TWG Discussion March 23, regarding the legacy of the Astors. Jim Krivo report ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- In the 1850s and early 1900’s, there were philanthropists living right around here, who were definitely in the 1% at the time, and also ,however, were people who made contributions to society that the 99% benefited from at the time, and we are still benefiting from today. It would be nice to be able to rely on people currently in the 1% to help us deal with the crisis which we are going to be facing in the coming years. In fact Ralph Nader has written a book entitled “ Only the Rich Can Save Us”. Currently we have wealthy people such as Bill Gates,who may be trying to do good things, but not doing so in my opinion. He has tried to fund education by funding Charter Schools instead of public schools, and funding Monsanto to help provide food instead of organic farms. It might be beneficial for us to understand historically, how the wealthy have been able to benefit us 99%, or not benefit us; and how their relationship with us might benefit them and help them and us be happier. Isn’t that what we all want? Today we are going to talk about the Astor family who lived in our area, especially John Jacob IV and Vincent, who lived right here in Dutchess County for part of the year ,as did many of the wealthy people at that time. I have read the chapters about John Jacob and Vincent Astor in a fascinating book “ The Astors”,a family of pomp and power by Lucy Kavaler. She interviewed friends and people who really knew them, to put together this book. John Jacob IV lived from 1864 to 1912. He grew up the great grandson of John Jacob Astor, who was the richest man of his time, but John Jacob became the richest of all the family in his short life. He was brilliant in many ways. He was brilliant as an investor. He increased the value of all his real estate holdings. He made numerous inventions that show how tuned in he was to peoples needs and solutions for them. He wrote a science fiction book which included thoughts such as controlling the weather and being able to produce more food for the people. He was on numerous boards such as the NY Library and Metropolitan Museum of Art which benefitted the people. On the other hand, his personal life was not very happy. His first wife was very beautiful , but looked at him with disdain. He picked her because his cousin had married a beautiful woman, and he wanted one even more beautiful. He stayed married to her a long time to please his mother. Believe it or not , he treated his son, Vincent, with love, but his wife also looked at his son with disdain,saying that he was ugly. They built a beautiful estate, Fernwood , in Rhinecliff , with tennis courts ,squash courts, etc. But all his wife did was play bridge. He loved cars , boats and trains. His yacht was a favorite, altho he was clumsy using it. He also served in the military, and became a Colonel. A driving factor driving him, was his competitiveness. His cousin , named Waldorf shared the wealth given by his father and the two were constantly competing. Waldorf built the Waldorf Hotel, the best in the nation, so J J Astor had to build the Astoria, right next to it. Also, once he was racing his yacht, crashed into Vanderbilts yacht , so Vanderbilt sued him. There was this rivalry between the wealthy, in spite of the fact that they all could afford whatever they wanted. Col Astor finally decided to get divorced and shortly after that, at age 47, fell in love with a woman 18 years old, younger than his son. This marriage became stressful for the two of them,not in their relationship with themselves, but with the wealthy community. so they went on a trip to Europe and the Mideast. His wife got pregnant and they were to return on the Titanic. On the ship, when it was going to sink, women were supposed to be saved in preference to the men. His wife said she would rather sink with him. He said she should try to be saved ...if she loved him. 1500 people drowned in the Titanic, Col. Astor was one, but he was the one the media talked about the most the next day. When Col Astor died most of his wealth went to his son, Vincent. His wife was allowed a large amount of money, only if she didn’t remarry. She remarried, so she gave that up. So for her, love was more important than money. For him though, control was more important than anything. He died almost exactly 100 years ago, April 15,1912 the day the Titanic sunk. That day was chosen by our federal government to be the day taxes are due. Isn’t that interesting? Vincent was a person who cared about ordinary people. He too , had positions on major corporations, and made reasonable investments with his wealth. He was a student at Harvard until his father died. He also had an initial marriage that was not happy, but after divorcing his first wife , he was happily married to his second, but she divorced him, and then he married a third time, having a happy marriage finally. He was a person opposed to divorce, who divorced twice . Like his father he also served with pride in the military. But unlike his father, he had a problem with alcohol. He was also a close friend of FDR and went yachting with him and supported him as president, in spite of differences of opinion. FDR,on the other hand, once he became president, snubbed him. In end, Vincent’s income rating among the wealthy was lowered, although when he died he was still among the wealthiest in the nation. In his will, half of his wealth was given to charity especially the his previously established Vincent Astor Foundation; “dedicated to the alleviation of human misery” .As he had become a friend of Cardinal Spellman, this Foundation worked together with the Catholic Church. It supported such projects as the Astor Home. He had dedicated the Astor Home in Rhinebeck for children who were poor and disabled in memory of his father. According to the author of the book “ The Astors”, someone said that “his life could be categorized as that of a poor rich boy”. The story of the Astors is something that is worth paying attention to, as we see all the issues that the wealth of the 1% in America now could benefit. It is valuable now to realize how we all want happiness, rich or poor; and that realization may help bring happiness to us all.