John Jacob Astor IV

“I Asked For Ice,

But This Is Rediculous”

John Jacob Astor IV

Colonel John Jacob Astor IV was born in Rhinebeck, New York on July 13th, 1864 the son of William Astor and great-grandson of John Jacob Astor the fur trader. Astor was educated at St. Paul’s School, Concord and later went to Harvard. After a period of travelling abroad (1888-91) he returned to the United States to manage the family fortune. He had homes at 840 Fifth Avenue, New York and at Ferncliff , Rhinebeck, New York.

In 1894 Astor wrote a semi-scientific novel A Journey in Other Worlds . During his life he also developed several mechanical devices including a bicycle brake (1898), helped to develop the turbine engine, and invented a pneumatic road-improver.

In 1897 Astor built the Astoria Hotel, New York adjoining the Waldorf Hotel which had been built by William Waldorf Astor, his cousin. The new complex became known as the Waldorf-Astoria. Astor’s real-estate interest included two other hotels, the Hotel St. Regis (1905) and the Knickerbocker (1906).

He became Colonel-staff to General Levi P. Morton and in 1898, at the time of the Spanish-American War, was commissioned as a lieutenant colonel in the US volunteers. He placed his yacht Nourmahal at the disposal of the U.S. government and equipped a mountain battery of artillery for use against the Spanish.

On 1 May 1891 Astor was married to Ava, daughter of Edward Shippen Willing of Philadelphia . Together they had a son and one daughter. However, in 1909 Astor divorced Ava and, two years later, married eighteen-year-old Madeleine Force (who was a year younger than his son Vincent). Public opinion was divided concerning the respectability of Astor’s actions, and the newlyweds decided to winter abroad in order to let the gossip die down at home. Mr and Mrs Astor travelled to Egypt and Paris and, in the spring of 1912, decided to return to America as First Class passengers on board the brand new Titanic .

They boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg with Colonel Astor’s manservant Mr Victor Robbins , Mrs Astor’s maid Miss Rosalie Bidois , Miss Caroline Louise Endres Mrs Astor’s private nurse and their pet Airedale Kitty. Their ticket was PC 17757 which cost £224 10s 6d. They occupied cabins C-62-64.

After the accident Astor left his suite to investigate, he quickly returned and reported to his wife that the ship had struck ice. He reassured her that the damage did not appear serious.

Later, when the first class passengers had begun to congregate on the boat deck , the Astors sat on the mechanical horses in the gymnasium. They wore their lifebelts but Colonel Astor had found another and cut the lining with a pen knife to show his wife what it was made of.

Even as the boats were loaded Astor appeared unperturbed, he ridiculed the idea of trading the solid decks of the Titanic for a small lifeboat ‘we are safer here than in that little boat’ . He had changed his mind by 1:45 when Second Officer Charles Lightoller arrived on A deck to finish loading Lifeboat 4 . Astor helped his wife to climb through the windows of the enclosed promenade and then asked if he might join her, being as she was in ‘a delicate condition’. Lightoller told him that no men could enter until all the women had been loaded. Astor stood back and just asked Lightoller which boat it was. After boat 4 was lowered at 1:55 Astor stood alone while others tried to free the remaining collapsible boats.

Astor’s body was recovered on Monday April 22 by the cable ship McKay-Bennett.


CLOTHING - Blue serge suit; blue handkerchief with "A.V."; belt with gold buckle; brown boots with red rubber soles; brown flannel shirt; "J.J.A." on back of collar.

EFFECTS - Gold watch; cuff links, gold with diamond; diamond ring with three stones; £225 in English notes; $2440 in notes; £5 in gold; 7s. in silver; 5 ten franc pieces; gold pencil; pocketbook.


The body was delivered to Mr N. Biddle and forwarded to New York City
on May 1, 1912. He was buried at Trinity Cemetery, New York City.


Ava Lowle Willing was born September 15, 1868 in Philadelphia and married John Jacob Astor IV in 1890 in that city. They were the parents of two children, William Vincent Astor and Ava Alice Muriel Astor. After 19 years of marriage the couple separated in 1909 and divorced the following year. Ava Astor then went to live in England where, in 1919, she married Thomas Lister (Lord Ribblesdale). He died on October 21, 1925 and Ava never remarried. There were no children of her marriage to Lord Ribblesdale. Ava continued to be known as Lady Ribblesdale until her death on June 9, 1958 in New York City. She left a token bequest to her son of $25,000 but the bulk of her estate of $3,000,000 went to the four children of her daughter.

William Vincent Astor married three times but died childless on February 3, 1959. His widow, Mary Brooke (Russell) Astor (he called her “Pookie”) is still living in New York City at the age of 96.
Ava Alice Muriel Astor was first married to Prince Serge Obolensky, a former Czarist officer. Her second husband was an Austrian writer named Raimund Von Hofmannsthal, and her third husband was a British journalist named Philip Harding. Her final husband was David Pleydell-Bouverie, a New York architect. All four marriages ended in divorce. She died in New York City on July 19, 1956 of a stroke at the age of 54. Her children are Ivan Obolensky of New York City, Sylvia Von Hofmannsthal (now Sylvia Guirey) of New York City, Romana von Hofmannsthal (later Romana McEwen) of New York City, and Emily Harding.

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