The History Main Page New York City Directory The World Of Society Main Directory    

Wealthy New York City Businessmen Tid-Bits

William Backhouse Astor (1792-1875)

As a consequence of an inheritance of $500'000 from his uncle Henry Astor, a butcher on the Bowery, through generous gifts and business partnerships from his father as well as his own shrewd investments in real estate, William Backhouse Astor was worth $5'000'000 in his own right. Through his marriage to Margaret Livingston Armstrong, the only daughter of General John Armstrong and Alida Livingston of Clermont, William Backhouse Astor brought the Astor family into New York's High Society. at the time of his death, he owned more than 700 buildings.

Heber Reginald Bishop (1840-1902)

He had an interest in the Duluth & Iron Range Railroad and several other ironworks, including the Lackawanna Iron & steel Company. A much respected member of New York's financial community, Heber Bishop was a trustee of the Metropolitan Trust Company, the Metropolitan Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He was a member of New York's most exclusive clubs and a renowned socialite.

Henry A. Coster (Died 1821)

Henry A. Coster and his brother John G. Coster had a solid reputation of sagacious merchants and pillars of New York's financial community. Henry A. Coster was a director of the Manhattan Bank from 1801 to 1806 and of the Merchants Bank thereafter. He was also in the directorship of the Globe Insurance Company. He lived next door to the store until 1817, when he moved to more residential number 85 Chambers Street. He also had a country seat at what later became First Avenue, between 30th and 35th streets.

William Bayard Cutting (1850-1912)

William Bayard Cutting also sat on the Board of Directors of many other companies, most notably the American Exchange Bank, the U.S. Trust Company and of course, the New York & Brooklyn Ferry Company, once founded by his grandfather William Cutting and Robert Fulton. William Bayard Cutting was a successful real estate developer at South Brooklyn, where he dug the Ambrose channel and opened Brooklyn Harbor to deep sea shipping. He also developed slum areas on the East River into decent housing tenements for underprivileged families. With his brother Robert Fulton Cutting, he started the sugar beet industry in 1888, later bringing it under the umbrella of the Havemeyers' American Sugar Refining Company. In 1887, William Bayard Cutting hired architect Frederick Law Olmstead to landscape "Westbrook", a 1'000 acre river estate, with its later famous Bayard Cutting Arboretum. William Bayard Cutting supported numerous philanthropies, including the Children's Aid Society, the Zoological Society, the Metropolitan Museum and the New York Public Library. He was a trustee of Columbia University and a backer of the Metropolitan Opera Company.

Stuyvesant Fish (1851-1923)

The youngest son of Secretary of State Hamilton Fish graduated from Columbia in 1874 with a Master degree. He started his career as a clerk in the New York office of the Illinois Central Railroad, a favorite investment of the City's old established families. In 1872, he became secretary to the president of the railroad : 'Colonel' Henry S. McComb. Through his grand-mother, Stuyvesant Fish descended from one of New York's eldest families and was predestined to inherit a large fortune made through appreciation of city real estate. But Stuyvesant Fish would not content himself to be an idle rich and took a position at Morton, Bliss & Company to learn the banking business. He left New York to work at the bank's English correspondent firm, Morton, Rose & Company, but returned in 1877 to become a director of the Illinois Central Railroad. Stuyvesant Fish rose in the Illinois Central railroad hierarchy, became second vice president in 1883, first vice president in 1884 and president in 1887, a position he kept for two decades. In his later years, Stuyvesant Fish lived the life of an upper class gentleman and assured his family's social position at the side of his socially talented wife "Mamie".

Robert Goelet III (1841-1899)

The Goelets came into possession of more than 250 houses in the heart of New York's commercial district. Unlike their forebears, these Goelets lived the more generous lifestyle of the Gilded Age, owning a large mansion in the City, as well as Southside, a summer residence in fashionable Newport R.I. He was a director of the Chemical Bank, the Metropolitan Opera House.

James Lenox 1800-1880

James Lenox distinguished himself as a bibliophile and philanthropist, contributing heavily to charities, such as the Presbyterian Hospital and Princeton. He endowed the Lenox Library, which was a cornerstone of the vast New York Public Library, once it was incorporated into the latter in 1895. When James Lenox died childless in 1880, he was still one of the richest men in New York, despite his attitude of giving away and never reinvesting the proceeds of his wealth.

Pierre Lorillard (1833-1901)

Pierre Lorillard was the fourth generation heir to the great tobacco dynast, which was started by a French Huguenot immigrant of the same name, when he set up America's first tobacco manufactory in 1760 at nr 4 Chatham Street New York. Pierre Lorillard also played a role in New York and Newport Society, as a promoter of the Newport Yacht Club and as a real estate promoter. Pierre Lorillard set up Tuxedo Park, a summer resort for the very rich, on a 7'000 acre property he owned in Ramapo Hills, New York to be sold to selected members of New York's Four Hundred.

Anson Phelps (1781-1853)

After the war of 1812, Anson Phelps moved to New York, where he associated himself to fellow Connecticut trader Elisha Peck, to form Phelps & Peck. The firm prospered and became New York's largest metal importer, with Phelps selling the metals in New York and buying cotton in the South which he exported to England. Like other merchant capitalists, Anson Phelps had many other interests, including railroads, notably the New York & Erie, and banking. He owned a controlling interest in the Bank of Dover New Jersey, which was managed by his friend Thomas B. Segur. When he died in 1853, he left an estate exceeding $ 2 million, of which half was real estate in New York City and Ansonia.

William Christopher Rhinelander 1790-1878

William Christopher Rhinelander was considered the second richest man in New York, based on his tax assessment which preeminently considered city real estate, including hundreds of lots from 30th to 131st streets and properties on Broadway, Park Row and Barclay Street. William Christopher Rhinelander inherited a large estate from his father and increased his wealth further through his marriage to a lineal descendent of Anthony Rutgers, who was granted a large tract of Manhattan by Governor Cosby in 1731.

Russell Sage 1816-1906

Russell Sage derived a hang to parsimony and hard work, which together with his knack for trading, were the foundation of his large fortune. A modestly wealthy merchant and horse trader, Russell Sage increased his influence through politics, as Treasurer of Rensselaer county, Alderman of Troy and in 1852 US Representative of New York. in his quest for great wealth. He then invested in Western railroads, selecting the La Crosse & Milwaukee and the Minnesota & Pacific as his main subjects of interest. Sage was secretly involved in various construction companies, which built these railroads and more than once used foreclosure and receivership to tighten his control and increase his personal wealth. After Civil War, Russell Sage settled in New York City, where he became a market maker in stock options. Parsimony, a hang to hoard money and discretion made him the secret banker, at usury lending rates, of politicians and fellow tycoons.

Peter Schermerhorn (1749-1826)

As many merchants, Schermerhorn actively pursued land ownership in New York, expecting its value to rise with the growth of the city. Both by selective purchase and through water grants secured from favorable city officials, Peter Schermerhorn accumulated one of the large New York City real estate fortunes. His Schermerhorn Row, built on reclaimed land in 1811 to accommodate merchant counting houses, stands as a New York City landmark of early 19th century functional architecture.

"Commodore" Cornelius Vanderbilt ( 1794-1877 ) 

The young steamship entrepreneur built a reputation for good service at low cost and one of the largest steamship fleets in the United States, which earned him the title "Commodore". During the 1850's, Vanderbilt's reputation as a tough competitor allowed him to extort sizeable bribes from the government subsidized shipping lines. As Civil War broke out, the Commodore divested his fleet, selling many of his ships to the Union navy. Aged 69 and now the owner of $ 15 million in cash, Cornelius Vanderbilt once again reshuffled his fortune along technological progress.

Within a few short years, Cornelius Vanderbilt bought a controlling interest in the New York & Haarlem and the Hudson River railroads and merged them, thwarting experienced Wall Street bear Daniel Drew. Then, as he controlled the railroads between New York and Albany, he sought control of the New York Central, to complete his system through to lake Erie. With the intention to build a monopoly, Vanderbilt tried to absorb the Erie railroad as well, but was defeated by Jay Gould and Jim Fisk. Cornelius Vanderbilt then merged his railroads and acquired other lines, building a through connection to Chicago, the fast growing capital of the Midwest. In the process he increased his fortune to $ 105'000'000, which made him the richest man in America when he died in 1877.

Stephen Whitney (1776-1860)

He set himself in business as a liquor retailer and later wholesaler in 1805 at Nr 4 Stone Street, New York. Stephen Whitney's fortune grew heavily thanks to some large and fortunate speculations in cotton. In the 1830's he was among New York's richest men. His fortune was doubled by shrewd investments in city real estate. Second in wealth to John Jacob Astor, Whitney's fortune was estimated between 5-10'000'000 dollars at its height.


Website: The History
Article Name:  Wealthy New York City Businessmen Tid-Bits
Researcher/Transcriber: Miriam Medina


 A Classification of American Wealth History
Time & Date Stamp:  


  Privacy statement | Terms of use