Colonel John Jacob Astor - Victim of the Titanic Disaster
Colonel John Jacob Astor with His Young Bride. Col. Astor Perished with the Titanic, His Wife Was Rescued. Sinking of the Titanic (1912) p. 161 Campbell Studios, New York. GGA Image ID # 102dd47636
Mrs. Futrelle said she saw the parting of Col. John Jacob Astor and his young bride. Mrs. Astor was frantic. Her husband had to jump into the lifeboat four times and tell her that he would be rescued later. After the fourth time, Mrs. Futrelle said, he jumped back to the deck of the sinking ship, and the lifeboat bearing his bride made off.
"Many of the women did not seem to want to leave the vessel. Mrs. Astor clung to her husband, begging him to let her remain on the Titanic with him. When he insisted that she save herself, she threw her arms around him and begged him with tears to permit her to share his fate.
"Col. Astor picked her up bodily and carried her to a boat, which was the one just ahead of ours, and placed her in it.
"I lingered with my brother and his wife, loath to leave them, although we all knew the ship was sinking and that the ocean would soon swallow up all that remained of the steamer. We both begged my brother to come with us, but he said: ‘No, I will remain with the others, no matter what happens.’
"Then, when it was time to go when the last boat was being lowered to the water line, we were hurried into it by my brother, who bade us good-bye and said calmly but with feeling: “Be brave; no matter what happens, be brave.” Then he waved his hand, and our boat shot out just in time to escape being borne down by the suction of the Titanic, as it went down.
As the ship settled, there was a terrific explosion, which rent it in two, and as it sank beneath the waves, we could see my brother waving his hand to us, although it is hardly possible that he could see us, for none of us had a light. We had nothing except the clothes we had hastily donned. None of us had thought of putting provisions or water in the boats, for we knew the Carpathia had been signaled to come to our rescue and was on its way.
"We heard a number of shots as the boats were being lowered, but we were told it was the officers who were keeping the steerage passengers from stampeding into the small boats, which they repeatedly tried to do. “There were no outcries anywhere except from the steerage.
"I shall never forget the calmness and quiet bravery that the men on board showed as they stood on deck and awaited the inevitable doom. Occasionally some of them would peer into the night toward our boats and wave at us. Then they would walk back to a group, and everything would grow still again.
"I saw Guggenheim, Widener, Thayer, and Ismay in conversation with Colonel Astor just after the ship struck the berg.”
A MOUNTAIN OF GLASS
Thomas Whitley, a waiter on the Titanic, who was sent to a hospital with a fractured leg, was asleep five decks below the main saloon deck. He ran upstairs and saw the iceberg towering high above the forward deck of the Titanic.
“It looked like a giant mountain of glass,” said Whitley. “I saw that we were in for it. Almost immediately I heard that stokehold No. 11 was filling with water and that the ship was doomed. The watertight doors had been closed, but the officers fearing that there might be an explosion below decks called for volunteers to go below to draw the fires.
“Twenty men stepped forward almost immediately and started down. To permit them to enter the hold, it was necessary for the doors to be opened again, and after that, one could almost feel the water rushing in. It was but a few minutes later when all hands were ordered on deck with life belts.”
The name of John Jacob Astor, which has run for a hundred years through the commercial and social life of the metropolis, has taken on a new and nobler color in the passing of the last wearer of a famous name.
The last John Jacob Astor was a good soldier, a good sailor, an inventor of note, a builder of stately public houses, an author and a generous citizen. He was one among the few rich men of the metropolis who gave their money and themselves to the service of their country. He equipped a full battery of artillery and faced the bullets of the Spaniards at Santiago.
One of the richest men in America, a leader of its ultimate social circle, newly married to a young and beautiful woman, John Jacob Astor had perhaps as much about him to make life sweet and to make death terrible as any man in all the great company of the Titanic.
And yet when the great moment came, he laid down his life as bravely as a soldier, as calmly as a philosopher, and with as sweet and quiet a philanthropy as if his days were without color and his years without hope.
If the John Jacob Astors of the century past have lived like princes, this one but yesterday died like a man.
And the great name he bore is better known and better honored for his life and death. The brave young wife who remembered others in mercy on that dreadful night has won the country's sympathy and respect.
Biography of Col. John J. Astor
Colonel John Jacob Astor and His Young Wife. Colonel Astor, millionaire, and man of affairs was born at Rhine-Beck-on-the-Hudson 13 July 1864 and became the chief representative of the Astor family in this country. The photograph shows him with his bride, formerly miss madeleine force, whom he married last September and who is reported as among the survivors. Harper's Weekly (20 April 1912) p. 31. GGA Image ID # 109b0740b8
Col. John Jacob Astor, the American head of the Astor family, was born on the old Astor estate at Ferncliff, Rhinebeck-on-the-Hudson, 13 July 1864. He was the son of William Astor and a great-grandson of the original John Jacob Astor, founder of the house. His early school days were spent at St. Paul's, Concord, N. H.
From there, he went to Harvard, from which he was graduated in 1888. Two years after his graduation came the announcement of his engagement to Miss Ava L. Willing, a noted belle of Philadelphia. They were married in 1891.
Two children were born to them, William Vincent Astor, now twenty-one years old, and Alice, ten. It was soon after this union that Colonel Astor began building large hotels.
The first of these was the Waldorf, later to be joined with the Astoria. Then came the St. Regis, Knickerbocker, and Astor. He also owned the old Astor House.
His title to Colonel was gained through his appointment to the staff of Governor Morton. At the outbreak of the war with Spain, he was among the first to offer his services to the War Department. He volunteered to raise and equip a battery of field-guns and only asked that he be permitted to accompany it in some subordinate capacity.
His offer was accepted, and he was made a military inspector with the rank of lieutenant-colonel. He accompanied General Shafter's expedition to Cuba and was in the boat that carried the General ashore.
The battery, organized and equipped at the cost of more than $100,000, was landed soon afterward, and Colonel Astor accompanied it throughout the campaign. During the assault on the Spanish lines at Santiago, the Astor battery was hotly engaged, and the Colonel was dismounted by a shell which killed the horse he was riding.
At the close of the war he was warmly commended by General Shafter for "faithful and meritorious service," and it was urged by the General he be rewarded with the brevet rank of Colonel.
In September of 1911, Colonel Astor married Miss Madeleine Talmage Force, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Force. Colonel Astor's fine new yacht, the Noma, was then in commission, and in this vessel, the two went on a bridal trip which was extended to Egypt. They returned to London in time to take passage by the Titanic. Colonel Astor's city home was at No. 840 Fifth Avenue. His country estate was at Ferncliff.
Among the corporations and banks with which Colonel Astor was connected were 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 and Hudson Railroad 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.
It is apparent, says the New York Tribune that the sinking of the Titanic will cause the passing of vast fortunes from the hands that were to the successors who are. It adds:
Chief among these is the Astor fortune, variously estimated at from $125,000,000 to $150,000,000. William Vincent Astor, the twenty-one-year-old son of Col. John Jacob Astor by his former wife, Mrs. Ava Willing Astor, will if the reports that Colonel Astor is among the lost prove true to be the chief heir of this vast estate.
In these days of trust fund executor who handle and keep intact fortunes for beneficiaries, it is considered unlikely that Colonel Astor will have turned over to his son the full control of the Astor millions.
Speculation in the financial district yesterday was that the Astor money would go into a trust fund to be administered for the benefit of Vincent Astor and his sister, Ava Muriel, who was taken in charge by her mother when the first Mrs. Astor moved to London, following the quietly sensational divorce.
It is supposed by men who have followed the moves of the Astors that the first Mrs. Astor was abundantly taken care of both by prenuptial agreements and by the settlement which was made in her benefit at the time the divorce was granted. Their daughter, it is said, will, however, inherit enough of the vast estate to make her one of the richest of American heiresses.
Measuring Worth in Today's Dollars
In 2018, the relative values of $125,000,000.00 from 1912 ranges from $2,390,000,000.00 to $67,900,000,000.00.
In 2018, the relative values of $150,000,000.00 from 1912 ranges from $2,870,000,000.00 to $81,400,000,000.00.
Samuel H. Williamson, "Seven Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a U.S. Dollar Amount, 1790 to present," MeasuringWorth, 2019.
Thomas Herbert Russell, Ed., Sinking of the Titanic: World's Greatest Sea Disaster, Homewood Press, 1912, p. 164, 187-188.
Marshall Everett, Ed., "Vivid Picture of Wreck by Miss Daisy Minahan," in Wreck and Sinking of the Titanic: The Ocean's Greatest Disaster, New York: L. H. Walter, 1912 p.174-177.
"The Sea's Toll of Prominent Men: Col. John Jacob Astor," in The Literary Digest, New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, Vol. XLIV, No. 17, Whole No. 1149, 27 April 1912, p. 892.