Robert J. Collier

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Robert J. Collier
Collier circa 1900
Robert Joseph Collier

(1876-06-17)June 17, 1876
New York City, U.S.
DiedNovember 9, 1918(1918-11-09) (aged 42)
New York City, U.S.
Resting placeCollier High School, Wickatunk, New Jersey
EducationGeorgetown University
Harvard University
Oxford University
Known forCollier Trophy
Sara Steward Van Alen (1884–1963)
(m. 1902)
Parent(s)Peter Fenelon Collier (1849–1909)
Katherine Louise Dunue (1948–1918)
RelativesRobert Collier (cousin)

Robert Joseph Collier (June 17, 1876 – November 8, 1918) was the son of Peter Fenelon Collier and a principal in the publishing company P. F. Collier & Son. Upon his father's death, he became head of the company and, for a time, was editor of Collier's Weekly. He was president of the Aero Club of America.[1]

Early life[edit]

Collier was born in New York City, the only son of Katherine Louise Collier (née Dunue) and Peter Fenelon Collier.[1] He attended St. Francis College, then transferred to Georgetown University and graduated in 1894, winning the Merrick Medal from the Philodemic Society that same year. He received the degree of A. B. from Georgetown University.[2] He then spent two years at Harvard University and Oxford University.


Collier assumed the role of editor and publisher of Collier's Weekly, where he was known to have converted the illustrations in the publication from black and white ink to color.[3]

Collier was an aviation enthusiast. A friend of Orville Wright and a director of the Wright Company,[who?] purchased a Wright Model B aircraft in 1911 and loaned it to the United States Army, which assigned it to Lieutenant Benjamin Foulois. Foulois and civilian Wright Company pilot Phil Parmalee. They used this aircraft to fly along the Rio Grande border of Mexico and the United States in one of the first scouting duties by the U.S. Army using an airplane. Foulois and Parmalee later crashed the airplane into the Rio Grande but escaped from drowning. Having that plane repaired, he then took it to fly Jimmy Hare to film the construction of the Panama Canal by flying over the construction site in the same Wright Biplane, B type.[4] He commissioned a hydro-aeroplane plane to be constructed in 1913 to attempt to cross the Atlantic.[5]

Collier had many influential friends and an active social life. An enthusiast of polo, he encountered many injuries. In 1899, he was playing polo with George Jay Gould I for the Lakewood Team when he fell and broke his collarbone.[6] In 1906 he was playing against Harry Payne Whitney when he took a mallet strike to his eye and tore his eye socket.[7]

Country estate[edit]

In 1901, in Wickatunk, New Jersey Collier constructed his country estate for himself and his wife, Sara Steward Van Alen. He built his summer home on property bought from State Assemblyman John D. Honce.[8] Called "Rest Hill", it was used for many years as the location of personal parties and celebrations including the township Decoration Day celebrations,[9] it was later donated and eventually became the Collier High School. He used the estate partly as a landing strip to fly his plane. The estate had grass tennis courts, Croquet course, extensive horse stables and fox hunting hounds.[10] Spanning many farms and properties, the area was widely used for an annual fox hunt of the "Monmouth County Hounds" which started in East Freehold and ended at the Collier Estate.[11][12][13] Collier was known to fly his plane to Freehold, dismount his bi-plane mount a polo pony and lead the fox hunt.[14] He was also known to have commissioned flights overhead to observe the Fox hunt while participating in 1911.[15]

Personal life[edit]

Collier in 1908

On July 26, 1902, Collier was married to Sara Steward Van Alen (1881–1963) in Newport, Rhode Island.[16] Sara was a daughter of James John Van Alen and Emily (née Astor) Van Alen as well as a granddaughter of William Backhouse Astor Jr. and Caroline Webster Schermerhorn. Before his marriage he dated the showgirl Evelyn Nesbit, amongst others.

In 1914, he developed uremic poisoning from kidney failure at his summer home in Raquette Lake, New York.[17] He died of a heart attack at his dinner table on November 8, 1918, a few hours[18] after arriving home from France.[19] He was in France for work related to the Knights of Columbus and his publishing empire.[20] He was apparently reporting on the war and had press credentials. However, shortly before his return to New York, General Pershing had personally cancelled his press credentials and ordered him home.[21]

His funeral was held in the Church of St. Jean Baptiste on Lexington Ave. Orville Wright, Condé Montrose Nast, Francis P Garvan, Finley Peter Dunne and Joseph Kennedy were some of his pallbearers.[22] His estate was valued at just $2,194.[23] He made no provision in his will for his wife; however, the beneficiaries of the will provided a renunciation of their part of the will so she could receive some funds.[24]

Loss of heir[edit]

As detailed in the fourth episode of the first season of the TV series Who Do You Think You Are?, they had a son, Robert Jr., who was born prematurely and only lived for two days, April 22–24, 1903.[25] This little-known fact goes some small way in explaining his frittering away of his fortune, and his wife's decision to leave their country estate to nuns who would take care of children. He wrote a letter to the memory of his son which says in part: "This is your birthday little boy, your first little anniversary. So, your father's thoughts are with you. Have the dear angels lighted you this candle, and are you happy in their gifts and laughing for love of their bright faces around you? You may not remember the day you visited a dreary place called Earth, a year ago; but your mother and I remember. We were very selfish, I fear, little boy, for we wanted to keep you with us. Your mother is very lonely for you dear. There are times when only you could comfort her. You were to be our little..." At this point the letter stops and remained unfinished.


In his will he made three friends—Peter Finley Dunne, Harry Payne Whitney, and Francis Patrick Garvan—the residuary legatees of his estate and, thus, his publishing company. Collier evidently believed that his wife had sufficient money of her own. In fact, she did not and would receive only a few thousand dollar from her husband's will. Dunne, Whitney, and Garvan renounced the bequest so that Mrs. Collier could benefit fully.[26] In addition to selling the troubled publishing company, his wife donated their home in the Wickatunk section of Marlboro Township, New Jersey to the Sisters of the Good Shepherd who made it a home for troubled young women. This was later opened up to children of all ages and became Collier High School.

He was largely responsible for starting the Lincoln Farm Association which raised money to purchase the Lincoln birthplace estate which was then donated and turned into a National Park.[2]

During World War II, a Liberty Ship was named in honor of Robert J Collier. Following the war, it was ordered to Belgium with a load of coal but was lost when it ran aground in the Scheldt Estuary.[27]

In 1910, Collier, as president of the Aero Club of America,[1] commissioned Baltimore sculptor Ernest Wise Keyser to make the 525-pound (238 kg) Aero Club of America Trophy.[1][28] First awarded in 1911 to Glenn H. Curtiss for his successful development of the hydro-aeroplane.[28] Collier presented his namesake trophy several times before his death in 1918; after his World War I service.[1] In 1922, when the Aero Club dissolved, the award was taken over by the National Aeronautic Association (NAA) and it was unofficially renamed the Robert J. Collier Trophy, which became official in 1944.[29][1] The award is presented once a year by the NAA president for "the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America, with respect to improving the performance, efficiency, and safety of air or space vehicles, the value of which has been thoroughly demonstrated by actual use during the preceding year."[1] The trophy is permanently displayed at the U.S. National Air and Space Museum.[1]

In popular culture[edit]

He was portrayed by Phillip Reed in the 1955 film on Evelyn Nesbit, The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Collier Trophy". NAA. Retrieved July 23, 2020.
  2. ^ a b Scannell's New Jersey's First Citizens: Biographies and Portraits, Volume 2 edited by John James Scannell, William Edgar Sackett, 1919, Page 88
  3. ^ "Robert J Collier", The New York Times, November 11, 1918
  4. ^ "RJ Collier to Fly Across Panama", New York Times, January 29, 1912
  5. ^ "Collier to Fly to Europe", New York Times, June 23, 1913
  6. ^ "Fast Polo at Cedarhurst", New York Times, July 8, 1899
  7. ^ "RJ Collier Badly Hurt in Polo Scrimmage", New York Times, June 10, 1906
  8. ^ "Notables Attend the Honce Funeral", Asbury Park Press, November 24, 1915, Page 1
  9. ^ "Decoration Day Meet", Asbury Park Press, May 29, 1912, Page 12
  10. ^ Collier Dispersing Sporting Stable, New York Times, January 29, 1914, Page 7
  11. ^ Staff. "Robert J. Collier Comes a Cropper.", The New York Times, October 29, 1909. Accessed December 15, 2016.
  12. ^ "Three Tumble in Monmouth Hunt", Asbury Park Press, October 15, 1912, Page 4
  13. ^ "Fox Eludes Hunters", Asbury Park Press, November 28, 1913, Page 2
  14. ^ Edwards, John - "Orville Aviators: Outstanding Alumni of the Wright Flying School 1910-1916, Page 62, McFarland & Co Publishers
  15. ^ Edwards, John - "Orville Aviators: Outstanding Alumni of the Wright Flying School 1910-1916, Page 61, McFarland & Co Publishers
  16. ^ "Collier-Van Alen Wedding. Much Interest in the Marriage Which Will Take Place at Newport on Saturday" (PDF). New York Times. July 24, 1902. Retrieved August 4, 2009. Interest in the Martin-Oelrichs wedding has been superseded in Newport society by the announcement of the early marriage of Miss Sara Van Alen and Robert J. Collier. The story that came from New York on Tuesday that the Collier-Van Alen wedding was to take place this week set everybody to wondering if it could be true.
  17. ^ "Publisher, Unconscious Since Sunday, Being Rushed Here on a Special Train. Efforts to Rouse Him Fail. Wife and Physicians Hurriedly Summoned to Summer Home at Raquette Lake". New York Times. August 27, 1914. Retrieved March 30, 2010. Robert J. Collier, editor and publisher of Collier's Weekly, is critically ill with uremic poisoning. Late tonight he was removed from his Summer home here to his private car Vagabondia, and will arrive in New York early tomorrow morning.
  18. ^ nytimes, november 9, 1918
  19. ^ "R. J. Collier Dies At Dinner Table. Editor, Just Returned from the Front, Is a Victim of Heart Attack. Recall Had Been Reported. Washington Admits His Credentials Had Been Canceled, but Denies Knowledge of the Reason. Stricken at Dinner Table. Had Many Libel Suits" (PDF). New York Times. November 9, 1918. Retrieved August 4, 2009. Robert J. Collier, editor of Collier's Weekly and President of the publishing house of P.F. Collier Son, died of heart attack at his home at 1,067 Fifth Avenue at 7:45 last night, a few hours after he had landed from an army transport upon which he had returned...
  20. ^ Fourth Estate: A Weekly Newspaper for Publishers, Advertisers ..., Part 2, Nov 16, 1918, Page 25
  21. ^ "R. Collier, Back from Front, Dies", Editor & Publisher, Volume 51, November 16, 1918, Page 24
  22. ^ "Funeral of RJ Collier", Asbury Park Press, Nov 12 1918, Page 2
  23. ^ "Mrs. R. J. Collier Gets Only $2,194. Appraisal Shows Deductions of $200,000 from Net Estate of Publisher. Corporation Lost $200,000 on Its Accounts Due from Soldiers In Great War" (PDF). New York Times. January 16, 1920. Retrieved August 4, 2009. Robert J. Collier, owner of P. F. Collier Son, publishers of Collier's Weekly and other publications, who died suddenly at his home, 1,067 Fifth Avenue, on November 8, 1918, the day he returned from France, left a residuary estate of only $2,194 instead of $5,000,000, as estimated soon after his death.
  24. ^ "Mrs Collier Gets $2194", Asbury Park Press, Jan 16 1920, Page 2
  25. ^ Ardal O'Hanlon - Who do you think you are?. YouTube. Archived from the original on December 11, 2021.
  26. ^ The New York Times, December 17, 1918 and January 16, 1020.
  27. ^ "Liberty Ship Breaks in Two", New York Times, March 24, 1946
  28. ^ a b "Taft Believes in Aeroplanes; Other "Bird" News". The Baltimore Sun. Baltimore, Maryland. February 4, 1912. p. 15 – via
  29. ^ "Playboys, Ponies, Flying Machines had Wickatunk Agog 50 Years Ago". Asbury Park Press. Asbury Park, New Jersey. December 5, 1960. p. 13 – via

External links[edit]

Media offices
Preceded by Collier's Weekly
Succeeded by