Carnegie Hero Fund

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Andrew Carnegie

The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, also known as Carnegie Hero Fund, was established to recognize persons who perform extraordinary acts of heroism in civilian life in the United States and Canada, and to provide financial assistance for those disabled and the dependents of those killed saving or attempting to save others. Those chosen for recognition receive the Carnegie Medal[1] and become eligible for scholarship aid and other benefits. A private operating foundation, the Hero Fund was established in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1904 with a trust fund of $5 million by Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish-American industrialist and philanthropist.

History[edit]

The fund was inspired by Selwyn M. Taylor and Daniel A. Lyle, who gave their lives in rescue attempts following the Harwick Mine disaster in Harwick, Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburgh, on January 25, 1904. The disaster claimed 181, including Taylor and Lyle, who responded to the scene on hearing word of the explosion and joined in the rescue attempts. Only one person survived the explosion, 16-year-old Adolph Gunia. Greatly touched by Taylor's and Lyle's sacrifice, Carnegie had medals privately minted for their families, and within two months he wrote the Hero Fund's governing "Deed of Trust",[2] which was adopted by the newly created commission on April 15, 1904.

Administration[edit]

Dutch medal of the Carnegie Hero Fund.

Administered by a 21-member board still based in Pittsburgh, the Hero Fund has awarded 9,611 medals as of June 2013 and has given $35.2 million in one-time grants, scholarship aid, death benefits, and continuing assistance. Recipients who have fully met awarding requirements have been selected from more than 85,000 nominees. The Commission’s working definition of a hero as well as its requirements for awarding remain largely those that were approved by the founder. The candidate for an award must be a civilian who voluntarily risks his or her life to an extraordinary degree while saving or attempting to save the life of another person. The rescuer must have no full measure of responsibility for the safety of the victim. There must be conclusive evidence to support the act’s occurrence, and the act must be called to the attention of the Commission within two years. About 90% of the those awarded are male, and, over the life of the Fund, 20.7 percent of the awards have been given posthumously.[3]

Carnegie Medal[edit]

The three inch (7.13cm) in diameter bronze medals which are given to awardees, are struck by Greco Industries of Danbury, Connecticut and consist of 85% copper, 5% tin, 5% lead, and 5% zinc.[4]

A verse from the New Testament of the Bible encircles the outer edge: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).

Expanded into Europe[edit]

On 21 September 1908, Andrew Carnegie expanded the concept with the establishment of the British Carnegie Hero Fund Trust, based in Dunfermline, Scotland.[5]

Within the next three years, the British trust was followed by equivalent foundations in nine other European countries:

  • The French Fondation Carnegie - founded 23 July 1909
  • The German Carnegie Stiftung für Lebensretter - founded in late December 1910. The trust was taken over by the German Nazi government in 1934 and wasn't recreated until 2005.
  • The Norwegian Carnegie Heltefond for Norge - founded 21 March 1911
  • The Dutch Stichting Carnegie Heldenfonds - founded 23 March 1911
  • The Swiss Fondation Carnegie pour les Sauveteurs ("The Carnegie Rescuers Foundation") - founded 28 April 1911
  • The Belgian Carnegie Hero Fund Commission - founded 13 July 1911
  • The Italian Fondazione Carnegie - founded 25 September 1911
  • The Swedish Carnegiestiftelsen - founded 6 October 1911
  • The Danish Carnegies Belønningsfond for Heltemod - founded 30 December 1911. The Danish trust also covers acts of heroism in Greenland and the Faroe Islands.

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