The Museum's main floor 2009.
Our Historic Home
Racine Heritage Museum is housed in a historic building that was originally built as a Carnegie Library in 1903. Libraries were a favorite philanthropy of Andrew Carnegie, whose foundation financed 1,679 libraries in the United States between 1880 and 1917.
The library outgrew the space and moved to a new site in 1958. The building was given a new life as the Racine County Museum (now Racine Heritage Museum) in 1962.
The Museum's front doors.
The building has been grandfathered out of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and is not handicapped accessible. We apologize for the inconvenience.
Efforts to create a local public library began in 1897, were spearheaded by the Women's Club of Racine and supported by area businessmen. Eventually the City of Racine sought construction funds from Andrew Carnegie, who, late in 1901, offered $50,000. The building located at 701 Main Street was completed and opened in March of 1904.
The library outgrew the space, leading to the construction of a new central library at Seventh and Lake Streets, which opened in 1958. After much debate, the Carnegie building was transferred to County management in 1961, and opened as the Racine County Museum in 1962.
Inside the library sometime before 1950.
Scottish-born Andrew Carnegie had immigrated to Allegheny, Pennsylvania at 12 years of age. His formal education (three years) ended with immigration, but Carnegie was able to continue to read because Allegheny's Colonel James Anderson allowed young workers to borrow a book from his personal library every Saturday. Carnegie later said this opportunity opened the windows through which the light of knowledge streamed, and he resolved to make similar opportunities available to other poor workers should he ever be wealthy.
The refurbished library of the 1950s.
Carnegie eventually created the Carnegie Steel Company, and he did indeed become wealthy. In 1901 he sold the steel company for $250 million dollars, retired and devoted the rest of his life to giving away his immense wealth. Libraries were one of his favorite philanthropies; The Carnegie Foundation financed 1,679 libraries in the United States between 1880 and 1917.
Why not everyone wanted Carnegie's money
Andrew Carnegie always maintained that when workers went on strike, his steel mills should shut down, and strikebreaking scabs would never be used.
In July of 1892, with Carnegie away in Scotland and Henry Clay Frick in charge of the Homestead Steel Plant, the workers there went on strike. Frick decided to stop negotiating with the union, locked workers out of the plant, and brought in the Pinkerton National Detective Agency to protect the plant and the non-union force he intended to hire. When the Pinkertons arrived, an army of angry strikers met them, and hours of gunfire and other attacks resulted in deaths and injuries. The Pennsylvania National Guard eventually restored order, and the union broke in a few months. Although Carnegie himself did not initiate this sequence of events, neither did he tell Frick not to do so. He also didn't settle the strike once the violence erupted.
Carnegie's offer to Racine was presented at the City Council meeting on January 6, 1902. At this same meeting the local Trades and Labor Council filed an objection to accepting the money because to do so would be "perpetuating the memory of one whose attitude… caused the deaths at the hands of his hired assassins of toilers in his employ… We believe the acceptance of money thus polluted is morally wrong."
On 20 January 1902 the Carnegie offer was accepted. A site and architect were chosen, and by May of 1903 the cornerstone was laid. The library opened for business in March of 1904.
Fascinating Fact: Racine's Second Carnegie Library
By 1912 Racine needed more library space. A second request for funds was made of Andrew Carnegie, and granted. Built in the Prairie style, still standing at 1407 South Memorial Drive, it is now privately owned after serving as a branch library for 74 years.