John Jacob Astor IV was a famous American businessman, financier and investor. He was instrumental in building the famous Astoria hotel and died in the sinking ship RMS Titanic. He was often nicknamed as “Jack Ass” by the then press and was one of the most well-known American businessmen. He was a prominent member of the famous Astor family. John Astor’s name became immortal in history when he died with the drowning ship, the RMS Titanic. At that time he was considered one of the richest people in the world and the most affluent passenger onboard the ship with a net worth of about $87 million. John’s grandfather had immigrated from Waldorf in Germany to New York and managed to gather a fortune from his flourishing fur trade and several other businesses. John Astor IV, having had the fortune of being born in one of the richest families in the U.S. during those times, had attended the finest schools and after completing his education in Harvard, had been traveling abroad extensively till his untimely death
Childhood & Early Life
John Jacob Astor IV was born on 13th July, 1864 at Rhinebeck in New York. He was the great-grandson of John Jacob Astor whose fortunes earned him the distinction of being one of the wealthiest persons in America and thus John was brought up in an influential and rich family.
He was the only son of William Backhouse Astor Jr. and his socialite wife Caroline Webster “Lina” Schemerhorn and the youngest of the couple’s five children. He had four elder sisters - Emily, Helen, Charlotte and Caroline.
He initially attended St. Paul’s School at Concord, New Hampshire.
John was called “Jack” by many and attended Harvard University. Thereafter, he started managing his family estate.
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He had several accomplishments in his illustrious career. He wrote a science fiction novel ‘A Journey in Other Worlds’ (1894) about life in the year 2000 on the planets Saturn and Jupiter.
Astor also patented several inventions, including a bicycle brake in 1898, a "vibratory disintegrator" and a pneumatic road-improver. He also helped in the development of turbine engine.
Astor made great fortune in real estate and built the famous Astoria hotel in New York in the year 1897 which was considered as the most luxurious hotel in the world. It was located at a close proximity to his rival and Cousin William’s Waldorf Hotel. The complex was soon called the “Waldorf-Astoria Hotel”.
On 10th January, 1899, John Jacob Astor IV became one of the early investors in the then newly created Tesla Motor Company. John had invested an amount of $100,000 in lieu of which he got 500 shares in the company and became one of the directors on the board.
John Astor also constructed many other famous hotels in New York City that included the St. Regis Hotel and some even say that this was John’s biggest achievement.
Astor was the author of a famous science fiction titled “A Journey in Other Worlds” that was published in the year 1894 and speaks about possibility of life on planets such as Jupiter and Saturn in the year 2000.
Awards & Achievements
John Jacob Astor IV is credited with patenting many important inventions that include the famous bicycle brake in the year 1898.
He also helped in developing a turbine engine and a “vibratory disintegrator” that was used for producing gas from a pneumatic road-improver and peat moss.
Personal Life & Legacy
John Astor’s first marriage was to Ava Lowle Willing and the couple got married in the year 1891. Though the couple had two children from this marriage (Vincent and Alice), apparently it was an unhappy marriage.
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John and Ava divorced in the year 1909 and he remarried just two years later in 1911 to Madeleine Talmage Force. The couple had a huge age difference between them and Madeleine was about 30 years younger than John Astor. Madeleine was only18 years old when she got married to John Astor.
The newlywed couple had gone to Europe for a holiday and had made a fateful decision of returning to the United States of America on the RMS Titanic’s maiden voyage in the year 1912.
On 14th April 1912, the Titanic collided with an iceberg at about 11:40 PM and unfortunately there were insufficient number of lifeboats compared to the number of passengers on board. However, Astor made sure that Madeleine, his pregnant wife was on one of these lifeboats and bid farewell to her as he stood on the sinking ship’s deck.
On 15th April 1912, Astor drowned in the early hours of the morning and his wife Madeleine Astor paid a tribute to her dead husband by naming their newborn son John Jacob.
Astor’s body was found much later and was buried in New York City in Trinity Church cemetery. Madeleine Astor gave birth to John Jacob Astor IV’s second son 4 months after the Titanic Sank.
In the year 1898, when war between Spain and USA started, John offered his yacht the “Nourmahal” to the U.S. Navy to help in the ongoing war. During this conflict, John Jacob Astor IV also served in the U.S. Army.
John Astor and his young wife was on an extended honeymoon in Paris and Egypt in the spring of the year 1912 when they decided to return home all of a sudden as First Class Passengers in the ill-fated ship Titanic.
Though John Jacob Astor VI came from a successful business family, he had a deep inclination towards literature, scientific invention and art.
Astor wanted to accompany his pregnant wife while she was leaving the sinking ship Titanic but the officer-in-charge turned down his request.