John Jacob Astor IV was born on July 13, 1864 at his parents’ country estate of Ferncliff in Rhinebeck, New York. He was the youngest of five children and only son of William Backhouse Astor Jr, a businessman, collector, and racehorse breeder/owner, and Caroline Webster “Lina” Schermerhorn, a Dutch-American socialite. His four elder sisters were Emily, Helen, Charlotte, and Caroline (“Carrie”). John Astor IV was an American business magnate, real estate developer, investor, writer, lieutenant colonel in the Spanish–American War. He came from a long line of the very prominent Astor family.
Astor’s was an accomplished writer, having published “A Journey in Other Worlds” (1894), a science-fiction novel about life in the year 2000 on the planets Saturn and Jupiter. He was also an inventor. He patented several inventions, including a bicycle brake in 1898, a “vibratory disintegrator” used to produce gas from peat moss, and a pneumatic road-improver, and he helped develop a turbine engine. He was a great visionary, and his contributions to the world were amazing.
Astor married socialite Ava Lowle Willing on February 17, 1891. The couple had two children, William Vincent Astor (November 15, 1891 – February 3, 1959), businessman and philanthropist, and Ava Alice Muriel Astor (July 7, 1902 – July 19, 1956). The couple divorced in November 1909. Astor IV remarried shortly thereafter, compounding the scandal of his divorce. At the age of 47, Astor married 18-year-old socialite Madeleine Talmage Force, the sister of real estate businesswoman and socialite Katherine Emmons Force. Astor and Force were married in his mother’s ballroom at Beechwood, the family’s Newport, Rhode Island, mansion. There was also much controversy over their 29-year age difference. His son Vincent despised Force, yet he served as best man at his father’s wedding. The couple took an extended honeymoon in Europe and Egypt to wait for the gossip to calm down. Among the few Americans who did not spurn him at this time was Margaret Brown, later fictionalized as The Unsinkable Molly Brown. She accompanied the Astors to Egypt and France. After receiving a call to return to the United States, Brown accompanied the couple back home aboard RMS Titanic.
Astor IV died in the sinking of the RMS Titanic during the early hours of April 15, 1912. Astor was the richest passenger aboard the RMS Titanic and was thought to be among the richest people in the world at that time. He was also a true gentleman, who would never have been on a lifeboat without knowing that all the women and children were on lifeboats. Astor IV had a net worth of roughly $87 million when he died, which would be equivalent to $2.44 billion in 2021. Astor, like his predecessors also made millions in real estate. In 1897, Astor built the Astoria Hotel, “the world’s most luxurious hotel”, in New York City, adjoining the Waldorf Hotel owned by Astor’s cousin and rival, William. Later, the complex became known as the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The Waldorf-Astoria was the host location to the United States inquiries into the sinking of the RMS Titanic, on which Astor died.
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