You can tell a lot about someone by their office. Or study. What’s in it, how it’s kept, what’s on the walls … these are all clues.

Andrew Carnegie's study

This is a photo of Andrew Carnegie’s study, around 1905.

This is a photo of Andrew Carnegie’s study, around 1905. It was inside his mansion on Fifth Avenue in New York City. That’s where Carnegie lived after selling his company, Carnegie Steel, to J. P. Morgan. That transaction made Carnegie the wealthiest man in the world. This is where he spent the remainder of his life giving away his fortune. So it was no doubt a joyful place.

Much of Carnegie’s benevolence was directed toward African American causes, mostly through his connection with Booker T. Washington, which I mentioned earlier this week.

But he did much more than just give money. For example, Carnegie, in 1905, predicted that Europe would one day become united as a single economic entity. When’s the last time someone made a prediction like that?

The Carnegie mansion is still there and now it’s the Cooper-Hewitt Museum. What’s left of this study is inside. I’m not saying I want this office, or even one like it. But there are some things in it that I noticed and appreciated.

Take a look.

Did you see the inspirational sayings on the walls?

  • “All is well since all grows better”
  • “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you”
  • “The aids to noble life are all within”

Do you find anything unusual about them?

I find it amazing that Carnegie had these on his wall about 100 years before inspirational sayings just like them began popping up in self-improvement circles. For example in films like “The Secret” and the “Teachings of Abraham.”

In fact, in his book “Think And Grow Rich,” Napoleon Hill refers to what he calls “Carnegie’s secret” as the essence of the book.

Was Carnegie a gnosis teacher, with Hill — and the world — as his students? Well, he was definitely a thought leader.

Some other things I noticed:

  • The chair by the bookcase, for meditation, reading, idea creation …
  • The cat nap couch, for contemplation and invention …
  • How small this office is compared to how big you’d think it ought to be for the richest man in the world …
  • There’s no conference table, so this spot was apparently meant as the sanctuary for Carnegie’s mind …
  • The fireplace is great but I wonder if he used it …
  • Photographs of people and places and things he liked …

All of these are the signs of a highly productive, highly creative, thought-filled, purposeful man. All of that and he was apparently always jolly.

This is from the New York Times’ review of David Nasaw’s book about Carnegie:

Unlike many conspicuously short men, Carnegie was optimistic and outgoing. “Carnegie’s sunny personality radiated warmth and light,” recalled James Bridge, Carnegie’s assistant in the 1880’s who would later break with him. “He loved to find his own joy of living reflected by those about him. He was the most consistently happy man I ever knew.”

Carnegie made friends easily and had a keen eye for which friends to make on the way up and which young men to teach when he himself had reached the top.

But making a colossal fortune was not enough for him. Unlike many of his capitalist brethren of that era, Carnegie had an intense need to improve the world while he was at it.

I think this post is just about it for my Carnegie marathon this week! Enough about Carnegie already!

But you do have to admit that he had some admirable qualities and uncanny insights that still ring true today.

And it was into this social context, in the widely cast shadow of Andrew Carnegie’s way of thinking, that the Black Fives Era first began to unfold.

(Photograph courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York.)