1. This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Learn More.

J.P. Morgan on Titanic - Why?

Discussion in 'General Titanica' started by Sandy McLendon, May 5, 2012.

  1. As I'm sure everyone here knows, John Pierpont ("J.P.") Morgan was scheduled to sail on Titanic, but canceled at the last moment.

    What I'm puzzled about is why Morgan would have deigned to do such a thing. He had his own ocean-going steam yacht, named Corsair II, which was perfectly capable of making the voyage. Corsair II's displacement was over 1900 tons and she was 293 feet long - nearly a third of Titanic's length. The yacht was superbly fitted with every possible luxury of the time, including its own custom china (Minton, no less) and glassware, all emblazoned "Corsair." One of her most jaw-dropping features was her own 24-foot tender. Some of Corsair II's portable fittings were recently auctioned; looking at them gives an idea of her excellence and luxe:

    Artifacts from J.P. Morgan

    The ship was leased from Morgan's son by the Navy during World War I (J.P. himself having died in 1913; canceling his Titanic passage only bought him a year), being returned to him and to yachting service in 1919. She also later did a stint for the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, with the Navy re-acquiring her in time for use throughout the South Pacific during most of World War II. She was decommissioned and broken up in 1944.

    Now, I'm perfectly aware that J.P. Morgan was much of the financial impetus behind IMM (International Mercantile Marine, the White Star Line's parent company), but given the glories of Corsair II, Titanic's "Millionaire's Suites" and A La Carte restaurant would have been like taking the bus. Why on Earth did a man with such exquisite and capable private transport at his disposal want to sail Titanic? Even more oddly, he often sent Corsair II ahead while he took White Star liners to Europe. I could maybe see leaving a yacht in harbor to save a bit of money (though J.P. hardly needed to economize, then or ever), but not sending it ahead of me while taking a commercial liner.

    Anyone have any information on this?
  2. >>As I'm sure everyone here knows, John Pierpont ("J.P.") Morgan was scheduled to sail on Titanic, but canceled at the last moment.<<

    Actually, we don't know this at all. It's a part of the popular mythos which has been around since 1912, but where is the primary source evidence to support this?

    What we do know is that he went on holiday in France and that this is where he was when he recieved news of the Titanic's loss.
  3. Bob Godfrey

    Bob Godfrey Member

    Comfort, I guess. The Atlantic was (and is) unpredictable and liable to deliver a very rough ride, and no matter the refinement of its fittings and cuisine a yacht couldn't offer the stability of a large liner. Or the speed. For pleasure cruising in calm waters the Corsair was ideal, but to get the long, boring and potentially uncomfortable Atlantic crossing over with asap there were better alternatives. Icebergs permitting!
  4. Mark Baber

    Mark Baber Moderator

    Oh, I don't think everybody here knows that at all, Sandy; look here.
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2015
  5. Okay folks - I stand corrected on the idea that Morgan was supposed to be on Titanic. Thanks for the information.

    But he's still known to have sent Corsair ahead of him while he traveled by liner, and that intrigues me. The occasional rough sea aside, Morgan must have been a very good sailor; he did a great deal of it. It makes little sense that he would have spent the money for a yacht capable of a Transatlantic crossing and then not use it for the purpose - if cruising near his destinations was his pleasure, chartering yachts would have been far more cost-effective. The oddity there is that while Morgan was in no way a cheap man, he had a profound respect for money, usually preferring to spend his on things that would appreciate, not depreciate. And for a mega-rich man of his era, he had remarkable taste; his house was an exquisitely finished brownstone on Madison, far smaller and plainer than the heavily encrusted Beaux-Arts mansions nearby. He seems to have been all for the solid comforts available to a wealthy man of his era, and could certainly splash out when it pleased him, but Vanderbilt-style conspicuous consumption for its own tawdry sake was not his style. I can see Corsair as a splendid indulgence for cruising on this side of the Atlantic, but sending the yacht ahead while its owner traveled commercial seems a bit much, even for a man of Morgan's means.
  6. Scott Mills

    Scott Mills Member

    I had heard this before, but looking at the other thread it appears that this was never true. I do wonder though, if this appeared in print in 1912, why didn't JP Morgan make this clear to the press? Maybe he did. I am sure someone here could tell us.

    Also, in regards to his yacht, I guess if we knew how he got to Europe and how he ultimately returned we'd know more. It's quite possible the yacht wasn't in Europe or he wasn't comfortable making a crossing in it (speed might also be a factor here).
  7. Scott: As one of America's wealthiest and most powerful men, Morgan was pretty much above trying to correct all the silly and specious stories about him. He was a private sort of man (though a very forceful one), largely because he had a nose badly disfigured by rosacea (the same disfigurement W.C. Fields had, though Morgan's was far, far worse than Fields's); his photographic portraits were always retouched. He didn't care much for the press; here's a link to a photo of what happened with a paparazzo tried to take a candid shot of him on the street in 1910:

    Click on: JP Morgan and Paparazzi family photo - AncientFaces.com

    My understanding is that Corsair II was capable of an eight-day crossing, comparing favorably enough to a liner. Morgan's habit was to send Corsair ahead, while he followed on a White Star liner; the yacht would be waiting for him when he arrived. My guess is that this allowed him both pleasure cruising and access to European ports for business purposes. It was an expensive little habit, that's for sure.

    Ah, well. He could afford it - his wealth peaked at $1.3 billion, equal to around $28 billion today.

    P.S.: If you want to know why Morgan was so camera-shy, here's a link to one of the rare photos that shows his disfigurement, unretouched:

    Click on: JP Morgan's disgusting nose | Flickr - Photo Sharing!
  8. Mark Baber

    Mark Baber Moderator

    Yep; here's one example of that:

    21 August 1907: On her arrival in New York, Oceanic II (Capt. Haddock) is
    saluted by a booming gun and tooting whistle from J. P. Morgan's yacht
    Corsair. Although permitting reporters to enter his cabin when they and his
    son J. P. Morgan, Jr., board the ship at Quarantine, Morgan (returning from
    his annual trip to Europe) is characteristically unresponsive to their
    questions on any subject. After he goes on deck, however, he tells them that
    when Corsair sailed from Cowes on 10 August, four days before Oceanic, the
    yacht's Capt. Porter had promised to be in New York to salute Oceanic on her
    arrival "and here he is." After disembarking, Morgan boards the yacht and
    heads to her New York Yacht Club mooring on the East River. (Sources: The
    New York Times, 22 August 1907.)
    Well, he was Commodore of the New-Tork Yacht Club in 1897-98, http://www.nyyc.org/about/history-heritage/960-commodore-j-pierpont-morgan, but Corsair had a professional captain. Whether Morgan's sailing skills were refined enough for him to have sailed the yacht across the Atlantic himself, I don't know, but a first-class suite on a top-of-the-line White Star steamer was certainly a more confortable (and faster) way to cross, as Bob G. noted earlier.
  9. Hi Mark: Thanks for the citation! My reference to Morgan as a "good sailor" was only meant in the sense that he probably wasn't prone to seasickness in rough weather; he'd been at sea far too often for that sort of thing. I have no idea what his sailing skills were personally.
  10. Jim Currie

    Jim Currie Member

    I agree that J.P. was a 'good sailor' in the sense that he did not get sea-sick. However, I think all his yachts of that name were steam driven. I know the first one had auxiliary sails.

    Here is an interesting little bit I dug-up. Note THAT NAME! popping up again:

    "Commissioned at that time(1917) as USS Corsair (SP-159), she crossed the Atlantic in June and soon began anti-submarine patrol and escort opeations off western France. During the conflict's remaining sixteen months she rescued survivors of two sinking ships, the U.S. Army transport Antilles in October 1917 and USS Californian in June 1918."

    Jim C.