Cornelius Vander Starr

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Cornelius Vander Starr
Cornelius Vander Starr.jpg
BornOctober 15, 1892
DiedDecember 20, 1968 (aged 76)
Other namesNeil Starr, C. V. Starr
Alma materUniversity of California, Berkeley
Known forFounder of C.V. Starr & Co. and the American International Group

Cornelius Vander Starr also known as Neil Starr or C. V. Starr (October 15, 1892 – December 20, 1968) was an American businessman and operative of the Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor of the CIA, who was best known for founding, in 1919, C.V. Starr & Co. (later known as Starr Companies) in Shanghai, China. Starr's "hand-picked successor"[1] was Maurice Greenberg, who took a lead role in forming AIG as a Starr subsidiary. AIG grew from an initial market value of $300 million to $180 billion, becoming the largest insurance company in the world.

Early life[edit]

Starr was born to parents of English and Dutch ancestry. His father was a railroad engineer.[2] Starr attended University of California, Berkeley from 1910 to 1911 before dropping out and returning to his hometown of Ft. Bragg, CA.[3][4][5] There he began his first business venture, selling ice cream, at the age of nineteen.

He joined the U.S. Army in 1918 but was never deployed overseas because World War I had ended. Unable to resist a strong urge to travel and understand the world, he joined the Pacific Mail Steamship Company as a clerk in Yokohama, Japan. Later that year, he traveled to Shanghai where he worked for several insurance businesses.

Starr Companies[edit]

In 1919 he founded what was then known as American Asiatic Underwriters (later American International Underwriters) in Shanghai, China, a global insurance and investment organization. He had long been aware of the described and looming "Chinese Century". He was forced to move his operation to New York in 1939, when Japan invaded China. It has been reported that he worked for the Office of Strategic Services during World War II while in China,[6] and was the chief operative behind former American air force officer Claire L. Chennault, who orchestrated the OSS-bankrolled American Volunteer Group (better known as the "Flying Tigers") to fight to drive out the Japanese and return Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek to dominance in China. Starr and the OSS later backing Chiang over communist leader Mao Zedong.

In 2000, Mark Fritz wrote in the article entitled The Secret (Insurance) Agent Men for the Los Angeles Times: "They knew which factories to burn, which bridges to blow up, which cargo ships could be sunk in good conscience. They had pothole counts for roads used for invasion and head counts for city blocks marked for incineration. They weren't just secret agents. They were secret insurance agents. These undercover underwriters gave their World War II spymasters access to a global industry that both bankrolled and, ultimately, helped bring down Adolf Hitler's Third Reich. Newly declassified U.S. intelligence files tell the remarkable story of the ultra-secret Insurance Intelligence Unit, a component of the Office of Strategic Services, a forerunner of the CIA, and its elite counterintelligence branch X-2.[7]

After World War II, Starr hired O.S.S. captain Duncan Lee, a lawyer, who became the long-term general counsel of AIG.

AIG left China in early 1949, as Mao led the advance of the Communist People's Liberation Army on Shanghai,[8][9] and Starr moved the company headquarters to its current home in New York City.[10] AIG was once the world's largest insurance company.[citation needed]


In 1955 he founded the C. V. Starr Foundation, to which he left his entire residuary estate, after a small amount in the eight figures along with his house in Brewster was awarded to his niece upon his death in 1968. He set up several other trusts for his close relatives. The sum of money left to his niece and relatives (not including the majority of his wealth left to charity) would have been worth several billion USD in the 21st century. As of 2013 the C. V. Starr Foundation still gives between 100 and 200 million dollars USD annually to charities and causes around the world respectively.

The C.V. Starr East Asian Library at Columbia University was named for Starr in recognition of an endowment gift by the Starr Foundation in 1981. The C. V. Starr East Asian Library at the University of Illinois. There is also the C. V. Starr East Asian Library at the University of California, Berkeley, which houses 900,000 volumes in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and other East Asian languages, making it one of the top two such collections in the United States outside of the Library of Congress.[11] Students at Hofstra University will know C.V. Starr Hall as home to the Frank G. Zarb School of Business, a state-of-the-art technologically advanced building, which opened for classes in the fall of 2000 and houses the Martin B. Greenberg Trading Room complete with a stock ticker that is delayed only 15 minutes from Wall Street.[12] The C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience in Chestertown, MD, works in conjunction with Washington College to promote the American Pictures Series at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C.[13]

Starr was also an early investor in skiing at Mount Mansfield in Stowe, Vermont,[14] acquiring the Stowe Mountain Resort in 1949. It passed on to AIG in 1988.[15]


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Cornelius Vander Starr 1892-1968" (PDF). Archived from the original (pdf) on April 17, 2016. Retrieved April 9, 2014.
  3. ^ "06.24.2004 - Tien Center project reaches $42 million goal; construction set to begin on new East Asian library next year". Retrieved 2018-05-13.
  4. ^ "10.16.2007 - New C.V. Starr East Asian Library to be dedicated at UC Berkeley". Retrieved 2018-05-13.
  5. ^ "Columbia University Libraries Online Exhibitions | Cornelius Vander Starr, His Life and Work". Retrieved 2018-05-13.
  6. ^ David Stafford (2000). Roosevelt and Churchill: men of secrets. Overlook Press. p. 260. ISBN 978-1-58567-068-0.
  7. ^ "The Secret (Insurance) Agent Men", by Mark Fritz; Los Angeles Times; Sept 22, 2000. Accessed March 30, 2019.
  8. ^ Thompson, Clifford; Block, Maxine; Moritz, Charles; Rothe, Anna Herthe; Candee, Marjorie Dent (1941). Current Biography Yearbook. Current Biography (60th ed.). H. W. Wilson Company. p. 247. Retrieved 2009-03-17. AIG abandoned China completely in 1949, as the Communist People's Liberation Army, led by Mao Zedong, advanced on Shanghai.
  9. ^ "Foreign Office Files for China, 1949-1976". Part 1: Complete Files for 1949: Publisher's Note. Adam Matthew Publications. Archived from the original on 2008-10-13. Retrieved 2009-03-17. By the spring of 1949 [the Communists] had captured Peking, the former Nationalist capital city of Nanking and the important trading city of Shanghai.
  10. ^ "AIG: What does this US giant do?". BBC News. 17 September 2008. Retrieved 2009-03-17. In 1949 [Cornelius Vander Starr] moved the company's headquarters to New York where it remains today.
  11. ^ "About EAL". Retrieved 2012-10-08.
  12. ^ "Buildings and Facilities - Frank G. Zarb School of Business - Hofstra University". Archived from the original on 2012-09-18. Retrieved 2012-10-08.
  13. ^ "The C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience". 2012-09-27. Archived from the original on 2012-10-12. Retrieved 2012-10-08.
  14. ^ The epic history of Stowe Mountain Resort
  15. ^ Lawlor, Julia (2005-02-25). "HAVENS; At Stoic Old Stowe, a New Era". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-03-04.

An On-line Exhibition: Cornelius Vander Starr, his life and work: / exhibit curator, Ria Koopmans-de Bruijn / Published New York, N.Y. : C.V. Starr East Asian Library, [2015].

External links[edit]

Business positions
New title President of American International Underwriters
1919 – 1968
Succeeded by
Maurice R. Greenberg