The richest man in the world who went down with the ship

When John Jacob Astor IV and his wife boarded the Titanic in Cherbourg, France, they were accompanied by his manservant, her maid, her nurse, and their pet Airedale, Kitty. Astor had built the Astoria Hotel in New York, next door to the Waldorf Hotel, built by his cousin. The two hotels were merged and soon became known as the Waldorf-Astoria. In addition to managing his wealthy family’s fortune and investing in other hotels, Astor was an inventor, author, and a lieutenant colonel in the Spanish-American War. It’s believed his net worth was roughly $87,000,000, making him the richest man in the world at the time.

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At the age of 45, Astor (or Jack-Ass, as he was known by the press) divorced his wife and married 18-year-old Madeleine Force two years later. Madeleine was younger than his son Vincent. Gossip about his actions spread, so the couple decided to spend the winter of 1912 in Europe and return to New York in the spring on the new RMS Titanic. Mrs. Astor was five months pregnant.

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John Jacob and Madeleine Astor prior to their Titanic voyage

When the Titanic struck the iceberg, Astor left his cabin to investigate. At first, he was told nothing was wrong and returned to the cabin. However, he and Mrs. Astor were soon ordered to the Boat Deck, along with their servants. Astor was seen wearing his lifebelt, holding Kitty’s leash and talking with his wife in the gymnasium. As the lifeboats were filled, he helped his wife into Lifeboat 4. He asked if he could accompany her, due to her “delicate condition,” but Second Officer Charles Lightoller refused to allow any men to board the boats where he was stationed. Astor tossed his gloves to his wife and told her he’d see her in New York.

He was last seen walking Kitty along the deck. His body was later recovered, crushed and covered by soot. It is believed he may have been killed when the first funnel broke loose and fell.

Mrs. Astor named her son after her husband and inherited his millions, as long as she didn’t remarry. But during World War I, she married again, relinquishing Astor’s fortune. She died in Palm Beach at the age of 47.

Side note: On a recent trip to Mackinac Island, Michigan, I visited the home of John Jacob Astor IV’s grandfather, William Backhouse Astor. He was a fur trader like his father, the first John Jacob Astor, owner of the very successful American Fur Company.

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Home of William Backhouse Astor

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