Vincent Astor (November 15, 1891 – February 3, 1959) was a
businessman, philanthropist, and member of the prominent Astor
1 Early life
5 Wartime service in the United States Navy
5.1 World War I
5.2 World War II
7 Mount Astor
9 External links
Called Vincent, he was born in
New York City
New York City on November 15, 1891. He
was the son of John Jacob Astor IV, millionaire and inventor and his
first wife, Ava Lowle Willing, an heiress from Philadelphia.
He graduated from St. George's School, in Middletown, Rhode Island, in
1910 and attended
Harvard University from 1911 to 1912, leaving school
Like his father, Astor belonged to the New York Society of Colonial
Wars. He served as commodore of the
New York Yacht Club
New York Yacht Club from 1928 to
Astor was interested in trains. In the early 1930s, he established an
Bermuda which included a private narrow-gauge railway and
union station with the
Bermuda Railway. The estate is now divided
between several private owners, none of whom are part of the Astor
family. As recently as 1992, the remains of some of his rolling stock
Vincent Astor was, according to family biographer Derek Wilson, "a
hitherto unknown phenomenon in America: an Astor with a highly
developed social conscience." He was 20 when his father died, and,
having inherited a massive fortune, dropped out of Harvard University.
He set about to change the family image from that of miserly, aloof
slum landlords who enjoyed the good life at the expense of others.
Over time, he sold off the family's
New York City
New York City slum housing and
reinvested in reputable enterprises while spending a great deal of
time and energy helping others. He was responsible for the
construction of a large housing complex in the Bronx that included
sufficient land for a large children's playground, and in Harlem, he
transformed a valuable piece of real estate into another playground
Astor appeared as No. 12 on the first list of America's richest
people, compiled by Forbes magazine. His net worth at the time was
estimated at $75 million.
Amongst his holdings was
Newsweek magazine which had for a time its
headquarters in the former Knickerbocker Hotel that had been built by
his father; he was the magazine's chairman. He also inherited
Ferncliff, the Astor family's 2,800-acre (11 km2) estate near
Rhinebeck, New York, where his father had been born. Vincent Astor,
however, would be the last family owner of the estate and occupant of
the "Ferncliff Casino", a Stanford White—McKim Mead & White
designed 1904 Beaux Arts style 40,000 square feet (3,700 m2)
building, inspired by the
Grand Trianon at Versailles.
On his death in 1959, Astor bequeathed a main house at Ferncliff to
the Benedictine Hospital in Kingston, New York, and later his widow,
Brooke, donated "Ferncliff Casino" to the Catholic Archdiocese of New
York, and sold off many parcels of the estate. In 1963 Homer Staley, a
local retired businessman in the area, asked
Brooke Astor to preserve
the remaining natural acreage of woodlands from development. She
donated the land to the Rotary Club of Rhinebeck, to become the
Ferncliff Forest Game Refuge and Forest Preserve.
Helen Dinsmore Huntington
Helen Dinsmore Huntington
Astor married Helen Dinsmore Huntington, on April 30, 1914. At the
ceremony, he was stricken with the mumps, a disease that made him
sterile; as for the bride, her friend Glenway Wescott, the novelist,
admiringly described her in his unpublished diaries as "a grand,
old-fashioned lesbian." The couple divorced in 1940. A year later,
Helen became the second wife of Lytle Hull (1882-1958), a real-estate
broker who was a friend and business associate of her former husband.
Mary Benedict Cushing
Shortly after his divorce, Astor married Mary Benedict Cushing, the
eldest daughter of Dr.
Harvey Williams Cushing
Harvey Williams Cushing and Katharine Stone
Crowell. Mary's sisters were Betsey Maria Cushing and Barbara "Babe"
Cushing. They divorced in September 1953, and the following month,
Mary wed James Whitney Fosburgh, a painter who worked as an art
lecturer at the Frick Museum.
Roberta Brooke Russell
On October 8, 1953, several weeks after divorcing his second wife,
Astor married the once-divorced, once-widowed Roberta Brooke Russell.
According to an often-told story in society circles, Astor agreed to
divorce his second wife only after she had found him a replacement
spouse. Her first suggestion was Janet Newbold Ryan Stewart Bush, the
newly divorced wife of James Smith Bush II (brother of Prescott Bush),
who turned Astor down with startling candor, saying, "I don't even
like you." Astor proceeded to tell her that he was not well and,
though only in his early 60s, he could not be expected to live for
very long, whereupon she would inherit his millions. At that, Janet
Bush reportedly replied, "What if you do live?" Mary Cushing then
proposed Brooke. Together, Vincent and Brooke developed the Vincent
Astor Foundation, a foundation that was designed to give back to New
York City. Brooke died in 2007 at the age of 105.
Wartime service in the United States Navy
World War I
Astor joined the Naval Reserve shortly after it was founded and was
commissioned as an ensign on December 28, 1915. He was called to
active duty as part of the New York Naval Militia in February 1917 by
order of Governor
Charles S. Whitman
Charles S. Whitman to help guard bridges and
aqueducts against possible German sabotage. Astor was assigned to help
guard the Brooklyn and
Following the declaration of war against Germany, Astor took advice
from his friend and future president Franklin Delano Roosevelt and
volunteered for active duty with the Navy on April 7, 1917. He went
overseas on June 9 on the
USS Noma (Astor's own yacht which had been
acquired as a patrol ship by the Navy). He was later assigned to the
armed yacht USS Aphrodite.
He was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade) on January 1, 1918, and
to lieutenant on July 1, 1918. He was joined in France by his wife,
who did charity work with the
YMCA at the naval base in Bordeaux,
while he served as Port Officer at Royan.
His last assignment was as an officer on the captured German
minelaying submarine U-117 during her voyage to the United States.
Astor returned to the United States on the U-117 on April 25, 1919,
and was discharged on May 24.
After the war, Astor became a companion of the Naval Order of the
World War II
In the quiet before the war, Astor sailed the Nourmahal in 1938 to
Japan on a secret civilian mission for President Franklin D. Roosevelt
to gather intelligence on the Marshall Islands. As he had done
with the Noma in the First World War, he loaned his yacht Nourmahal to
the Coast Guard for service in the Second World War.
In World War II, Astor again served on active duty with the Navy. He
was called to active duty with the rank of commander.
Perhaps Astor's longer lasting contributions were his weekly reports
Chase Bank where his inside access included
balances. On 13 Dec 1940, Astor began reporting to the
US Treasury the
Soviet weekly balances in an unbroken sequence (made by occasional
substitutes) up through at least 1945.
During the early months of 1942, he suggested equipping fishing boats
with radios so they could report U-boat sightings. One boat so
equipped was Ernest Hemingway's fishing yacht Pilar.
In June 1943 he was promoted to the rank of captain (with date of rank
June 18, 1942).
For his service in the Navy, Captain Astor was awarded the Navy
Naval Reserve Medal
Naval Reserve Medal with star, World War I Victory
Medal, American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, and
World War II
World War II Victory Medal.
Vincent Astor died on February 3, 1959, of a heart attack at his
apartment at 120 East End Avenue in Manhattan. He left all of
his money to the
Vincent Astor foundation, with Brooke surprising
many. She continued his philanthropic work.
Astor was first interred on his "Ferncliff Courts" estate ("Astor
Courts") on the
Hudson River near Rhinebeck, New York. When Brooke
later disposed of the property he was reinterred in the Sleepy Hollow
Cemetery in Sleepy Hollow, New York. Brooke is buried next to
His half-brother Jakey felt cheated and resentfully stated that
Vincent "had the legal, not the moral right to keep all the
money". Jakey sued Brooke to inherit his money. He was certain
that Vincent was "mentally incompetent" when signing his last will in
June 1958 due to frequent smoking and alcoholism, though Brooke
insisted otherwise. While Vincent was hospitalized, Brooke often
brought him liquor. Jakey accused her of using the liquor to influence
the will in her favor. Jakey ended up settling for $250,000. The rest
of the money remained with the
Vincent Astor foundation and
A mountain in
Antarctica bears Astor's name. Rising to a height of
Mount Astor is located in the
Hays Mountains of the Queen
Maud Range, and was named by Rear Admiral Richard Byrd on his November
1929 expedition flight to the South Pole. Astor had been a
contributing philanthropist to the expedition.
^ a b "
Vincent Astor Dies In His Home at 67". New York Times. February
4, 1959. Retrieved 2010-03-21. Vincent Astor, millionaire real estate
owner and head of the American branch of the famous family, died
yesterday in his apartment at 120 East End Avenue. Mr. Astor, who was
67 years old, succumbed to a heart attack at 1 A.M. A spokesman for
the family said that Mr. Astor had been ailing recently, although the
nature of the illness was not disclosed. He had intended to go to his
winter home near Phoenix, Ariz., soon.
^ Harvard's Military Record in the World War. pg. 46.
^ "Astor Courts". Astor Courts. Retrieved 2012-10-02.
^ a b "The Real Estalker: Astor Courts, Historical Site of Chelsea
Clinton's Hitching". Realestalker.blogspot.com. 2010-07-30. Retrieved
Ferncliff Forest Game Refuge and Forest Preserve".
Nynjctbotany.org. Retrieved 2012-10-02.
Vincent Astor Weds Helen Huntington; Pallid from Illness, but
Active in the Festivities After the Ceremony". The New York Times. May
1, 1914. Retrieved 2012-10-02. (Subscription required (help)).
Glenway Wescott Collection, Beinecke Library, Yale University, New
^ "Mary Fosburgh, 72. One of Cushing Sisters And a Leader in Arts.
Raised Funds During War". New York Times. November 8, 1978. Retrieved
2010-03-21. Mary Cushing Fosburgh, the eldest of the socially
prominent Cushing sisters and widow of the painter James Whitney
Fosburgh, died Saturday at her home in
Manhattan after a long illness.
She was 72 years old and lived at 32 East 64th Street.
^ "Prescott Sheldon". Newyorksocialdiary.com. Missing or empty
url= (help); access-date= requires url= (help)
^ "Armed Guards Patrol Bridges". New York Times. February 5, 1917.
^ St. George's School in the War. 1920. pg. 75.
Joseph E. Persico begins his book Roosevelt's Secret War with a
description of the FDR-
Vincent Astor friendship, including this secret
civilian mission to Japan.
NARA Record Group 38, Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval
Operations, Records of the Office of Naval Intelligence, Central
Administrative Correspondence, 1930-48, L10-5/EF61, Russian Gov't
Funds, Box 398-399.
^ New York Times. June 10, 1943.
^ Mason City Globe-Gazette, February 3, 1959, page 1.
^ "Astor Legacy". New York Social Diary. Retrieved 2010-07-27.
^ Wilson, Andrew (2012). Shadow of the Titanic: The Extraordinary
Stories of Those Who Survived. Simon and Schuster.
^ Gordon, Meryl (2008). Mrs. Astor Regrets: The Hidden Betrayals of a
Family Beyond Reproach. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
^ USGS Geographic Names Information System (GNIS), Mount Astor,
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Vincent Astor.
Vincent Astor at Find a Grave
Plans for Ferncliff at http://news.hrvh.org
Ferncliff Forest Game Refuge and Forest Preserve
New York Times: Ferncliff "Astor Courts" - slide show
FBI file on Vincent Astor
BBC Radio 4, MI6's Secret Slush Fund, broadcast November 20th 2017,
contains references to Vincent Astor's life