John Jacob Astor IV: the richest Titanic casualty

Of all the insanely wealthy passengers booked in first class on the Titanic in April 1912, John Jacob Astor IV, 48, was at the top of the financial heap.

johnjacobastorwifeGreat-grandson of the John Jacob Astor who came to New York in the 18th century and made a fortune in beaver pelts and opium, Astor IV was accomplished in his own right: He was an inventor, builder of the Astoria (later Waldorf-Astoria) Hotel, and author of a sci-fi novel set in the year 2000.

He had also knocked up his 18-year-old second wife, Madeleine Force, and the scandal of divorce and remarriage forced the couple to bide their time in Europe and Egypt. But with a baby due later that year, the Astors decided to return to New York City.

They settled in to a first-class room (reportedly costing about $4,000 a night, more like $50,000 today) with a manservant, maid, nurse, and their dog, Kitty.

After the ship hit the iceberg and women and children began getting into lifeboats, Astor supposedly asked a crew member if he could sit with his wife in one of the empty lifeboat seats, citing her pregnancy. He was refused but reportedly took it like a man.

Days later his crushed body was found in the Atlantic; he’s buried in Trinity Cemetery. His son, John Jacob Astor VI, was born in August 1912.

johnjacobastorattrain

Astor, at left, waiting for the train that would take him to the Titanic for boarding.

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15 Responses to “John Jacob Astor IV: the richest Titanic casualty”

  1. Fun, Fun Memories, of Daddy Taking the T-Bird Away - City Room Blog - NYTimes.com Says:

    [...] the richest Titanic casualty: John Jacob Astor IV. What if it had been Madoff? [Ephemeral New [...]

  2. Memories of Daddy Taking the T-Bird Away - City Room Blog - NYTimes.com Says:

    [...] the richest Titanic casualty: John Jacob Astor IV. What if it had been Madoff? [Ephemeral New [...]

  3. CelestialCharms Says:

    Great post. I always learn something new when I visit your blog. There is something eerie, yet poinent, about seeing a photo of someone shortly before their ultimate demise, as in the last photo.

  4. wildnewyork Says:

    Thanks! I should add that Kitty the dog didn’t survive. Reportedly one of the last things Madeleine Astor remembered before she left the ship in a lifeboat was the dog pacing around the deck.

  5. Charlotte Says:

    The last picture you have is mislabelled. That is actually Waldorf Astor, his cousin, not John Jacob Astor IV. If you compare your first picture (taken in August of 1911) with the second (taken in April of 1912), it is plain you are looking at two different men.

  6. Robert Maier Says:

    Charlotte;

    Good eye. Though his cousin’s name is not Waldorf Astor, his last name was Waldorf. And how do you know the origin of the picture? I though it was taken at the boat train station. And since Astor and his wife Madeleine boarded at Cherbourg France it could not be Astor. But beyond that, as you said, it looks nothing like Astor.

    • Tracey Doherty Says:

      John Jacob did indeed board at Cherbourg, France having first taken the train from Paris straight to Cherbourg ( purpose built rail link for transatlantic passengers ) known as the New York express. Having reached Cherbourg he boarded the SS Nomadic, tender ship for White Star, the journey to Titanic should have taken 30 mins but due to a near miss at Southampton with a ship called the. New York the Titanic did not arrive for 1 1/2 hrs

  7. Elizabeth Says:

    Dear Charlotte,

    You are in fact correct regarding the name of John Jacob Astor IV’s cousin: William Waldorf Astor.

  8. annmarie astor Says:

    my GREAT GREAT GREAT GREAT GREAT GREAT GREAT grandad

  9. Donna Mann Says:

    I believe that I am the great grand-daughter of John Jacob Astor IV. Supposedly my grandfather was his illegitimate son. Don’t know where to begin to prove same.

    • lucywalsh Says:

      Donna, I’m the great, great grand-daughter of Willoughby Manton. It’s believed he is an illegitimate son of the Astor Family. I also don’t know where to start to find the truths in these beliefs. I would love to know who your grandfather was.

      • T.J. Says:

        Donna and Lucy,
        We also have a family story that my great-great grandfather was an illegitimate son of the Astor family. In fact, he bears a strong resemblance to them. No way to prove . . .

  10. zif h smith Says:

    why were the divorce documents sealed fromthe divorce ofava alice murill. something bad happened and he didnt want it known.. also why was vincent astors wife repulsed by him as well? like father like son? strange…

  11. jenar Says:

    wish i was with them to see the real jack dawson

  12. Mrs. Barbara I. Coaker, nee Wikander Says:

    The Titanic’s sinking could not have had a greater affect on my family as my maternal grandfather, Frederick H. W. Clarke, Esq., was Astor’s private secretary: John Jacob Astor, IV, was his boss. This loss changed the lives of my grandfather and his family forever. In the late 1950’s my aunt still had many of Astor’s financial records. I remember seeing a picture of his yacht named “Normahaul” which included costs of her upkeep and anrenovation. Unfortunately, she destroyed the records, much to my distress.

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