Thomas Fortune Ryan
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|Thomas F. Ryan|
Thomas Fortune Ryan in the 1910s
October 17, 1851|
Nelson County, Virginia, U.S.
|Died||November 23, 1928
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Net worth||USD $155 million at the time of his death (approximately 1/633rd of US GNP)|
|Spouse(s)||1) Ida Mary Barry (1854–1917)
2) Mary Townsend Lord Cuyler
|Children||1) John Barry (1874–1942)
2) Thomas Fortune, Jr. (1876–1882)
3) William Keane (1878–1906) 
4) Allan Aloysius (1880–1940)
5) Clendenin James (1882–1939)
6) Mary Loretta (1884–1888)
7) Joseph James (1890–1920) 
Early days 
Thomas Fortune Ryan was born on October 17, 1851 near Lovingston, the county seat of Nelson County, south of Charlottesville in Virginia's Piedmont. Despite certain myths regarding his background, Ryan was neither orphaned nor penniless as a youth and he traced his ancestry to Protestant Anglo-Irish settlers who came to North America in the seventeenth century, not during the Potato Famine emigration. Ryan's father was a tailor and manager of a small hotel.
Ryan's mother, Lucinda Fortune Ryan, died in 1856 when he was five years old. His father remarried and moved to Tennessee two years later. He was reared by his mother's extended family in Lovingston, who were Protestants.
Ryan did not attend college. He obtained a solid education through the services of local Baptist ministers.
Aged 17, Ryan perceived a lack of economic opportunity in post-war Virginia and so moved across the border to the city of Baltimore. En route to Maryland, Ryan converted to Catholicism after long discussions with a fellow passenger on the train.
In Baltimore, John S. Barry, a prosperous dry goods merchant, hired him. By 1872, Barry helped Ryan secure a brokerage assistant position on Wall Street where he would be tutored by William Collins Whitney.
Fortune building 
Ryan opened a brokerage firm with two partners, Lee, Ryan & Warren, the following year.
In 1873 he married his former boss's daughter, Ida Mary Barry, whose family were devout Roman Catholics. With her he had seven children. The eldest was financier and writer John Barry Ryan (1874–1942). In 1874, his firm purchased Ryan a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. At the same time, Ryan became active in politics, especially the Tammany Hall machine that controlled much of the city's operations, giving him political and industrial contacts across the city.
Ryan's fortune began in public transit. In 1883, he founded the New York Cable Railroad and bid on the proposed route from lower Manhattan to Midtown. After numerous legal and financial problems, in 1886 Ryan reorganized his cable railroad as the Metropolitan Traction Company. By 1893, construction of Ryan's rail system was underway on Broadway. Metropolitan continually acquired additional lines so that by 1900 it controlled 3,000 cars and 300 miles of track the majority of New York’s streetcar operations.
Ryan's most profitable investment was tobacco. Having invested in its stocks throughout the 1890s, Ryan joined tobacco assets in 1898, forming The Union Tobacco Company. Shortly thereafter, he merged Union Tobacco with his greatest competitor, James Duke of North Carolina, forming the American Tobacco Company. Together Ryan and Duke developed the British-American Tobacco Company to protect American tobacco trade in Europe. Upon his death, Ryan also had major holdings in R. J. Reynolds and Liggett & Myers.
In 1905, amid public outcry, Ryan purchased the $400 million strong Equitable Life Assurance Society, a major factor in the insurance industry. Although Ryan strove to make Equitable more responsive to its policy holders, public reaction to his purchase was overwhelmingly negative. His reputation for cutthroat business dealings in the streetcar and subway businesses made the public distrustful and, in 1909, he sold his Equitable stock. Also in 1905, Ryan's Metropolitan street car system was threatened by a major competitive development, New York’s increasingly popular subway system. He merged Metropolitan with August Belmont, Jr.’s Interborough Rapid Transit Company. But the joint company’s finances were shaky, and Ryan pulled out. Meanwhile, some $35 million that Ryan had raised in a bond issue were misappropriated. Ryan was investigated for corruption in 1908, but the grand jury brought no charges.
Meanwhile, Ryan was making fortunes with coal mines, banks, public utilities and railroads. He owned Royal Typewriter and backed the maker of the Thompson submachine gun. At one time Ryan had controlling interest in 30 corporations.
As her husband's wealth grew exponentially, Ida Barry Ryan began making large benefactions to Catholic charitable organizations in New York, Virginia, and across the country. The Ryans funded churches, convents and hospitals in Manhattan, including the architecturally important St. Jean Baptiste Catholic Church on the Upper East Side. In Washington, D.C., they paid for a gymnasium and dormitory at the Jesuit-founded Georgetown University.
In 1901, the Ryans funded the construction of Sacred Heart Church and Sacred Heart School on Perry Street in Manchester, Virginia (now part of Richmond). In the same year, the Ryans made their most enduring act of generosity, donating $250,000 to build a new cathedral in Richmond. Soon thereafter, they donated an additional $250,000 to ensure that the interior would be of the highest workmanship. The Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, dedicated in 1906, remains one of the finest architectural landmarks in the city. Other gifts in Virginia included the Cathedral High and the Cathedral Primary schools in Richmond, as well as Catholic churches in Harrisonburg and Newport News, Virginia. The couple's lifetime contributions to Catholic charities around the country totaled $20 million. The Ryans' philanthropy also extended to cultural interests, including Southern history, the fine arts and exploration. Ryan financed and selected Charles Hoffbauer to create a series of paintings, "The Four Seasons of the Confederacy", commissioned for a major gallery in what is now the Virginia Historical Society. For Jamestown's 300th anniversary in 1907, Ryan donated a collection of portraits of key players in Virginia's settlement. Thomas Ryan helped finance Richard E. Byrd's flight to the South Pole.
The Ryan's maintained a summer estate near Suffern, New York called "Montebello". During their time there Ida Barry Ryan founded and funded the establishment of Good Samaritan Hospital and funded the construction of the Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Later years 
On October 17, 1917, on his 66th birthday, he was widowed when his wife Ida died from heart disease. Despite a place for her in the crypt of Richmond's Sacred Heart Cathedral, she was ultimately interred in the cemetery at St. Andrews-on-Hudson Seminary in Hyde Park, New York (now The Culinary Institute of America). Twelve days later Ryan married Mary Townsend Lord Cuyler, a widow.
On November 23, 1928, Thomas Fortune Ryan died, the South's wealthiest native son and the nation's 10th wealthiest man. He was buried at Oak Ridge, where his second wife, Mary, was also interred, leaving a fortune of more than $200 million.
His grand-daughter Sally Ryan was a noted art collector.