William Waldorf Astor

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The Viscount Astor
William Waldorf Astor, 1st Viscount Astor
Member of the House of Lords
Lord Temporal
In office
1 January 1916 – 18 October 1919
Hereditary peerage
Preceded byPeerage created
Succeeded byThe 2nd Viscount Astor
Member of the New York Senate
from the 10th district
In office
1 January 1880 – 31 December 1881
Preceded byDaniel B. St. John
Succeeded byJoseph Koch
Member of the New York State Assembly
from the New York County's 11th district
In office
1 January 1878 – 31 December 1878
Preceded byElliot C. Cowdin
Succeeded byJames M. Varnum
Personal details
William Waldorf Astor

(1848-03-31)31 March 1848
New York City, U.S.
Died18 October 1919(1919-10-18) (aged 71)
Brighton, Sussex, England
Cause of deathHeart failure
Political partyRepublican (US)
Mary Dahlgren Paul
(m. 1878; died 1894)
RelativesSee Astor family
Alma materColumbia Law School

William Waldorf Astor, 1st Viscount Astor[1] (31 March 1848 – 18 October 1919) was an American-English attorney, politician, businessman (hotels and newspapers), and philanthropist. Astor was a scion of the very wealthy Astor family of New York City. He moved to England in 1891, became a British subject in 1899, and was made a peer as Baron Astor in 1916 and Viscount Astor in 1917 for his contributions to war charities. The census-designated place of Waldorf, Maryland is named after him.

Early life and education[edit]

William Waldorf Astor was born in New York City. He was the only child of financier and philanthropist John Jacob Astor III (1822–1890) and Charlotte Augusta Gibbes (1825–1887). He studied in Germany and in Italy under the care of private tutors and a governess.

In his early adult years, Astor returned to the United States and went to Columbia Law School, graduating with a LL.B. in 1875.[2] He was called to the United States Bar in 1875.[3] He worked for a short time in law practice and in the management of his father's estate of financial and real estate holdings.

Personal life[edit]

Mary Dahlgren Paul

Astor married Mary Dahlgren Paul (born 1858, died 22 December 1894)[4] on 6 June 1878. She is buried in Trinity Church Cemetery Manhattan. They had five children:[5]


After some time practicing law, Astor thought he had found his true calling and an opportunity to make a name for himself outside of his family's fortune by entering the political realm. In 1877, with his eyes set on the United States Congress, Astor entered New York City politics as a Republican.[6]

He was elected as a member of the New York State Assembly (New York Co., 11th D.) in 1878; and of the New York State Senate (10th D.) in 1880 and 1881.[7] Astor was likely supported by the boss of the New York State Republican machine, Roscoe Conkling, with whom his family was involved.

In 1880, the Maryland General Assembly voted to rename Beantown in Charles County, Maryland "Waldorf" in honor of him.

In 1881, Astor was defeated by Roswell P. Flower as a candidate for the United States Congress.[7] A second attempt at the seat also resulted in defeat. His shy nature could not handle the political attacks on his character. This was the end of his political career. The press used his political failures as fodder for harsh criticisms.[8]

In 1882, President Chester A. Arthur appointed Astor Minister to Italy, a post he held until 1885. He told Astor, "Go and enjoy yourself, my dear boy."[9] While living in Rome, Astor developed a lifelong passion for art and sculpture.

Move to England[edit]

Upon the death of his father in February 1890, Astor inherited a personal fortune that made him the second richest man in America. Economists widely agree that John D. Rockefeller was the wealthiest American of that time.

In 1890 Astor initiated the construction of the luxurious Waldorf Hotel on the site of his former residence. At 13 stories high, it overshadowed the adjacent mansion of his aunt, the socialite Caroline "Lina" Schermerhorn Astor. Lina complained bitterly about the commercial establishment next door. However, in 1897, her son John Jacob Astor IV persuaded her to move away and replaced their mansion with the, slightly larger in height and width, Astoria Hotel, which was operated as an extension of the Waldorf; the complex became the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

In the meantime, the friction had blown up into a feud. Aunt Lina also insisted that she, not William's wife Mary, was the Mrs. Astor in New York society, just as she had when that title belonged to her husband's elder brother's wife, Charlotte Astor, when she was alive.

As a result of the conflict, Astor moved with his wife and children to England. He rented Lansdowne House in London until 1893. That year, he purchased a country estate, Cliveden in Taplow, Buckinghamshire, from the Duke of Westminster. In 1899, William Waldorf Astor picked up British citizenship, which drew him further away from American history.

To disappear from public view, in the summer of 1892, Astor faked his own death by having his staff report to American reporters that he had died, apparently from pneumonia.[10] However, the ruse was soon discovered, and Astor was mocked in the press.

In 1895, he built a gothic mansion[nb 1] on London's Victoria Embankment at Two Temple Place overlooking the River Thames. He commissioned architect John Loughborough Pearson to design a $1.5 million building, a "crenelated Tudor stronghold"[11] which he used as an office for managing his extensive holdings.[12][13][14][15][16]

Astor made several business acquisitions while he lived in London. In 1892, he purchased the Pall Mall Gazette, and in 1893 established the Pall Mall Magazine. In 1911 he acquired The Observer a national newspaper. In 1912 he sold the Magazine, and in 1914 made a present of the Gazette and The Observer, with the building in Newton Street and its contents, to his son Waldorf Astor.[3]

In 1903, he acquired the Hever Castle Estate near Edenbridge, Kent, about 30 miles south of London. The estate of over 3,500 acres had at its centre a castle built in 1270 where Anne Boleyn lived as a child. Astor invested a great deal of time and money to restore the castle, building what is known as the "Tudor Village", and creating a lake and lavish gardens. He also added the Italian Garden (including Fernery) to display his collection of statuary and ornaments.[17]

In 1906, he gave his eldest son Waldorf Astor and his new daughter-in-law, Nancy Witcher Langhorne, the Cliveden estate as well as the Sancy diamond as wedding presents. Nancy Astor (as she became on her marriage) became Britain's first seated female Member of Parliament.

In 1908, building on his success with the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, Astor financed the Waldorf Hotel in London's West End.

Philanthropy and peerage[edit]

Astor became a British subject in 1899. He continued his philanthropic activities, like his father. Among the charities he supported were the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street (to which he gave $250,000 in 1903); University College London (including a gift of £20,000 in 1902 for professorships[18]); the Cancer Research Fund; Oxford University; Cambridge University; the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children; the British Red Cross Society; Gordon Memorial College, Khartoum; the Soldiers and Sailors Families Association; and the Women's Memorial to Queen Victoria. His gifts to war charities included $125,000 to the Prince of Wales's National Relief Fund; a similar amount to Princess Louise's Officers' Families Fund; $200,000 to the British Red Cross; $25,000 to Queen Mary's Employment Committee; and a similar sum to the Lord Mayor's National Bands Fund. He gave $5,000 to King Edward's Hospital Fund annually starting with its founding in 1897.[3]

Coat of arms of Baron Astor of Hever

In recognition of his work for charity, on 1 January 1916, he was offered and accepted a peerage of the United Kingdom under the title of Baron Astor. On 3 June 1917, he was elevated to the rank of viscount as the Viscount Astor.[3] The elevation was controversial, as some felt that a rich American had bought his way into the English aristocracy.


On 18 October 1919, he unexpectedly died of heart failure in the lavatory of his seaside house at Brighton in Sussex.[19][20] His ashes were buried under the marble floor of the Astor family chapel (also called the Octagon Temple) at Cliveden.[21]


Through his son John Jacob Astor, 1st Baron Astor of Hever, he is a great-great-grandfather of Harry Marcus George Lopes (b. 1977), who married Laura Rose Parker Bowles, the second child of Andrew Parker Bowles and Queen Camilla, thus making her the stepdaughter of King Charles III.[1]

Written works[edit]

  • Valentino: An Historical Romance of the Sixteenth Century in Italy (1885)
  • Sforza, a Story of Milan (1889)
  • Pharaoh's Daughter and Other Stories (1890)
  • The Astor collection of illuminated manuscripts : auction in London, 21st June 1988, Sotheby's: twenty illuminated manuscripts from the celebrated collection of William Waldorf Astor, ...from the library at Cliveden, and subsequently part of the Astor deposit at the Bodleian Library, sold by the order of the Trustees of the astor family, Sotheby's, 1988.


  1. ^ There are also sources that say that he built the place.


  1. ^ "An Age of Splendor, and Hotel One-Upmanship". The New York Times. 18 June 2006.
  2. ^ Catalogue of Columbia College. New York City: Columbia University. 1875.
  3. ^ a b c d Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Astor, William Waldorf" . Encyclopedia Americana.
  4. ^ "Mary Astor (Paul), Viscountess Astor". 4 July 1858.
  5. ^ Lucy Kavaler (1966), The Astors: A Family Chronicle of Pomp and Power, p. xiii
  6. ^ Virginia Cowles, The Astors (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1972), p. 92.
  7. ^ a b Gilman, D. C.; Peck, H. T.; Colby, F. M., eds. (1905). "Astor, William Waldorf" . New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead.
  8. ^ Cowles (1972), The Astors, p. 112.
  9. ^ Cowles (1972), The Astors, p. 115.
  10. ^ "W.W. Astor is Dead: A Sketch of His Career and Estimate of His Vast Estate", New York Herald-Tribune, 12 July 1892
  11. ^ Kaplin, Justin. (2007). When the Astors Owned New York: Blue Bloods and Grand Hotels in a Gilded Age. Penguin Books. Chapter 7.
  12. ^ Introduction. Two Temple Place. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  13. ^ Moore, Rowan. (15 October 2011). "Two Temple Place; University of the Arts London – review: Viscount Astor's stately old HQ – lavish, ornate and stuffed with cultural trophies – is to be opened as a new gallery space", London: The Observer
  14. ^ Strachan, Donald. (2012) Frommer's London 2013. Chichester: John Wiley and Sons. p. 110. ISBN 978-1-118-28862-7.
  15. ^ Kaplan, Justin. (2007). When the Astors Owned New York: Blue Bloods and Grand Hotels in a Gilded Age. New York: Penguin Books. p. PT 109. ISBN 978-1-1012-1881-5.
  16. ^ Moore, Rowan. (15 October 2011). Two Temple Place; University of the Arts London – review: Viscount Astor's stately old HQ – lavish, ornate and stuffed with cultural trophies – is to be opened as a new gallery space. London: The Observer.
  17. ^ Brown, Jane (1999). The English Garden Through the 20th Century. England: Garden Art Press. ISBN 1870673298.
  18. ^ "Munificent gift to University College". The Times. No. 36744. London. 17 April 1902. p. 9.
  19. ^ "Viscount Astor Died Suddenly of Heart Disease. Stricken Saturday Morning, After Having Passed Part of Preceding Day Outdoors. Body Will Be Cremated and the Ashes Placed in Private Chapel at Cliveden. Peerage Came as Reward for War Gifts. Realty Holdings Here Valued at $60,000,000. Little Known to British Public. Estate Will Pay a Heavy Tax. His Pursuit of Title Evoked Bitter Criticism. Became a British Subject in 1899. Peerage Followed War Gifts". New York Times. 20 October 1919. Retrieved 1 August 2008. Viscount Astor died yesterday morning. His death, which was from heart disease, was unexpected.
  20. ^ Kaplan, Justin. When the Astors Owned New York. New York: Viking, 2006.
  21. ^ dijit.net. "Astor Mausoleum - Mausolea & Monuments Trust". www.mmtrust.org.uk. Archived from the original on 25 July 2015. Retrieved 11 August 2017.

External links[edit]

New York State Assembly
Preceded by New York State Assembly
New York County, 11th District

Succeeded by
New York State Senate
Preceded by New York State Senate
10th District

Succeeded by
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Viscount Astor
Succeeded by
Baron Astor