Harry Elkins Widener

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Harry Elkins Widener
Harry E. Widener.jpg
Harry Elkins Widener
Born (1885-01-03)January 3, 1885
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died April 15, 1912(1912-04-15) (aged 27)
Atlantic Ocean (RMS Titanic)
Nationality American
Alma mater Harvard University (A.B., 1907)
Occupation Businessman, book collector
Known for Namesake of Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library
Signature Harry E. Widener signature.png

Harry Elkins Widener (January 3, 1885 – April 15, 1912) was an American businessman and bibliophile, a member of the Widener family. Harvard University's Widener Memorial Library was donated by his mother in his memory, after his death on the foundering of the RMS Titanic.


Widener's 1908 bookplate[1]

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Widener was the son of George Dunton Widener (1861–1912) and Eleanor Elkins Widener, and the grandson of entrepreneur Peter A. B. Widener (1834–1915). He attended The Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania and was a 1907 graduate of Harvard College, where he was a member of Hasty Pudding Theatricals and the Owl Club.

Along with his father and mother, in April 1912 Widener boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg, France bound for New York City. As the ship sank Widener's mother and her maid were rescued, but Widener, his father, and his father's valet perished. His mother donated the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library (dedicated 1915) to Harvard in his memory; at Hill School two buildings are dedicated to Widener, and at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, stained-glass windows are dedicated to Widener and his father.

A Harvard legend holds that in order to spare others her son's fate, Widener's mother insisted (as a condition of her gift) that future Harvard graduates be required to learn to swim. While Harvard indeed implemented a swimming test in the 1920s (later dropped), this had nothing to do with Widener.[2]

As a book collector[edit]

Book collector and dealer George Sidney Hellman, writing soon after Harry Widener's death, commented on

the excellence of his technical knowl­edge ... His enthusiasm as a collector and his winning person­ali­ty ... afforded many opportunities of obtaining treasures whose acquisition cannot be explained alone on the basis of the wealth which he commanded. Had he not perished in the Titanic catastrophe, beyond question ... his library would surely have eventually become one of the greatest collec­tions of books in modern times. [He] was not satisfied alone in having a rare book or a rare book inscribed by the author; it was with him a prerequisite that the volume should be in immaculate condition.[3]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Houghton Library, Harvard University, HEW 2.2.15
  2. ^ Mann, Elizabeth (December 9, 1993), "The First Abridged Dictionary of Harvard Myths", The Harvard Independent: 10–11 
  3. ^ George S. Hellman (June 2, 1912). "Harvard To Get Harry Widener's Famous Library – Titanic Victim, Though Hardly Out Of College – Acquired A Fine Collection Of Books That He Willed To His Alma Mater – His Grandfather Adds A Memorial Wing To House It". The New York Times.