Encyclopedia Titanica


New York Times

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Wealthy Society Man and an Author and Inventor as Well
Col. John Jacob Astor, the American head of the Astor family, has held a prominent place in the life of this city for many years. Not alone has he been a conspicuous club member and leader of society, but he has engaged in vast business activities that gave him a place of rank apart from his immense fortune and social attainments.

Col. Astor put up and owned more hotels and skyscrapers than any other New Yorker. At one time he was a Director in twenty or more large corporations, including railways. His fortune has been estimated at from $100,000,000 to $200,000,000.

Col. Astor was born at the old Astor estate at Ferncliff, Rhinebeck-on-the-Hudson. July 13, 1864. He was the son of William Astor, a grandson of William B. Astor, and great-grandson of the original John Jacob Astor, founder of the house in America.

John Jacob Astor spent his early schooldays at St. Paul's, Concord, N. H. Thereafter he went to Harvard, where he was graduated in 1888. After extensive travels through Europe and the West Indies, he returned to this city to devote himself to the management of the great estates which had been left to him by his father. Unlike his cousin, William Waldorf Astor, who became a British subject, Col. Astor declared repeatedly that he was proud to be an American.

Three years after leaving Harvard he was married, in 1891, to Miss Ava L. Willing of Philadelphia. They had two children---William Vincent Astor, who is now 20, and Alice, 10 years old. Soon after his marriage Col. Astor began building large hotels, among them the old Waldorf, later joined to the Astoria; the St. Regis, Knickerbocker, and the Astor. He also owned the Astor House.

Col. Astor got his title by appointment on Gov. Morton's staff, and afterward served in the Spanish-American War. Long before that time, however, he developed a bent for invention in the laboratory of his Fifth Avenue house, working out, among other inventions, a pneumatic device for renovating macadam roads, for which he was awarded first prize at the Chicago Exposition. He wrote several books also, among others "A Journey in Other Worlds," a curiously imaginative work, dealing with supposed life on Saturn and Jupiter.

Fought at Santiago

When the Spanish-American War broke out Col. Astor offered his services to the War Department. He volunteered to raise and equip a battery with smokeless powder guns, and asked that he might be permitted to accompany it in some subordinate position. His offer was accepted, but he was made a Military Inspector with rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He was with Gen. Shafter in the first boat that landed at Santiago for military operations in Cuba. It landed in a hail of bullets. During the fight before Santiago Col. Astor was in the thick of the fray on El Paso Hill, and was once dismounted when a piece of shrapnel from the Spanish guns hit his horse. He was in the midst of the fighting forces throughout the war with the Astor Battery, which he had organized at a cost of $100,000, and which was the first mountain battery organized for the American army. It was later sent to the Philippines for service.

Col. Astor was commended by Gen. Shafter at the close of the war for the brevet rank of Colonel "for faithful and meritorious service," and the rank was later conferred.

Col. Astor's home is at Sixty-fifth Street and Fifth Avenue, as well as on his estate at Rhinebeck-on-Hudson. Upon the death of his mother the leadership of society fell to Col. Astor's wife. Some time thereafter it became known that their relations were not harmonious, and presently they were seen no more in each other's company when they went abroad. In May, 1909, Col. Astor, after a long trip abroad, came home just in time to see his wife off on her trip to Europe. She returned in October, three days after he sailed away with his son on his yacht, the Nourmahal, for Southern waters. Quietly, just about that time, Mrs. Astor filed in this city proceedings for a divorce. She was awarded the divorce on Nov. 8, 1909. The papers in the case remained sealed, however, and the charges on which the decree was obtained were not made public.

Married Last September

The decree provided that Mrs. Astor was to have charge of her daughter Alice, while Col. Astor took his son Vincent. It contained no mention of alimony, but it was understood that Mrs. Astor was to receive $50,000 a year.

In November, 1909, a world-wide search was started for Col. Astor and his son and a party aboard his yacht, the Nourmahal, which was believed to have been wrecked in southern seas. The yacht was reported safe, however, about four days later, at San Juan, Porto Rico, its owner ignorant of the alarm that had been sent abroad on his account.

In July, 1911, announcement was made of the engagement of Col. Astor to Miss Madeleine Talmage Force, the eighteen-year-old daughter of William H. Force of this city, with whom rumor had for some time associated his name. The engagement followed an acquaintanceship of less than a year. On Sept. 9, 1911, the two were married at Newport, R. I., by the Rev. Joseph Lambert, pastor of the Elmwood Congregational Church of Providence, after several other ministers in view of Col. Astor's divorce, had refused to perform the ceremony. Soon after the ceremony Col. and Mrs. Astor went abroad.

In October last Col. Astor's estate was assessed for $107,00,000 on 700 separate city parcels, the complete list of which was published for the first time in THE NEW YORK TIMES. This did not include all that the first John Jacob Astor had, huge slices having gone to the Chanlers, Jays, and others.

Among the corporations and banks with which Col. Astor was connected are the Astor Trust Company, Illinois Central Railroad, Mercantile Trust Company, Morton Trust Company, National Park Bank, Niagara Falls Power Company, Plaza Bank, Western Union Telegraph Company, Delaware & Hudson Railway Company, New York Life Insurance and Trust Company, and Title Guarantee and Trust Company. He was connected with nearly every club of prominence in the city, although he frequented but a few of them. Among the clubs are the Union, Metropolitan, Knickerbocker, Brook, Tuxedo, Automobile of America, Riding, Racquet and Tennis, New York Yacht, Army and Navy, and Turf and Field.


Mark Baber, USA


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Encyclopedia Titanica (2004) COL. JOHN JACOB ASTOR (New York Times, Tuesday 16th April 1912, ref: #3854, published 28 September 2004, generated 16th March 2023 08:05:36 AM); URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/col-john-jacob-astor.html