The story of Carnegie Hall begins in the middle of the Atlantic. In the spring of 1887, on board a ship traveling from New York to London, newlyweds Andrew Carnegie (the rich industrialist) and Louise Whitfield (daughter of a well-to-do New York merchant) were on their way to the groom’s native Scotland for their honeymoon. Also on board was the 25-year-old Walter Damrosch, who had just finished his second season as conductor and musical director of the Symphony Society of New York and the Oratorio Society of New York, and was traveling to Europe for a summer of study with Hans von Bülow. Over the course of the voyage, the couple developed a friendship with Damrosch, inviting him to visit them in Scotland. It was there, at an estate called Kilgraston, that Damrosch discussed his vision for a new concert hall in New York City. Carnegie expressed interest in committing a portion of his enormous wealth to the project, and the idea of Carnegie Hall was born.
From this germ of an idea grew a legendary concert hall whose allure has drawn the world’s greatest artists to its stages, setting the standard for excellence in music for more than a century. Gustav Mahler, Leopold Stokowski, Vladimir Horowitz, Maria Callas, Liza Minnelli, Paul Robeson, Bob Dylan—they all made their mark at Carnegie Hall. Andrew Carnegie proclaimed at the ceremonial laying of the cornerstone in 1890, “It is built to stand for ages, and during these ages it is probable that this hall will intertwine itself with the history of our country.” Indeed, some of the most prominent political figures, authors, and intellectuals have appeared at Carnegie Hall, from Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt to Mark Twain and Booker T. Washington. In addition to standing as the pinnacle of musical achievement, Carnegie Hall has been an integral player in the development of American history.