George C. Boldt
( 1851 – 1916 )
George Charles Boldt (1851 – 1916), a self-made millionaire, influenced development of the urban hotel as a civic social center and luxurious destination. He was a trustee of Cornell University, to which his daughter donated the ‘Boldt Tower’, a gothic residence hall. He is perhaps best known for building Boldt Castle in the Thousand Islands area of New York State.
The castle was intended as a gift for his wife Louise Kehrer Boldt, but when she died suddenly in 1904, construction was halted. The castle, which has gone under major restoration after decades of vandalism, is now a major summer tourist attraction at Alexandria Bay. George Boldt is credited with popularizing the famous Thousand Island salad dressing during his time at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, when he instructed Maitre d’, Oscar Tschirky, to include it on the menu. The hotel introduced many other popular food items, such as Eggs Benedict, Veal Oscar, and Waldorf Salad.
George Charles Boldt was born in 1851 in Prussia. Determined to make something of his life, he made his way to New York City as teenager sometime in 1860’s. Virtually penniless when he arrived, the only work that he could find was as a dishwasher at the Merchant’s Exchange Hotel. Hearing claims that others were striking it rich by heading west, he packed up and headed out to Texas to try his hand at cattle ranching for awhile. He built up a successful cattle ranch in Texas, but, so the story goes, he lost it all after a particularly nasty storm swept through destroying his ranch and killing all of his cattle. He packed up and returned to New York with even less money than he had when he left and took another kitchen job. He was able to gain a promotion to working as a cashier, where his industrious nature and attention to service got the notice of an upstate hotel owner who offered him the position of a hotel manager. In time, Boldt managed to work his way up to managing the 24-room hotel Bellevue in Philadelphia, turning it into the best hotel in Philadelphia at the time.
There are many stories about Boldt that have been written about him – some of which are true, but many of which are only partially true. One is the story of how he met William Astor. The story is that Astor entered the Bellevue one blustery evening looking for a room for himself and his wife. There were no rooms to be found in all of Philadelphia as there were several conventions in town and all of the hotels were full. Boldt, not wanting to turn a guest out on a stormy evening, offered to move out of his suite of rooms in order to make them available to the Astors for the night. This act of kindness, so the story goes, is how Boldt came to meet William Astor and how their friendship started. When Astor built the Waldorf hotel in New York City and was in need of someone to manage his hotel, he remembered this act of kindness and asked Boldt to take the job.
While William Astor did hire Boldt to manage his new hotel, they did not meet in the way described by the story. It was not the Astors that Boldt gave his rooms to on that blustery day. In a newspaper article written by A. S. Crockett for the New York Times at the time of Boldt’s death, Crockett describes Boldt as a man unconcerned with stories about his past that had no real bearing on his current situation. He recounts a conversation he had with Boldt a few months before his death regarding an article in the Times which described Boldt as having worked as a waiter – a job which Boldt never actually had. The writer asked Boldt to tell him the real story of his life, so that he could publish a correct account. “What’s the use?”, asked Boldt. “They would still make me a waiter when I am dead and gone. My dear boy, when some people get an idea fixed in their head, it is futile to attempt to correct them. It doesn’t hurt me. It’s like that story of me giving up my bed to William Waldorf Astor. Mr. Astor’s name sounds better, or at least more familiar to the public, than the name of the actual person in the case. Don’t worry over such matters.”
What is true is that Astor came to know Boldt and his reputation as a manager of hotels – so that when he built his Waldorf hotel in New York in 1893, he hired Boldt to manage it. Four years later, Williams’s cousin, John Jacob Astor, built the Astoria hotel next door. Boldt connected the two hotels, and opened them under the name Waldorf-Astoria in November of 1897. Under Boldt’s management, the Waldorf-Astoria became ‘the place’ to stay in New York.