John Insley Blair

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John Insley Blair
John Insley Blair.jpg
Born (1802-08-22)August 22, 1802
Foul Rift, New Jersey[1]
Died December 2, 1899(1899-12-02) (aged 97)
Blairstown, New Jersey
Spouse(s) Nancy Ann Locke (m. 1826)
Children Emma Elizabeth Blair (1827–1869)
DeWitt Clinton Blair
Parent(s) John Blair
Rachel Insley
Relatives Charles Scribner I, son-in-law

John Insley Blair (August 22, 1802 – December 2, 1899)[2] was an American entrepreneur, railroad magnate, philanthropist and one of the 19th century's wealthiest men.


Blair's parents, John Blair and Rachel Insley, immigrated from Scotland; he was the fourth child of ten children.[3] He was born at Foul Rift in White Township, New Jersey,[4] just south of Belvidere, and at the age of two the Blair family moved to a farm near Hope Township, New Jersey.[4] Even as a youth, Blair displayed a keen interest in the acquisition of wealth. At the age of ten, he is reported to have told his mother, "I have seven brothers and three sisters. That's enough in the family to be educated. I am going to get rich."[4] The young Blair began earning money by trapping wild rabbits and muskrats and selling their skins at a price of sixteen for a dollar.[4] The next year, Blair began working at a general store owned by his cousin John,[4] and at the age of seventeen he founded a store of his own with his cousin as an equal partner,[4] located in the community of Butt's Bridge, New Jersey. On August 25, 1825, the name of the community was changed to Gravel Hill and Blair was appointed postmaster, a position he retained until July, 1851.[5] He married Nancy Ann Locke on September 20, 1826, and the couple had four children: Emma Elizabeth, Marcus Laurence, DeWitt Clinton, and Aurelia Ann.[3] Blair bought out his cousin's share of their store and expanded operations.[4] By 1830, he owned five stores, each one run by one of his brothers.[4]

On January 24, 1839, Gravel Hill was officially renamed Blairstown, New Jersey (2000 Population of 5,747) in Blair's honor.[5] He established Blair, Nebraska by purchasing a 1,075-acre (4.35 km2) tract of land in Nebraska on May 10, 1869 after the Sioux City and Pacific Rail Road chose to cross the Missouri river at that location.

Blair managed his multimillion-dollar businesses from rural Blairstown, New Jersey or from his private rail car upon which it was common for him to log 40,000 miles (64,000 km) annually.[3] As president of 16 railroad companies, he amassed a fortune estimated at $70 million.[3] Blair was the largest owner of rail mileage in the world.[3] His religion as a Presbyterian and penchant for philanthropy led him to found more than 100 churches in close proximity to his railroads.[6] In 1873, he was also an investor in the Green Bay and Minnesota Railroad, and the namesake of Blair, Wisconsin.[7]

He died in Blairstown, New Jersey.[4]

Holdings and joint holdings[edit]

Notable philanthropy[edit]



  1. ^ Bertholf, Jr., Kenneth; Dorflinger, Don (2011). Blairstown and Its Neighbors. Arcadia. p. 7. 
  2. ^ "John Insley Blair Dead". New York Times. December 3, 1899. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Blair Family Papers: Biographical Sketch of John Insley Blair Archived 2007-03-12 at the Wayback Machine., accessed December 31, 2006
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i "John Insley Blair Dead. Leaves a Name for Philanthropy and Many Millions. Blairstown, His Home, Famous. His Determination to Acquire Wealth. His Vast Railroad, Mining, and Financial Enterprises.", The New York Times, December 3, 1899.
  5. ^ a b Blairstown, Past and Present: An Historical Narrative, accessed December 31, 2006 Archived September 27, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ a b c d Princeton University: Blair Hall, accessed December 31, 2006
  7. ^ Edward P. Blair (Spring 1993). Mona Mattingly, ed. "A Place Called Blair: Wisconsin". Blair Family Magazine. Blair Society for Genealogical Research. Retrieved July 1, 2010. 
  8. ^ History of Blair Academy Archived 2006-12-03 at the Wayback Machine., accessed December 31, 2006
  9. ^ Endowed professorships, Princeton Weekly Bulletin, accessed December 31, 2006

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by
Marcus Lawrence Ward
Republican Nominee for Governor of New Jersey
Succeeded by
Cornelius Walsh