Encyclopedia Titanica

John Pillsbury Snyder

John Pillsbury Snyder
John Pillsbury Snyder

Mr John Pillsbury Snyder was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota on 8 January 1888.

He was the only child of Fred Beal Snyder (1859-1951) and Susan May Pillsbury (1863-1891), both native Minnesotans who had married on 23 September 1885. His father was a partner in the law firm Snyder & Gale and at one point was president of the University of Minnesota. His mother Susan was the daughter of one-time Minnesota Governor John Sargent Pillsbury, coming from a prominent milling family.

John's mother died on 3 September 1891 and his father was remarried on 18 February 1896 to Leonora Stuart Dickson (1865-1946) who hailed from Pennsylvania, with that union garnering John a step-sibling, sister Mary Stuart (1897-1963, later Mrs Crawford Johnson). John seemingly lived all his life in Minneapolis and by the time of the 1910 census was still residing with his family in that city.

He was married on 22 January 1912 to Nelle Stevenson (b. 1889) who was a native of St Croix Falls, Wisconsin. They left for Europe where they honeymooned, spending time in Gibraltar and Italy, the latter destination being spent arranging a dealership of Fiat cars.

For their return to the USA the couple boarded the Titanic at Southampton (ticket number 21228 which cost £82, 5s, 4d). They occupied cabin B45. Whilst aboard they became acquainted with other Minnesotan passengers; Mr and Mrs Walter Donald Douglas, Mr and Mrs William Baird Silvey, and Miss Constance Willard.

On the night of the sinking the Snyders had retired around 11.30 and were in their stateroom when the ship collided with the iceberg but explained “There was not a great crash, not even a heavy jar when the ship struck the iceberg.” They both left their cabin to investigate and saw other bewildered passengers milling around. They asked a passing steward if they had struck anything and the man nonchalantly replied that they had just "grazed an iceberg" but that there was no danger and they were better going back to bed. Soon though they heard a man knock the door of an adjacent cabin; he had just come down from the decks above and reported to his friend that something serious may have happened. John and Nelle there and then decided to get dressed and go up top; when they got there a member of the crew was addressing the gathered passengers, advising them to return and fetch their lifebelts. The Snyders did as instructed and soon rejoined other passengers on the boat deck where they saw the crew swinging out the lifeboats.

When the crew called out for people to enter the first lifeboat being filled (number 7), the Snyders reported that a large number of the crowd seemed reluctant and stepped back. John and Nelle were assisted into the boat which was the first launched, the Snyders describing the launch as leisurely and without any confusion or commotion. They reported that the boat pulled away for about 200 yards before resting and was soon tied up to other boats during the night and also claimed to see, off in the distance, the iceberg that the ship had struck. Still not fathoming any real danger, from their vantage point in the boat they saw rows of portholes gradually disappear and that was when the urgency of the situation dawned on them. As the ship sank lower John reported two explosions, which he attributed to the water reaching the boilers, after which he described the ship breaking in two, many people left aboard being flung into the water in the process. He also stated that those struggling in the water were visible from his lifeboat.

Aboard the Carpathia the Snyders met the other Minnesotan survivors, Mrs Mahala Douglas, Mrs Alice Silvey and Miss Constance Willard

Following the disaster John and Nelle settled in Minneapolis and had three children: John Pillsbury (1913-1989), Thomas Stevenson (1915-1976) and Susan (1918-1984, later Mrs Rowley Miller). He became a successful businessman and operated the Snyder Garage Inc. at 507 S. 10th Street in Minneapolis, served as a director of various mining corporations and served one term in the Minnesota House of Representatives as a Republican in the 1920s. He and his family are shown on the 1920 through 1940 census records living on 2118 Blaisdell Avenue, Minneapolis.

The couple continued to travel and one such excursion to Europe in 1938 saw them in Austria when Nazi troops marched into Vienna and the Anschluss was declared. The family retreated back to the USA aboard the Queen Mary, arriving in New York on 4 April 1938.

John retired in 1955 and settled in Ferndale, Wayzata, Minnesota where he was a keen huntsman, fisherman, bowler and golfer and he was on the board of directors of the Great Northern Insurance Company.

An avid golfer, John suffered a heart attack and died at his local golf club, the Woodhill Country Club, Orono, Minnesota on 22 July 1959. He was aged 71 and was buried in Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis.

References and Sources

Minnesota Department of Health Certificate of Death
Minneapolis Morning Tribune, 24 July 1959, Death Notice
The Minneapolis Star, 23 July 1959, John Pillsbury Snyder Dies While Playing Golf
Star Tribune, 9 April 1967

Newspaper Articles

Chicago Daily Journal (19 April 1912) The Hero's Choice
The Plunge of the Titanic with Those Who Stayed Behind
St. Paul Pioneer Press (23 July 1959) John P. Snyder, 71, Dies on Golf Course


Minneapolis Star Tribune (1912) John Pillsbury Snyder
Minneapolis Star Tribune (1912) John Pillsbury Snyder arrives home
Star Tribune (1926) John Snyder in 1926
Minneapolis Star (1952) John Snyder in 1952

Documents and Certificates

Letters and Diaries

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Comment and discuss

  1. Eric S. Silvia

    Hi All, I was able to visit the Minneapolis Public Library where I searched through several area newspapers on microfilm. I found several great articles concerning John & Nelle Snyder. John provided a detailed interview immediately following his arrival in New York, and I hope to post the articles and reflections for all to see. Best, Eric

  2. Martin Williams

    That sounds really interesting, Eric. I'll very much look forward to reading whatever it is you have to share with us and learning more about the Snyders. I've always liked the photograph of John and Nelle that appears in Don Lynch's 'Illustrated History' and they seem to have been a most attractive couple.

  3. Martin Williams

    ...although even the most cursory of Googles this morning has revealed that John's maternal grandfather, John S. Pillsbury, had been the Governor of Minnesota. I wasn't aware of that. Furthermore, it seems that John's mother, Susan, who had died in 1891, and her sister, a Mrs Webster, were commemorated in stained-glass windows, depicting allegorical figures of Hope and Faith after designs by Burne-Jones, which were presumably installed somewhere in Minneapolis after being put on display in New York in 1901.

  4. Brian Ahern

    Martin, allow me to take this opportunity to recommend newspaperarchive.com. An annual membership is less than $100 (which is probably about 3 British pounds at this point!)and it has no end of archives from papers going back a couple of centuries, including such local papers as those that followed the Snyders' lives in Minneapolis. It's a fantastic value. From what I dug up on the Snyders not so long ago, I think they were plain folk who lived fairly quiet lives. John once told a reporter that he and his... Read full post

  5. Martin Williams

    Thank you, Brian, for that excellent suggestion. It has struck me that 'The New York Times' archive, fabulous resource though it is, will only contain information on the careers of those passengers who were natives of that city or who moved on the international stage, in the European capitals and the fashionable holiday resorts. Which makes it far more difficult to research the likes of, say, Helen Churchill Candee, who was primarily based in Washington, Midwesterners, like the Minahans and the Snyders, and Canadians, like the Davidsons and Fortunes. Which is not to say that any of these... Read full post

  6. Eric S. Silvia

    Hi Martin, I wasn't aware either that John's maternal grandfather has been Governor of Minnesota, but then again I also didn't know that John himself served one term in the Minnesota House of Representatives from 1927-1929. I will see what I can find out about those stained-glass windows. That's really interesting. It will give me something to do other than dream of warmer weather!! Best, Eric

  7. Martin Williams

    Confusingly, the Wikipedia entry for Governor John S. Pillsbury (c.1828-1901) says that he had only one son and one daughter - and SHE married a chap called Edward C. Gale: obviously not the mother of 'our' John Snyder. Yet the 1901 'New York Times' article about the memorial windows, and the 1923 biographical sketch I've mentioned above, both identify John's mother Susan as the governor's daughter. I wonder if somebody, somewhere, has confused women of similar names? I'm inclined to believe that Wikipedia is in error but it would be interesting to know if anybody on the board could shed some... Read full post

  8. Martin Williams

    I'm hopeless at posting hyper-links but the address below should take you to an article which includes much more information about John Pillsbury Snyder (including a photograph of him which I've never seen before) and his 'Titanic' experiences. Once again, he is identified as the governor's grandson.

  9. David Huffaker

    John's parents were Fred B. Snyder and Susan May Pillsbury. After Susan's death, Fred married Leanora McElroy. Fred's parents were Simon P. Snyder (born in Pennsylvania) and Mary (born in Ohio). Susan's were John Sargent Pillsbury and Mahala Fiske. John and Nelle had three children:John Jr., Thomas and Susan. Susan married Rowley Martin.

  10. Martin Williams

    Thanks David...but, again, the 1923 biographical sketch available on-line lists John's stepmother as one Leonora Dickson of Pittsburgh. Apparently, she gave birth to John's half-sister, Mary Stuart. Sorry if I'm causing confusion here but I confess to being confused myself! Three separate articles have all identified John's maternal grandfather as a governor of Minnesota but this is contradicted by other sources. Which is the more reliable? Do you have any information on John's mother's family, David?

  11. Brian Ahern

    Martin, any chance you could remember the path you took to access the article? I was rummaging around that site with no luck.

  12. Martin Williams

    Ummmm...nope, sorry. I just typed in 'John Pillsbury Snyder' and up it popped. The article can be found in 'Session Weekly: A Nonpartisan Publication of the Minnesota House of Representatives', dated 3 April, 1998, Vol. 15, No. 11. Besides the photograph of Snyder himself, and much biographical information, it also contains by far the fullest account of the Snyders' experience aboard the 'Titanic' I've read so far. You were right, Brian - they had been travelling through Italy on their honeymoon but John took advantage of the opportunity to investigate the possibility of opening a Fiat... Read full post

  13. Brian Ahern

    Ah - got it, thanks. Strangely, typing his name in didn't pull it up for me, and I had to go into the Session Weekly archives.

  14. Arne Mjåland

    The Minneapolis Star published the obituary about John Pillsbury Snydef July 23 1959. It was mentioned that he was the president of the Snyder Garage, Inc, which was an automobilfirm at 407 S 10th St.which he sold to the Curds hotel in 1955. The business had been on the same site for 43 years. In 1912 Snyder had a trip to Italy to arrange a dealership for Fiat cars. Eventually information about the survivors, in case any details are not known form before: His son John, Karel his wife anaother son Thomas S. A daughter Mrs Rowley Miller, all of Wayzata, one sister Mrs. Crawford Johnson jr.... Read full post

  15. Eric S. Silvia

    I just returned from another trip to the Minneapolis Public Library. I had more time this visit, so I was able to locate several articles about John & Nelle Snyder. Both provided detailed accounts to the Minneapolis & St. Paul newspapers. I am scanning them now and will upload them onto their respective biographical pages. I understand that it may take several days for them to be accepted, am I right? There are several pictures of the Snyders contained within the articles as well. Arne, I was able to locate John's obituary with the information you provided. It's quite lengthy and... Read full post

Showing 15 posts of 19 total. View all.

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Titanic Passenger Summary

Name: Mr John Pillsbury Snyder
Age: 24 years 3 months and 7 days (Male)
Nationality: American
Marital Status: Married to Nelle Stevenson
Embarked: Southampton on Wednesday 10th April 1912
Ticket No. 21228, £82 5s 4d
Cabin No. B45
Rescued (boat 7)  
Disembarked Carpathia: New York City on Thursday 18th April 1912
Died: Wednesday 22nd July 1959 aged 71 years
Cause of Death:
Buried: Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States

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