On March 11, 1914, the Carnegie Corporation, a charity established by steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, notified the Rapid City Library’s Board of Trustees of its decision to award $12,500 for the construction of a free public library. The terms of the agreement required the Rapid City Council to allocate $1,250 annually to maintain the library, as well as ensure that the building was used solely as a public library.
With the Carnegie funds secured, construction on the new library began in 1915. The new library opened its doors for the first time on February 24, 1916. As reported by the Rapid City Journal, Dr. Cleophas O’Harra, President of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, delivered brief remarks at the opening. He spoke of “the importance of books, of a good librarian, and of a good building.” Dr. O’Harra also called for the library to “secure all historical matter pertaining to this region, which would grow more valuable as time went on.”
Andrew Carnegie had humble beginnings in Scotland and later rose to become the richest man in the world during his time. By the 1880s, he had moved to the United States and built the Carnegie Steel Company, which produced his substantial wealth, as chronicled by the National Public Radio. However, he ultimately donated his fortune away—including $60 million to build 1,689 public libraries all across the nation.
To read more early correspondence from the Rapid City Public Library, visit the Black Hills Knowledge Network’s digital archives.