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|John Jacob Astor IV|
Astor in 1895
|Born||July 13, 1864
Rhinebeck, New York
|Died||April 15, 1912 (aged 47)
RMS Titanic (sunk), North Atlantic Ocean
|Trinity Church Cemetery|
|Education||St Paul's School|
|Alma mater||Harvard University|
|Net worth||US $85 million (equivalent to approximately $2,077,224,138 in 2015 dollars)|
|Spouse(s)||Ava Lowle Willing
(m. 1891–1909; divorced)
Madeleine Talmage Force
(m. 1911–1912; his death)
|Children||William Vincent Astor
Ava Alice Muriel Astor
John Jacob Astor VI
|Parent(s)||William Backhouse Astor, Jr.
Caroline Webster Schermerhorn
John Jacob "Jack" Astor IV (July 13, 1864 – April 15, 1912), often dubbed "Jack Ass" in the press, was an American businessman, real estate builder, investor, inventor, writer, lieutenant colonel in the Spanish–American War, and a prominent member of the Astor family.
In April 1912, Astor earned a prominent place in history when he died in the sinking of the RMS Titanic in the early hours of April 15. Astor was among the 1,514 people on board who did not survive. He was the richest passenger aboard the Titanic and was thought to be among the richest people in the world at that time, with a net worth of nearly $87 million when he died.
Early life, education, and family
John Jacob Astor IV was born on July 13, 1864. He was the youngest of five children and only son of businessman, collector, and race horse breeder/owner William Backhouse Astor, Jr. (1829–1892) and socialite Caroline Webster "Lina" Schermerhorn (1830–1908). His four elder sisters were Emily (1854–1881), Helen (1855–1893), Charlotte (1858–1920), and Caroline ("Carrie") (1861–1948). He was a great-grandson of fur-trader John Jacob Astor (1763–1848) and Sarah Cox Todd (1761–1834), whose fortune made the Astor family one of the wealthiest in the United States. Jack's paternal grandfather William Backhouse Astor, Sr. (1792–1875) was a prominent real estate businessman. Through his paternal grandmother Margaret Rebecca Armstrong (1800–1872), Jack was also a great-grandson of Senator John Armstrong, Jr. (1758–1843) and Alida Livingston (1761–1822) of the Livingston family. Lina's parents were Abraham Schermerhorn and Helen White. Astor attended St Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire and later attended Harvard University. Jack was also a nephew of financer/philanthropist John Jacob Astor III (1822–1890) and grandnephew of occasional poet John Jacob Astor, Jr. (1791–1869). Helen's husband was diplomat James Roosevelt "Rosey" Roosevelt (1854–1927), half-brother of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882–1945) of the Roosevelt family. Carrie, a noted philanthropist, was the wife of Marshall Orme Wilson (1860–1926), brother of banker Richard Thornton Wilson, Jr. (1866–1929) and socialite Grace Graham Wilson (1870–1953). Jack was also a first cousin of Viscount William Waldorf "Willy" Astor (1848–1919).
- William Vincent Astor (1891–1959), businessman and philanthropist
- Ava Alice Muriel Astor (1902–1956), socialite and heiress
Jack and Ava divorced in November 1909. Compounding the scandal of their divorce was Astor's announcement that he would remarry. At the age of 47, Jack married 18-year-old socialite Madeleine Talmage Force (1893–1940), the sister of real estate businesswoman and socialite Katherine Emmons Force (1891–1948). Katherine and Madeleine's parents were William Hurlbut Force and Katherine Arvilla Talmage. Jack and Madeleine were married in his mother's ballroom at Beechwood, the family's Newport, Rhode Island, mansion. There was also much controversy over their 29-year age difference. His son Vincent despised Madeleine, yet he served as best man at Jack and Madeleine's wedding. The couple took an extended honeymoon in Europe and Egypt to wait for the gossip to calm down. Among the few Americans who did not spurn him at this time was Margaret Brown, later fictionalized as The Unsinkable Molly Brown. She accompanied the Astors to Egypt and France and, by coincidence, was called home to the U.S. at the same time the Astors also found it necessary to abbreviate their touring.
Among Astor's accomplishments was A Journey in Other Worlds (1894), a science fiction novel about life in the year 2000 on the planets Saturn and Jupiter. He also patented several inventions, including a bicycle brake in 1898, a "vibratory disintegrator" used to produce gas from peat moss, and a pneumatic road-improver, and he helped develop a turbine engine. Astor made millions in real estate. In 1897, Astor built the Astoria Hotel, "the world's most luxurious hotel", in New York City, adjoining the Waldorf Hotel owned by Astor's cousin and rival, William. The complex became known as the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, coincidentally becoming the host location to the U.S. inquiries into the sinking of the RMS Titanic, on which Colonel Astor died.
From 1894 to 1896, he was a colonel on the military staff of Governor Levi P. Morton. Shortly after the outbreak of the Spanish–American War in 1898, Astor personally financed a volunteer artillery unit known as the "Astor Battery", which saw service in the Philippines. In May 1898, Astor was appointed a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Volunteers and served as an officer on the staff of Major General William Shafter in Cuba, during the Santiago Campaign. He was later given a brevet (honorary promotion) to colonel in recognition of his services. He was mustered out of the Volunteer Army in November 1898.
During the war, he allowed his yacht, the Nourmahal, to be used by the U.S. government. He appeared in the films President McKinley's Inspection of Camp Wikoff (1898) and Col. John Jacob Astor, Staff and Veterans of the Spanish–American War (1899). As a result of his military service, Astor was entitled to the Spanish Campaign Medal. After the war, Astor was often referred to as "Colonel Astor".
Astor was a member of several military and hereditary societies. He was an early member of the New York Society of Colonial Wars and was assigned membership number 138. He was also a member of the Military Order of Foreign Wars, Society of the Army of Santiago, and the Society of the American Wars of the United States.
Tesla Motor Company
On January 10, 1899, Astor became an early investor in the newly created Motor Company. He invested $100,000 in return for 500 shares and was named director of the board. Nikola Tesla had been soliciting Astor's investment for several years prior, but the wealthy financier had up until this point resisted. This was perhaps due, in part, to Astor's prior investment in the Keely Motor Company, which failed when the inventor John Keely and his invention, the Keely Motor, turned out to be frauds. While Tesla's technology was based on sound research, to a laymen his ideas seemed just as implausible, a fact compounded by Tesla's grandiose manner of describing his work. One factor which may have helped sway Astor, aside from seeking financial gain, was that Astor's wife Ava was fascinated by Tesla's work.
The agreed aim of the Tesla Motor Company was to monetize the fluorescent lighting technology Tesla had developed. Instead, however, Tesla spent the money on his lab in Colorado to pursue his other research and came back after several years with no tangible return to show for Astor's investment. This apparent breach of trust produced a rift in Astor and Tesla's relationship. Over the coming years Tesla again tried to solicit Astor's investment, this time into Tesla's new venture with John Pierpont Morgan, but Tesla's efforts were unsuccessful.
Astor's estate "Ferncliff", north of the town center of Rhinebeck, New York, with a mile and a half of Hudson River frontage in the picturesque Lower Hudson River Valley, had been purchased piecemeal by his father in the mid-19th century; Astor was born there. His father's Italianate house of 1864 was partly rebuilt in 1904 to designs by Stanford White of McKim, Mead, and White, retaining its conservative exterior, and a sports pavilion in Louis XVI style was added. The "Casino" or "Astor Courts" reportedly housed the first residential indoor swimming pool in the U.S., an indoor tennis court with vaulting of Guastavino tile, and guest bedrooms; in the lower level were a bowling alley and a shooting range. The estate, reduced to 50 acres (200,000 m2) and renamed "Astor Courts", eventually became a wedding venue. Chelsea Clinton was wed there on July 31, 2010.
While traveling, Madeleine became pregnant, and wanting the child born in the U.S., the Astors boarded the RMS Titanic on her maiden voyage to New York. They embarked in Cherbourg, France, in first class and were the wealthiest passengers aboard. Accompanying the Astors were Astor's valet, Victor Robbins; Madeleine's maid, Rosalie Bidois; and her nurse, Caroline Louise Endres. They also took their pet Airedale, Kitty. The Astors were deeply fond of their dog and had come close to losing her on a previous trip when she went missing in Egypt. Kitty did not survive the sinking. A short while after the Titanic hit the iceberg that caused her to sink, Astor informed his wife of the collision but told her the damage did not appear to be serious. Some time later, as the ship's lifeboats for first class were being manned, Colonel Astor remained unperturbed; he and his family played with the mechanical horses in the gymnasium. At some point Astor is thought to have sliced the lining of an extra lifebelt with a pen knife to show his wife its contents, either to prove they were not of use or to reassure her that they were.
When Second Officer Charles Lightoller later arrived on A Deck to finish loading Lifeboat 4, Astor helped his wife, with her maid and nurse, into it. He then asked if he might join his wife because she was in "a delicate condition"; however, Lightoller told him men were not to be allowed to board until all the women and children had been loaded. After Lifeboat 4 was lowered at 1:55 am, Astor is said to have stood alone while others tried to free the remaining collapsible boats; he was last seen alive on the starboard bridge wing, smoking a cigarette with Jacques Futrelle. A mere half hour later, the ship disappeared beneath the ocean. Madeleine, her nurse, and her maid survived. Colonel Astor, his valet, Victor Robbins, and Futrelle did not.
According to Titanic passenger Archibald Gracie IV, "She was lifted up through the window, and her husband helped her on the other side, and when she got in, her husband was on one side of this window and I was on the other side, at the next window. I heard Mr Astor ask the second officer whether he would not be allowed to go aboard this boat to protect his wife. He said, "No, sir, no man is allowed on this boat or any of the boats until the ladies are off." Mr Astor then said, "Well, tell me what is the number of this boat so I may find her afterwards," or words to that effect. The answer came back, "Number 4."
In the aftermath, ships were sent out to retrieve the bodies from the site of the sinking; of the 1,517 passengers and crew who perished in the sinking, only 333 bodies were ever recovered. Colonel Astor's body was recovered on April 22 by the cable ship Mackay-Bennett. Astor was identified by the initials sewn on the label of his jacket. Among the items found on him was a gold pocket watch which his son Vincent claimed and wore the rest of his life.
- NO. 124 – MALE – ESTIMATED AGE 50 – LIGHT HAIR & MOUSTACHE.
- CLOTHING – Blue serge suit; blue handkerchief with "A.V."; belt with gold buckle; brown boots with red rubber soles; brown flannel shirt; "J.J.A." on back of collar.
- EFFECTS – Gold watch; cuff links, gold with diamond; diamond ring with three stones; £225 in English notes; $2440 in notes; £5 in gold; 7s. in silver; 5 ten franc pieces; gold pencil; pocketbook.
- FIRST CLASS. NAME- J.J. ASTOR IV
Astor was buried in Trinity Church Cemetery in New York City. Four months after the Titanic sank, Madeleine Astor gave birth to his second son, socialite John Jacob "Jakey" Astor VI (1912–1992).
For many years there has been conflicting and contradictory information regarding the exact manner in which Astor perished in the sinking. Many researchers have expressed the belief that Astor was crushed to death by one of the ship's falling funnels, this opinion being based on the claim that his body was recovered in a mangled state, but all who examined his body maintained that it was in perfect condition with no bruising. Survivor Philip Mock claimed to have seen Astor in the water clinging to a raft with William Thomas Stead. "Their feet became frozen," said Mock, "and they were forced to release their hold. Both were drowned." According to child survivor Betty, as quoted on Children on the Titanic (2014) (timestamp 31m30s) that Astor was boarding the final lifeboat with his pregnant wife when he saw two children on deck scared and stepped aside giving his place to them. A conflicting news article posted in the Chicago Record Herald tells of Astor placing his wife into the final lifeboat then ordering Ida Sophia Hippach and her 17-year-old daughter Jean Gertrude to take the final two places before the boat set sail.
Astor left $69 million of his $85-million estate (equivalent to approximately $1,686,217,241 in 2015 dollars) to Vincent. This value included his estate in Rhinebeck and his yacht, the Noma. To Madeleine, he left $100,000 as an outright bequest as well as a $5-million trust fund from which she was provided an income. Additionally she was given the use of his New York City mansion at 65th Street & Fifth Avenue and all its furnishings, his Newport mansion Beechwood and all its furnishings, pick of whichever luxury limousine she wanted from his collection, and five of his prized horses—as long as she did not remarry. His daughter Ava (who lived with her mother, also named Ava) received a $10-million trust fund. Upon turning 21, Jakey inherited the $3 million trust fund Colonel Astor had set aside for him.
Astor's prominence led to the creation of many exaggerated and unsubstantiated accounts about his actions during the sinking of the Titanic. One story alleges that he opened the ship's kennel and released the dogs; in another, he placed a woman's hat on a boy to make sure the child was able to get into a lifeboat. Another legend claims that after the ship hit the iceberg, he quipped, "I asked for ice, but this is ridiculous." These stories appeared in newspapers, magazines, and even books about the sinking. In reality, none of the claims about Astor's actions were substantiated, as nobody who recognized him survived other than the women who boarded lifeboats relatively early on. Wade wrote that the ice joke is almost certainly apocryphal, as Astor was not known for making jokes, and that the story about the hat (like many other "survivor stories" published shortly after the sinking) may have been invented by the reporter.
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His younger cousin, known as Jack, enrolled in Harvard, left without a degree, traveled and joined 'about two dozen clubs.' He tinkered with inventions, married unwisely and, inspired by Jules Verne, wrote a work of science fiction. Often ridiculed in the press, he bore the sobriquet 'Jack Ass.'
- "Noted Men On The Lost Titanic. Col. Jacob Astor, with His Wife. Isidor Straus and Wife, and Benj. Guggenheim Aboard.". The New York Times (Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr.). April 16, 1912. Retrieved 2013-12-10.
Following are sketches of a few of the well-known persons among the 1,300 passengers on the lost Titanic. The fate of most of them at this time is, of course, not known. Col. John Jacob Astor and Mrs. Astor, Isidor Straus and Mrs. Straus, J. Bruce Ismay, Managing Director of the White Star Line: Benjamin Guggenheim, and Frank D. Millet, the artist, are perhaps the most widely known of the passengers.....
- "Col. John Jacob Astor left estate worth $86,966,611". Spartanburg Herald (South Carolina). Associated Press. June 14, 1913. p. 1.
- "John Jacob Astor IV". Encyclopedia Titanica. Retrieved 2010-10-27.
Colonel John Jacob Astor IV was born in Rhinebeck, New York on July 13th, 1864 the son of William Astor and great-grandson of John Jacob Astor the fur trader. Astor was educated at St. Paul's School, Concord and later went to Harvard. After a period of travelling abroad (1888–91) he returned to the United States to manage the family fortune. He had homes at 840 Fifth Avenue, New York and at Ferncliff, Rhinebeck, New York.....
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Baby is the Sixth John Jacob Astor. Mrs. Madeleine Force Astor, survivor of the Titanic.....
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to John Jacob Astor IV.|
- Works by John Jacob Astor IV at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about John Jacob Astor IV at Internet Archive
- Works by John Jacob Astor IV at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
- John Jacob Astor IV at Find a Grave
- Texts on Wikisource:
- "Astor, John Jacob, capitalist". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. 1900. An article on his uncle in which he is mentioned.
- "Astor, John Jacob. An American capitalist, inventor, and soldier". New International Encyclopedia. 1905.
- "Astor, John Jacob, American capitalist and inventor". Encyclopedia Americana. 1920.
- "Astor, John Jacob, an American capitalist". Collier's New Encyclopedia. 1921.
- Funeral of Col. Astor at news.hrvh.org