Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle Sr.

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Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle Sr.
Captain Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle, Sr. in 1918.jpg
Biddle Sr. in 1918
Born (1874 -10-01)October 1, 1874
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Died May 27, 1948 (1948 -05-27) (aged 73)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Resting place The Woodlands
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Spouse(s) Cordelia Rundell Bradley
Children Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle Jr.
Livingston Ludlow Biddle
Cordelia Drexel Biddle
Parent(s) Edward Biddle III
Emilie Taylor Drexel
Biddle as a boxer in 1909

Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle I (1874–1948) was an eccentric millionaire whose fortune allowed him to pursue theatricals, self-published writing, athletics, and Christianity on a full-time basis.[1]

He was the man upon whom the book My Philadelphia Father and the play and film The Happiest Millionaire were based.[2] He trained men in hand-to-hand combat in both World War I and World War II,[3] was a fellow of the American Geographical Society and founded a movement called "Athletic Christianity" that eventually attracted 300,000 members around the world.[4][5] A 1955 Sports Illustrated article called him "boxing's greatest amateur" as well as a "major factor in the re-establishment of boxing as a legal and, at that time, estimable sport."[6]

Early life[edit]

He was born on October 1, 1874 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Edward Biddle II and Emily Drexel.[7] He was grandson of banker Anthony Joseph Drexel, and great-grandson of banker Nicholas Biddle.[8] Biddle was a graduate of Germany's Heidelberg University.[9]


An officer in the United States Marine Corps, Biddle was an expert in close-quarters fighting and the author of Do or Die: A Supplementary Manual on Individual Combat, a book on combat methods, including knives and empty-hand skills, training both the United States Marine Corps in two world wars and Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He can be seen training Marines in the RKO short documentary Soldiers of the Sea. He was considered not just an expert in fighting, but also a pioneer of United States Marine Corps training in the bayonet and hand-to-hand combat. He based his style on fencing, though this approach was sometimes criticized as being unrealistic for military combat.[10]

Having joined the Marines in 1917 at the age of 41, he also convinced his superiors to include boxing in Marine Corps recruit training.[11] In 1919, he was promoted to the rank of major, and became a lieutenant colonel in 1934. In Lansdowne, Pennsylvania, right outside of Philadelphia, Biddle opened a military training facility, where he trained 4,000 men. His training included long hours of calisthenics and gymnastics, and taught skills such as machete, saber, dagger, and bayonet combat, as well as hand grenade use, boxing, wrestling, savate and jiujitsu.[11] He also served two years in the National Guard.

A keen boxer, Biddle sparred with Jack Johnson and taught boxing to Gene Tunney.[6] He even hosted "boxing teas" in his home, where other boxers would spar a couple of rounds with him and then join the family for dinner. A February 1909 match with Philadelphia Jack O'Brien was attended by society leaders including women in elegant evening gowns.[12]

He served as a judge in the fight between Jack Dempsey and Jess Willard on 4 July 1919.

On the 5th of February 1920, Joseph Drexel-Biddle, as chairman of the « Army Navy and Civilian Board of Boxing Control », of New-York, accepts the principle of membership in the International Boxing Union.[13]


Biddle also worked in and on periodicals. He spent time as a sports reporter for the Public Ledger, and jokingly referred to himself as "the poorest and richest reporter in Philadelphia". He also revived the Philadelphia Sunday Graphic for a short interval, before it was forced to fold, and founded a short-lived "society weekly"–type publication, The People. After organizing the also short-lived Drexel Biddle Publishing House, he acted as its head for two years.[9]

Books written by Biddle include:

  • A dual rôle: and other stories. The Warwick Book Publishing Company. 1894.
  • The Madeira Islands. Philadelphia: Drexel, Biddle & Bradley Publishing Company. 1896.
  • Shantytown Sketches. Philadelphia: Drexel, Biddle & Bradley Publishing Company. 1897.
  • The Froggy Fairy Book (1896) and The Second Froggy Fairy Book (1900) Drexel, Biddle & Bradley publishing company
  • The Flowers of Life. Philadelphia: Drexel, Biddle & Bradley Publishing Company. 1897.
  • Word for Word and Letter for Letter; a biographical romance. Gay & Bird. 1989.
  • Do or Die: A Supplementary Manual on Individual Combat. U.S. Marine Corps. 1937. (reprinted 1944 with new material, reprinted 1975)

Personal life[edit]

In 1895, he married Cordelia Rundell Bradley. Together, they had:

He died May 27, 1948 from a cerebral hemorrhage and uremic poisoning.[3][9][16]


His daughter, Cordelia Drexel Biddle, worked with Kyle Crichton (father of Robert Crichton) to write a novel based on her family in 1955.[17] In 1956, it was made into a play starring Walter Pidgeon.[2] In 1967 a musical film based on the story, The Happiest Millionaire, was the last musical film to have personal involvement from Walt Disney. Biddle was played by Fred MacMurray in the film.[18]


  1. ^ p.253 Baltzell, Edward Digby Philadelphia Gentlemen: The Making of a National Upper Class 1958 Free Press
  2. ^ a b "The Theater: New Plays in Manhattan". Time magazine. December 3, 1956. Retrieved March 17, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b "Col. A. J. Biddle Sr. Dead at Age of 73. Trained Men in Two World Wars for Hand-to-Hand Combat. Sponsored Boxing Groups". The New York Times. May 28, 1948. Retrieved March 19, 2011. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Foreign Service: Athletic Christian". Time magazine. August 5, 1935. Retrieved March 20, 2011. 
  6. ^ a b "Events & Discoveries". Sports Illustrated. May 9, 1955. Retrieved March 19, 2011. 
  7. ^ The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, v.7, 1897
  8. ^ "Letters to the editor". Life magazine. October 25, 1943. p. 2. Retrieved March 21, 2011. 
  9. ^ a b c Philadelphia Inquirer, Friday Morning, 28 May 1948
  10. ^ James N. Wright (April 1940). "On the Art of Hand to Hand: An Interview with Col. A. J. Drexel Biddle, USMCR". Leatherneck Magazine. 
  11. ^ a b Joseph R. Svinth (December 2001). "Anthony J. Drexel Biddle, USMC CQB Pioneer". Journal of Non-Lethal Combatives. 
  12. ^ "Women See Biddle Box: Bout with "Jack" O'Brien for Society Friends at Philadelphia" (PDF). The New York Times. 24 February 1909. Retrieved 22 March 2011. 
  13. ^ (in French) "Le congrès de l'International Boxing Union". Le Temps. February 6, 1920. Retrieved May 4, 2017. 
  14. ^ "Angier Buchanan Duke". Duke University. Archived from the original on 2008-05-01. Retrieved 2008-07-03. 
  15. ^ "Livingston Ludlow Biddle, III". Our Family Tree. Retrieved 20 March 2017. 
  16. ^ Karl Schuon (1963). U S Marine Corps Biographical Dictionary. New York: Franklin Watts. pp. 16–17. 
  17. ^ Kyle Crichton; Cordelia Drexel Biddle (1955). My Philadelphia Father. Doubleday. 
  18. ^ The Happiest Millionaire on IMDb

Further reading[edit]

  • The Washington Post; August 17, 1933 "Helen Avis Howard Engaged To Anthony J. Drexel Jr. Dr. and Mrs. Clinton Howard, of Atlanta, have announced the engagement of their daughter. Miss Helen Avis Howard, to Mr. Anthony Joseph Drexel 3d, son of Mr. and Mrs. Anthony Joseph Drexel Jr. of Philadelphia."
  • Time; June 4, 1948 "Died. Colonel Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle Sr., 73, muscular Christian, father of the wartime ambassador to the governments in exile; following a cerebral hemorrhage; in Syosset, N.Y. He founded the Drexel Biddle Bible Classes in 1907 (their curriculum of fighting-&-praying ultimately attracted 200,000 members), taught jujitsu and dirty fighting to Marines in both World War."
  • The New York Times; October 14, 2004 "Nicholas Duke Biddle, 83, Scion of Wealth Who Helped the Poor. Nicholas Duke Biddle, scion of two prominent American families who helped refugees from Cuba and Caribbean, dies at age 83. Mr. Biddle was originally named Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle III, after his father, Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle Jr., a prominent diplomat."

External links[edit]