Colonel John Jacob Astor IV (July 13
– April 15
) was a businessman, inventor, writer and a member of the prominent Astor family
. Serving as a lieutenant colonel
in the Spanish-American War
, Astor mainly dealt in real estate which included the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel
. A divorce and marriage to the much younger Madeleine Talmadge Force
caused a scandal and he and his new wife took an extended honeymoon abroad to wait out the controversy. Madeleine Astor's
pregnancy cut short the trip and they booked passage on board the RMS Titanic
which struck an iceberg
and sank on April 15
. John Jacob Astor IV was among the more than 1,500 victims of the sinking.
John Jacob Astor IV was born at "Ferncliff", the family's estate in Rhinebeck, New York, to William Backhouse Astor, Jr. and Caroline Webster Schermerhorn Astor. John Jacob IV was the great–grandson of John Jacob Astor whose fortune, made in the fur trade and real estate, made the Astor family one of the wealthiest in the United States.
Astor attended St Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, and later attended Harvard University. In 1891, Astor married Ava Lowle Willing, a Philadelphia socialite. Together they had two children, William Vincent Astor and Ava Alice Muriel Astor.
Among Astor's accomplishments was A Journey in Other Worlds, an 1894 science fiction novel titled about a fictional account of life in the year 2000 on the planets Saturn and Jupiter. He also patented several inventions, including a bicycle brake in 1898, a "vibratory disintegrator" used to produce gas from peat moss, a pneumatic road–improver, and helped develop a turbine engine. Astor made millions in real estate and in 1897, Astor built the Astoria Hotel which adjoined Astor’s cousin, William Waldorf Astor's, Waldorf Hotel in New York City, the complex became known as the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
In 1898 Astor was appointed a lieutenant colonel of a U.S. volunteers battalion he financed in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. During this time he allowed his yacht, the Nourmahal, to be used by the U.S. government. During the war Colonel Astor appeared in the films President
McKinley's Inspection of Camp Wikoff in 1898 and Col. John Jacob Astor, Staff and Veterans of the Spanish–American
War in 1899.
Madeleine and the Titanic
In 1909 Astor divorced his wife Ava and on September 9, 1911 married eighteen year–old Madeleine Talmadge Force in his mother's ballroom at Beechwood, the family's Newport, Rhode Island home. The divorce and marriage to Madeleine, who was a year younger than Vincent Astor, caused a scandal and John Jacob IV
and Madeleine took an extended honeymoon in Europe and Egypt to wait for the gossip to calm down.
While traveling Madeleine became pregnant, and wanting the child born in the United States, the Astors booked first–class
passage on the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic which they boarded at Cherbourg, France. Astor was the richest person on the ship and along with his wife his party included his manservant, his wife's maid and
nurse and his pet Airedale, Kitty. At 11:40 PM on April 14, 1912 the Titanic hit an iceberg and began sinking. At first Astor didn’t believe the ship was in any serious danger, but later helped his wife into
a lifeboat. He asked if he could join his wife, mentioning her "delicate condition", but the officer in charge said no men until all
the women and children were away. Astor reportedly stood back, asked for the lifeboat number, lit a cigarette, and tossed
his gloves to Madeleine.
John Jacob Astor’s body was recovered by the MacKay-Bennett on April 22. Among the items found on him were £225, $2440, and a gold watch which his son, Vincent, claimed and wore the rest of his
life. Astor was buried in Trinity Church Cemetery in New York City. On August 14, 1912, his second son, John Jacob Astor VI was born.
John Jacob Astor's prominence made his actions while the Titanic was sinking legendary. Many exaggerated and unsubstantiated
accounts about what Astor did the night Titanic sank appeared in newspapers and books after the disaster. Stories included
that he was the one who opened Titanic's kennel and released the dogs, another story has Astor putting a women's hat on a boy to make sure he was able to get into a lifeboat.
Astor's fame has made him an often used character in films about Titanic. William Johnstone played Astor in the 1953 film Titanic and in the 1997 Titanic he was played by Eric Braeden, who was picked for his strong resemblance to Astor.