Peter Arrell Browne Widener

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Peter Arrell Browne Widener
Born(1834-11-13)November 13, 1834
DiedNovember 6, 1915(1915-11-06) (aged 80)
Resting placeLaurel Hill Cemetery
ResidenceLynnewood Hall
OccupationBusinessman, art collector, philanthropist
Known forCo-founder Philadelphia Traction Company, U.S. Steel, American Tobacco
Spouse(s)Hannah Josephine Dunton
ChildrenHarry (1859-1874)
George Dunton (1861-1912)
Joseph Early (1871-1943)
Parent(s)Johannes Widener
Sarah Fulmer
Portrait of Widener by John Singer Sargent, 1902

Peter Arrell Browne Widener (November 13, 1834 – November 6, 1915) was an American businessman, art collector, and head of the Widener family of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.[1]

Early life[edit]

Widener was born on November 13, 1834, to Johannes Widener and Sarah Fulmer. He was named after Peter Arrell Browne (1782–1860),[2] a noted lawyer in 19th-century Philadelphia.[1]


As a merchant who supplied meat to the Union Army during the United States Civil War, Widener grew to prominence in Philadelphia and had become the City Treasurer by 1871.[1][3] He became very successful in 1883 as a result of his investing in trolley cars and public transit systems as a founding partner of Philadelphia Traction Company, which expanded to other major cities in the United States.

He and his Philadelphia business partner, William L. Elkins, invested in public transit systems in other big cities with businessmen such as Charles Tyson Yerkes, the streetcar czar of Chicago. Widener used the great wealth accumulated from that business to become a founding organizer of U.S. Steel and the American Tobacco Company, as well as to acquire substantial holdings in Standard Oil. He is considered to have been among the 100 wealthiest Americans, having left an enormous fortune.[4]

Personal life[edit]

In 1858, he married Hannah Josephine Dunton (1836–1896), and they had three sons:

Widener died at Lynnewood Hall at the age of 80 on November 6, 1915, after having suffered from poor health for three years.[5][1] After his death, his estate was valued at $31,589,353.[6] By 1945, the accumulated income plus the current value of the real and personal property totaled $98,368,058.[6]


Widener's grandchildren included: Harry Elkins Widener (1885-1912), George D. Widener Jr. (1889-1971), Eleanor Widener Dixon (1891-1953), Peter Arrell Browne Widener II (1895-1948),[7] and Josephine "Fifi" Widener Leidy Holden Wichfeld Bigelow (1902-1961).[8]

Among his great-grandchildren were: Fitz Eugene Dixon Jr. (1923-2006), Joan Leidy Ray (b. 1923), Peter Arrell Browne Widener III (1925-1999), and Ella Widener Wetherill (1928-1986).


In 1887, Widener built an ornate mansion (designed by Willis G. Hale) in Philadelphia, at the northwest corner of Broad Street and Girard Avenue. He vacated it 13 years later and donated it (as a memorial for his late wife) to the Free Library of Philadelphia, which used it as a branch library from 1900 to 1946. The building burned in 1980, and it was demolished.

In 1900, he completed Lynnewood Hall in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, a 110-room Georgian-style mansion designed by Horace Trumbauer. Widener was an avid art collector,[9] with a collection that included more than a dozen paintings by Rembrandt, as well as works by then-new artists Édouard Manet and Auguste Renoir.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "P.A.B. Widener, Capitalist, Dies. Traction and Tobacco Financier Expires at 80 at His Home in Elkins Park. Left About $35,000,000. Philanthropist and Patron of the Arts Began His Career in Philadelphia as a Butcher". New York Times. November 7, 1915. Retrieved 2012-10-02. Peter A.B. Widener, capitalist and philanthropist, art collector and lover of children, who climbed from the humble station of a butcher to that of a leader in the world of finance, died today at his home, Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park. Mr. Widener was 80 years old, and had been in poor health for three years.
  2. ^ "18 May 1892, Page 4 - Oakland Tribune at". Retrieved 2016-11-17.
  3. ^ Martin, John Hill (1883-01-01). Martin's Bench and Bar of Philadelphia: Together with Other Lists of Persons Appointed to Administer the Laws in the City and County of Philadelphia, and the Province and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. R. Welsh & Company.
  4. ^ The Wealthy 100 Archived 2014-10-11 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Times, Special To The New York (14 November 1914). "P.A.B. WIDENER'S BIRTHDAY; Financier Celebrates Eightieth Anniversary at His Office". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 June 2017.
  6. ^ a b Times, Special To The New York (27 January 1945). "WIDENER ESTATE SET AT $31,589,353". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 June 2017.
  7. ^ "P.A.B. WIDENER 2D WEDS MRS. PEABODY | Philadelphian Marries Former Wife of F. S. Peabody at Lynnewood Hall, Eikins Park. | IN THE REMBRANDT ROOM | Bride Is a Recent Reno Divorcee -- Couple Sail Today for a Honeymoon in Europe". The New York Times. 5 November 1924. Retrieved 30 June 2017.
  8. ^ Josephine "Fifi" Widener's husbands were: 1. Carter Randolph Leidy (m. 1920, divorce 1926); 2. Milton Whitely Holden (m. 1926, divorce 1932); 3. Askel C. P. Wichfield (m. 1933, divorce 1951); 4. Anson Alexander Bigelow (m. 1954).
  9. ^ Levy, Florence Nightingale (1917). American Art Annual, Volume 13. MacMillan Company. p. 320.

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