Henry Clay Folger

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Folger in 1879

Henry Clay Folger, Jr. (June 18, 1857 – June 11, 1930) was president and later chairman of Standard Oil of New York, a collector of Shakespeareana, and founder of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Early life[edit]

Henry Clay Folger, Jr. was born in New York City to Henry Clay Folger, Sr. of Nantucket, MA and Eliza Jane (Clark) Folger of New York. He was a first cousin six times removed of Benjamin Franklin and a nephew of J. A. Folger, the founder of Folger Coffee. He is also the great-great-great-great-great-great grandson of Peter Foulger and Mary Morrill Foulger.

He prepared at Adelphi Academy, Brooklyn, New York. He then attended Amherst College, where he was member of the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1879. After Amherst, he attended Columbia Law School from 1879 to 1881, and was admitted to the bar in 1881.


Beginning in 1881, he worked for the Standard Oil trust of John D. Rockefeller, getting his start in the oil business at Charles Pratt & Company, a refinery owned by Charles Pratt, the father of his Adelphi and Amherst classmate Charles Millard Pratt. The Pratt Company was already associated with Standard Oil at that time.[1] After the break-up of the trust, Folger became president and later chairman of Standard Oil of New York. He retired as president in 1923 and as chairman in 1928. Folger was succeeded as president by Herbert L. Pratt, another son of Charles Pratt.


Folger married Emily Clara Jordan, whom he had met through the Pratts, on October 6, 1885. She was born in 1858 and was educated at Vassar College. The Folgers had no children. They lived in rented houses in Brooklyn throughout most of their lives, but later purchased an estate in Glen Cove, Long Island.[2]

Folger Shakespeare Library[edit]

Folger was an avid collector of Shakespeareana, assembling the world’s largest collection of First Folio editions of Shakespeare's plays.[3] Toward the end of World War I, he and his wife began searching for a location for his Shakespeare library. They did not make their choice of a site on Capitol Hill public until 1928. Soon afterwards, Congress passed a resolution allowing use of the land on East Capitol Street where the Folger Shakespeare Library now stands.

The cornerstone of the library was laid in 1930, but Henry Folger died soon afterward. The bulk of his fortune was left in trust for the library, with Amherst College as trust administrator. With additional funding from Emily Folger, the library opened in 1932 on April 23, the date traditionally believed to be Shakespeare's birthday. Folger's collection of Shakespearean works is considered one of the most important resources for scholars of the playwright.[3]

Other interests and activities[edit]

Central Congregational Church

Folger was a trustee of the Hamilton Trust Company, Brooklyn, New York, and a director of Seaboard National Bank in New York. In 1914 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Amherst. Outside of work, his great interests were his Shakespeare collection and, in later life, golf, which he often played with Rockefeller.[4] He was a trustee of the Central Congregational Church in Brooklyn[4] and established the Shakespeare Garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.[5]


Henry Folger died on June 11, 1930. His wife Emily died in 1936.


Folger wrote Petroleum, its Production and Products and articles on Shakespeare and Shakespeareana.


  1. ^ Lynch, Kathleen, "Folger, Henry Clay," American National Biography, John Garatty and Mark Carnes (eds.) New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Volume 8, pages 169-170.
  2. ^ Stephen H. Grant (28 February 2014). Collecting Shakespeare: The Story of Henry and Emily Folger. JHU Press. ISBN 978-1-4214-1187-3. 
  3. ^ a b The Library in the New Age, an article by Robert Darnton
  4. ^ a b Lynch, page 170.
  5. ^ Brooklyn Botanic Garden: Shakespeare Garden
External video
Book Discussion on Collecting Shakespeare, C-SPAN, July 25, 2014