Carnegie Council's founder, Andrew Carnegie, was perhaps the first to state publicly that the rich have a moral obligation to give away their fortunes. His 1889 work The Gospel of Wealth asserted that all personal wealth beyond that required to supply the needs of one's family should be regarded as a trust fund to be administered for the benefit of the community, and during his lifetime, Andrew Carnegie gave away over $350 million.

The son of a loom maker, Andrew Carnegie was born in Dunfermline, Scotland, on November 25, 1835. At the age of 12, due to an economic depression in Scotland, Carnegie’s family immigrated to the United States and joined a Scottish colony in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburgh. Carnegie immediately started working as a bobbin boy (one who operates a spindle on which thread is wound) in a cotton mill earning $1.20 per week but continued his education by attending night school.

A year later, Carnegie took a job as a messenger boy for a telegraph service. After teaching himself telegraphy, he was hired by Thomas Scott, superintendent of the Pittsburgh division of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and was soon making $35 a month as his personal assistant. Carnegie was so successful in this role that he was eventually appointed to Scott's position after Scott became Superintendent of the Railroad. Carnegie spent twelve years with the railroad and made several fortuitous investments during that time, including the Woodruff Sleeping Car Company (the producer of the first sleeping car) and an oil venture in Storey Farm, Pennsylvania.

In 1865, Carnegie helped form the Keystone Bridge Company, a company that replaced wooden railroad bridges with steel. After meeting Henry Bessemer, the inventor of a new iron-to-steel converter, on a trip to England in 1873, he became convinced that the future of American industry was in the manufacture and use of steel. On his return to Pittsburgh, he built the J. Edgar Thomson Steel Mill near Pittsburgh using the ideas being developed by Bessemer in England. The "Carnegie Empire" was born.

In 1899, Carnegie consolidated all of his holdings into the Carnegie Steel Company, making it the largest steel company in the world. In 1901, he sold the company to J.P. Morgan's United States Steel Company for $250 million, and from that point on, Carnegie devoted himself full-time to his various philanthropic projects.

Carnegie's philanthropic career began well before he sold Carnegie Steel. His first endowment was to his hometown of Dunfirmline, Scotland, donating 25,000 English pounds for the building of public baths. His first donation for a library was also in Dunfirmline, in 1882. (All together Carnegie would fund 2,507 libraries in the English speaking world: 1,689 in the United States, 660 in Great Britain, and 125 in Canada.)

His main "trusts," or charitable foundations, were (1) the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland (Edinburgh), founded in 1901 and intended for the improvement and expansion of the four Scottish universities and for Scottish student financial aid; (2) the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust, founded in 1903 and intended to aid Dunfermline's educational institutions; (3) the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust (Dunfermline), founded in 1913 and intended for various charitable purposes, including the building of libraries, theatres, child-welfare centres, and so on; (4) the Carnegie Institute of Pittsburgh, founded in 1896 and intended to improve Pittsburgh's cultural and educational institutions; (5) the Carnegie Institution of Washington, founded in 1902 and contributing to various areas of scientific research; (6) the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, founded in 1910 and intended to disseminate (usually through publications) information to promote peace and understanding among nations; and (7) the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the largest of all Carnegie foundations, founded in 1911 and intended for "the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding among the people of the United States" and, from 1917, Canada and the British colonies.

In his final years, Carnegie would spent most of his time in endeavors to promote world peace. He built the Pan American Union building in Washington, D.C., the Hague Peace Palace in the Netherlands, and founded the Church Peace Union (CPU), now the Carnegie Council (see History of the Carnegie Council) to promote international peace.

Andrew Carnegie married Louise Whitfield of New York in 1887 and they had one child, Margaret. Andrew Carnegie died in Lenox, Massachusetts, on August 11, 1919.