J. Borden Harriman

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J. Borden Harriman
Born September 20, 1864
Died December 2, 1914
Spouse(s) Florence Jaffray Hurst
Children Ethel M.B. Harriman
Parent(s) Oliver Harriman
Laura Low
Relatives E. H. Harriman (cousin)
F. W. J. Hurst (father-in-law)

Jefferson Borden Harriman (September 20, 1864 – December 2, 1914) was a New York financier and member of the Gilded Age’s “hunting set.” He was best known as the supportive husband of Florence Jaffray Harriman, a socialite who became a progressive social activist and (after his death) a United States Ambassador to Norway during the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was a cousin of railroad tycoon Edward Harriman, who was the father of statesman and diplomat W. Averell Harriman. A lingering gastrointestinal problem led to his early retirement and death.

Early life[edit]

J. Borden Harriman was born on September 20, 1864.[1][2] His father, Oliver Harriman, was a partner of a dry goods commission house, which evolved into Low, Harriman & Co. (and then Harriman & Co.), an investment banking firm located on Worth Street, and later 111 Broadway, in Manhattan. Laura was the daughter of James Low, Oliver’s business partner.[2] He had seven siblings. In addition to brothers James, Oliver Jr., Joseph, and Herbert, J. Borden had three oft-married sisters—Emeline Harriman Dodge Olin, Anna Harriman Sands Rutherfurd Vanderbilt, and Lillie Harriman Travers Havemeyer.[2]

In 1901, his mother died.[3] Later that year, he and his siblings successfully petitioned a New York court to declare their 70-year-old father incapable to manage his affairs due to senile dementia.[4] At the time, his father’s wealth was estimated at over $5 million. His father died the following year.[2]

Harriman graduated from Princeton University in 1885.


Harriman joined his father’s business, becoming an investment banker.[1]

His 1903 bid for a seat on the New York Stock Exchange’s governing committee was thwarted by an outside candidate, even though Harriman had received the committee’s nomination, and all other regular nominees prevailed.[5]

He and several brothers and cousins were founding directors or officers in the Day and Night Bank, established in 1906 as the world’s first 24-hour bank.[6][7] Once open, the owners added further innovations—a separate branch reserved for women customers,[8] and an automobile “safe on wheels” that would pick up cash and valuables from depositors’ homes.[9] In 1910, after four years of 24-hour operations, it began to restrict its weekday hours, closing from midnight to 8 am.[10]

Harriman left the Bank’s board of directors in January 1911, when the Day and Night Bank developed an intimate relationship with Merchants’ National Bank of New York but changed its name to the Harriman National Bank (reflecting the continued influence of other members of the Harriman family in the bank’s ownership and management).[11] Twenty-two years later, after the bank failed in the financial crisis of 1932-1933, its longtime president Joseph Wright Harriman, formerly of Harriman & Co., was convicted by a federal jury of misappropriating bank funds,[12] and served 25 months in prison.[13]

Harriman retired the next month (at age 48) from Harriman & Co.[14][15] Later that year, newly elected President Woodrow Wilson appointed Mrs. Harriman as a member of the first U.S. Commission on Industrial Relations.

Personal life[edit]

On November 13, 1889 he married nineteen-year-old Florence Jaffray Hurst, daughter of shipping executive (and former Civil War Union blockade runner) F.W.J. Hurst.[1] The list of attendees at their wedding included past and future president Grover Cleveland, railroad tycoons Cornelius Vanderbilt and Edward Harriman, John Jacob Astor IV, and J. P. Morgan.[16]

They had one child, Ethel M.B. Harriman, born on December 11, 1897.[17]

Harriman became seriously ill in January 1913 with what newspapers described as a lingering “digestive troubles.”[1] After President Wilson's appointment, the couple moved to Washington D.C., keeping a residence in New York City while donating their Mount Kisco, New York estate for use as a tuberculosis sanitorium.[1] In early 1914 he lent his yacht, “The SS Mohican,” to German prince Wilhelm Friedrich Heinrich, who had been chosen by other European monarchs to rule as William, Prince of Albania.[18]

Harriman, his wife and daughter found themselves in the middle of Europe as World War I erupted in the summer of 1914. Hoping that the healing waters in the Bohemian spa in Karlsbad would benefit his health, the family travelled to Europe in June 1914.[17] After meeting with leading British and French officials while relations between the European powers deteriorated, they traveled through France to Karlsbad (then a part of Austria-Hungary), and were there when Austria-Hungary attacked Serbia in late July.[17] After leaving Karlsbad on the last train crossing the frontier through Germany to France,[19] they eventually returned, without their belongings, to New York on an armed British vessel, the RMS Adriatic.[17]

Death and legacy[edit]

His health continued to deteriorate,[20] and he died in Washington on December 1, 1914.[1] His prolonged illness, the resulting lack of income, and the expense of maintaining several homes had reportedly consumed nearly all of his net worth.[21] His widow immediately resumed her public and political service, which continued for several decades.[22] She survived her husband by over fifty years (living 97 years until her death in 1967), but never remarried.

Their daughter Ethel worked on Broadway and in Hollywood, as an actress and writer (as Ethel Russell or Ethel Borden).[23] She died in 1953.


  1. ^ a b c d e f J. Borden Harriman, Ex-Banker, is Dead,” New York Times, 1914-12-01.
  2. ^ a b c d Death of Oliver Harriman,” New York Times, 1904-03-13.
  3. ^ Mrs. Laura Harriman’s Will,” New York Times, 1901-06-16.
  4. ^ O. Harriman, Sr., Insane,” New York Times, 1901-12-18.
  5. ^ R. H. Thomas President of the Stock Exchange,” New York Times, 1903-05-13.
  6. ^ Day and Night Bank May 1: Money at Any Hour Then – for those Who Have It,” New York Times, 1906-04-07.
  7. ^ First All-Night Bank in the World Opens To-morrow,” New York Times, 1906-04-29.
  8. ^ A bank for Women All to Themselves,” New York Times, 1906-09026.
  9. ^ An Automobile Bank to Call at your Door,” New York Times, 1906-12-10.
  10. ^ No Banking After Midnight,” New York Times, 1910-06-01.
  11. ^ Night and Day to be the Harriman Bank,” New York Times, 1911-01-11.
  12. ^ Harriman is Convicted of 16 Illegal Bank Acts,” New York Times, 1934-06-20.
  13. ^ Private Lives,” LIFE magazine, 1937-11-15, at p. 112.
  14. ^ Stock Exchange News,” New York Times, 1913-02-02.
  15. ^ J.B. Harriman’s Will Filed,” New York Times, 1914-12-25.
  16. ^ "The Wedding Of Miss Hurst and Mr. Harriman at St. Thomas's". New York Times. November 14, 1889. Retrieved 2010-10-29. Two of the most popular of the younger members of the hunting set, Miss Florence Jaffray Hurst, daughter of F.W.J. Hurst and granddaughter of E.S. Jaffray, and J. Borden Harriman, son of Oliver Harriman, were wedded yesterday ... 
  17. ^ a b c d Mrs. J. Borden Harriman, “From Pinafores to Politics,” (Henry Holt & Co., 1923) ASIN B00085GSYO (available in the National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection, Library of Congress and accessed 2010-07-31).
  18. ^ New King to Risk Trip for his Crown,” New York Times, 1914-01-26.
  19. ^ Carlsbad a Trap for New Yorkers,” New York Times, 1914-08-08.”
  20. ^ "J Borden Harriman Dying in Mt. Kisco,” New York Times, 1914-10-08.
  21. ^ “The Inside Story of Ethel Harriman's War Romance,” Washington Post, 1918-02-10, (magazine section) p. 1.
  22. ^ Mrs. J. Borden Harriman Ill,” New York Times, 1914-12-15.
  23. ^ Broadway Database entry for Ethel Borden and Internet Movie Database entry for Ethel Borden.