There are heroes who walk among us: the clam digger who rescues a man from a burning retirement home; the dancer who prevents a robber from shooting two policemen at a nightclub; the former Marine, blinded during the Korean War, who saves two women from drowning in a river. What they have in common—besides the willingness to risk their own lives to save that of a friend or a stranger—is an unwillingness to brag about their actions.
In 1904, moved by the stories of two men who died trying to rescue others in the devastating Harwick Mine Disaster that killed all but one of 180 men, Andrew Carnegie conceived of a fund to reward selfless acts of bravery and courage. Since its creation 120 years ago, the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission has awarded more than 10,000 medals and distributed more than $44 million in awards, grants, tuition, and other assistance.
Published under the auspices of the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, the original edition of A Century of Heroes received an award of excellence in 2005 from Communication Arts and, along with its accompanying video, remains a part of the awarding materials given to each Carnegie hero. Updated and expanded, A New Century of Heroes profiles more than 200 medal recipients: ordinary men, women, and children who undertook extraordinary acts to save the lives of others. It also reveals the tireless efforts of investigators who roamed the United States and Canada, collecting data on the hundreds of nominations received each year for consideration and conducting thousands of interviews with rescuers, witnesses, and individuals whose lives were saved. Their maps, diagrams, and marked-up photographs, many of which are included in this volume, illustrate the high standards and strict requirements imposed by the Commission to ensure that a Carnegie Medal recipient truly deserves the appellation “hero.” Only about one in ten nominees is selected for recognition.
The heroes featured in this book offer a cross-section of the thousands of honorees who have received the award. They represent only a few of the inspiring stories that uphold the Carnegie Hero Fund’s legacy, reminding us that true heroes are found, not on television or in comic strips, but in the uncommon strength that lives inside all of us.
Eric P. Zahren is President and Chair of the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, Andrew Carnegie’s Pittsburgh-based foundation that recognizes civilian heroism throughout the United States and Canada.
He joined the Commission in 2015, and became its Executive Director in 2016 following a 25-year career as a Special Agent with the United States Secret Service, with assignments in New Jersey, Washington, DC, and Berlin, Germany; and as Special Agent in Charge in his hometown of Pittsburgh, PA. He became President of the Commission in 2017 and Chair in June 2022.
A graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania and the University of London, Mr. Zahren also conducted studies at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany. He resides in Pittsburgh with his wife, Laura. They have three grown children.
Addictive, inspiring, and often moving, the many concise stories of heroism in this book combine with the history of the Carnegie Hero Fund to paint a picture of American civil society at its best. In these pages you will find an elixir that melts away the destructive, gratuitous divisions of identity politics in favor of the common humanity that binds us together. At present, this is not a small thing.
Stories connect us as people, and those told in A New Century of Heroes are awesome accounts of the best of humanity blossoming in the worst situations. This story of the extraordinary Carnegie Hero Fund and the thousands of people it has celebrated and supported across centuries will inspire, amaze, and further connect us all.
If you want to be uplifted, inspired, and heartened by the courage and compassion of the many heroes who have been recognized by the Carnegie Hero Fund since its inception, I highly recommend this beautiful book. You may come away wondering, as I did, how many other people out there might be heroes (maybe even you!) but just haven’t had the opportunity to act yet.
The legacy of Andrew Carnegie comes to life in this inspiring and humbling volume of heroic deeds. The stories within these pages shine an important light on the value and impact of courage, compassion, and altruism, especially in a world increasingly defined by division. This is essential reading for any student of life, and all those interested in tapping into the power of our shared humanity.
The Carnegie Hero Fund may finally get the attention and admiration it deserves. Beautifully designed, artfully illustrated, well-researched, and gracefully written, A New Century of Heroes is a magnificent and inspiring addition to the literature on American philanthropy, the genius of Andrew Carnegie, and the life stories of some of American’s greatest heroes, unsung until now.
“For those curious to learn about the heroics awarded over the last century-plus, the recent book, A New Century of Heroes, will leave readers genuinely moved by these acts of everyday bravery, laid out in compelling detail,… the book is not only fascinating in its accounts of heroism but also beautifully laid out with photos and illustrations adding to readers’ perspectives… this book just might be the antidote to restore faith in humanity’s capacity to rise to the occasion when empathy and compassion come calling.”
In a time when we are too often inundated with images of inhuman acts, it is refreshing to read the poignant stories in A Century of Heroes. Andrew Carnegie was truly inspired 100 years ago when he created the Hero Fund to "celebrate the noblest, most unselfish behavior of which human beings may be capable."
Local heroes may never have been as important as they are today, an era when there are so few national heroes. Today the national hunger for heroes may be best satisfied on a small scale, where a single man, woman, or child may exemplify the selfless bravery America has long honored.