pretty penny, huh?).
I’ve always been quite interested in this particular part of Penn State lore, so I went to the Penn State Archives to investigate. I was expecting to find a slew of letters from Carnegie and Schwab, cursing one another and avowing to claim victory in the end. Yet when I arrived at the archives, a very different set of correspondences awaited me.
I found that Charles Schwab and Andrew Carnegie were much more than rivals or industry colleagues; they were friends. They knew one another for over 40 years, up until Carnegie’s death in 1919. Though neither of them attended Penn State, they both invested significant sums of money in the university. Personally, I think that makes both Schwab and Carnegie honorary Nittany Lions. Thus, I would argue that their relationship was, in fact, Penn State’s first bromance.
Like I said before, Schwab and Carnegie knew each other for over four decades. They met in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny mountains, where Carnegie vacationed. Since Carnegie was 27 years older than Schwab, young “Charlie” learned a lot from Mr. Carnegie. According to Schwab’s memorial speech for Carnegie, he had to do quite a few tasks for his older mentor. Schwab did everything from grooming Carnegie’s horse to running errands.
All of those little tasks paid off, as Carnegie hired Schwab as a stake-driver in Edgar Thomson Steel Work and Furnaces’ engineering core. Schwab moved through the ranks quickly at Carnegie’s various ventures, being promoted to general superintendent of Homestead Works in 1886 and general superintendent of Edgar Thomson in 1889. His ambition and drive paid off, as Carnegie named him president of Carnegie Steel Company in 1897. At the time, Schwab was only 35 years old.
But Carnegie and Schwab’s relationship was much more than professional. They were, after all, very close friends. During my time at the archives, I thumbed through countless telegraphs from one man to the other. They were almost like texts from the early twentieth century; Carnegie would wish Schwab a happy new year, Schwab wanted to meet up with Carnegie while they were both in Pittsburgh.
Carnegie passed away on August 11, 1919 at the age of 83. In a memorial essay to Carnegie published in November of that year, Schwab told the story of their relationship. He wrote about the adventures of their youth, and how Carnegie always teased Schwab about how he spent his money too frivolously. But there was also a note of genuine admiration, with Schwab stating, “In my wide association in life, meeting with many and great men in various parts of the world, I have yet to find the man, however great or exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than he would ever do under a spirit of criticism.”
Thanks to these two friends (bros, if you will), we have two of the most recognizable buildings on campus. Undoubtedly, they’ve gone through some changes over the years. Carnegie isn’t the school’s library anymore, and Schwab doesn’t host religious services. But these two buildings that live so close to one another stand testament to two incredible men. Penn State has a lot to thank Charles Schwab and Andrew Carnegie for.
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