1891: What It Was Like When Carnegie Hall Opened In New York For The First Time

By | May 4, 2020

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1895: View of Carnegie Hall on the corner of Seventh Avenue and 57th Street, New York City. (Photo by Museum of the City of New York/Byron Collection/Getty Images)

If it weren't for a chance encounter on a cruise ship, New York City's famed Carnegie Hall may have never been built. Today, Carnegie Hall is one of the most prestigious concert venues in the world, but while it was being built, many people believed that the concert hall was doomed to fail. Still, Carnegie Hall opened with pomp and fanfare on May 5, 1891, complete with a concert featuring Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Let's look at the inception, building, and opening of the world-famous Carnegie Hall. 

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Andrew Carnegie. (adamsmith.org)

A Chance Encounter

Scottish-American businessman, steel industrialist, and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie remained a bachelor until he was 51 years old, by which time he'd amassed the kind of fortune that leads one's name to be synonymous with wealth for generations. He married a 30-year-old woman named Louise Whitfield in 1887, and for their honeymoon, the couple took a cruise to Scotland. On board the ship, Andrew Carnegie became fast friends with a fellow passenger, Walter Damrosch, the conductor of the Oratorio Society of New York. During their conversations, Damrosch mentioned to Carnegie that he needed a permanent home for his organization. Once they landed in Scotland, Carnegie invited Damrosch to join him at his Scottish estate to discuss the possibility of building a new, modern concert hall in New York City.