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John Jacob Astor IV

John Jacob Astor IV (July 13, 1864 - April 15, 1912) was a businessman, inventor, and writer and a member of the prominent Astor family.

Image: JJAstorIV.jpg
John Astor IV & Madeline Astor

A great-grandson of the fur trader John Jacob Astor, he was born at "Ferncliff," the family's estate in Rhinebeck, New York to William Backhouse Astor, Jr. and his wife, Caroline Webster Schermerhorn Astor.

After graduating from Harvard University, John Jacob Astor IV patented several inventions, including a turbine engine, a bicycle brake and a "vibratory disintegrator" used to produce gas from peat moss. He also wrote a science-fiction novel in 1894 titled A Journey in Other Worlds, a fictional account of life in the year 2000 on the planets Saturn and Jupiter. As well, John Jacob Astor IV was a lieutenant colonel during the Spanish-American War.

In 1891, John Jacob married Ava Lowle Willing , a Philadelphia socialite. Ava was beautiful and rather turned off by her husband, whom she married for the sake of a "good" social match. Ava bore John Jacob, known to his friends as Jack, two children. The first child was William Vincent Astor, known to everyone as Vincent. He would later become Jack's heir. The second child was named Ava Alice Muriel Astor , always known as Alice; her actual parentage, however, remains uncertain.

Jack Astor backed, with other entrepreneurs (such as J.P. Morgan), the Niagara Falls Commission contract. This project worked off the designs devised by Nikola Tesla. Work began in 1893 on the Niagara Falls generation project.

In 1897, he built the Astoria Hotel adjoining the Waldorf Hotel that had been built by his cousin, William Waldorf Astor (1848-1918), and the complex then became known as the Waldorf-Astoria hotel.

After years of unsatisfactory marriage that involved infidelities on both sides, Jack Astor divorced Ava in 1909, following the death of his redoubtable mother, Caroline. The divorce forbade Jack of marrying in the state of New York during Ava's lifetime. At age 47, Jack decided, nonetheless, to marry Madeline Talmadge Force, age 18. On September 9, 1911 they were married in his mother's ballroom at Beechwood, the family's mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, with his 19-year-old son as his best man. Society was not kind to the new Mrs. Astor and even Vincent, himself, was somewhat against the marriage. The solution was for the couple to take an extended honeymoon in Europe and Egypt. Soon Madeleine Astor was pregnant and she and her husband wished to return to the United States for the birth of the child.

He and his second wife were returning to America from a trip abroad on the RMS Titanic when it sank in April 1912. Mrs. Astor escaped the sinking ship on a lifeboat, but her husband remained behind and was drowned. His body, which was badly crushed, was recovered on Monday, April 22nd by the cable ship McKay-Bennett. Captain Richard Roberts, commander of the Astor yacht, was the first to view the body of his employer when it was brought to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Following the wishes of son Vincent Astor, the body was brought back to New York for interment in the Trinity Church Cemetery in Manhattan. Vincent Astor claimed a pocket watch found in his father's clothing, going on to wear the watch for the rest of his life.

On August 14, 1912, his son, John Jacob Astor VI was born. The young widow later married and divorced two husbands: William K. Dick , a New York stockbroker, and Enzo Fiermonte , a professional boxer.

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Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45