Ear: Astorian 2

Under “Hoss Sense & Nonsense” in the March 8, 1900 edition of The Morning Astorian: If the Elkins-Widener syndicates keep on at the present gait, they will own the earth before long and be ready to take option on the other planets. There should be good times ahead for the inventors of flying-machines.

Note 1: Flying-machines in 1900? The Wright brothers didn’t take flight until 1903. But Frenchman Jules Henri Giffard (center) made the first powered flight in the full-sized airship he built (a 143-foot dirigible, pictured), powered by a 3-horsepower steam engine, and flew it 17 miles at 6 mph, from Paris to Elancourt, on Sept. 24, 1852.

Note 2: William Elkins (top right) and Peter Widener (bottom right), both canny and highly successful Philadelphia businessmen on their own, got together and formed a powerful syndicate in 1873.

They wound up controlling the biggest share of trolley lines in the country, and wisely invested in electric lighting and power companies all over the U.S — a wise move, since electricity would be in half of American homes by 1925. Widener was already worth almost $3 billion (in today’s money) by 1900.

Amazingly enough, the men also became good friends, and Elkins’ daughter, Eleanor, married Widener’s son, George. George and Eleanor and their son, Harry, set off on a European tour in 1912, after Harry graduated from college. They decided to return to the U.S. by sea — on the ill-fated maiden voyage of the Titanic.

George and Harry managed to get Eleanor safely into a lifeboat, and she was saved, but the father and son went down with the ship … along with John Jacob Astor IV (bottom left), great-grandson of Astoria’s namesake, who was on deck, and presumed to have been killed by a falling smokestack when the ship’s bow plunged downward.

Incidentally, Astor’s pregnant wife, Madeleine, also survived, giving birth to John Jacob Astor VI (V was already taken) in August. (bit.ly/jgiffard, bit.ly/ElkWide, bit.ly/newlght, bit.ly/jjaiv)

Elleda Wilson is an editorial assistant for The Daily Astorian and author of the award-winning In One Ear community column. Contact her at 971-704-1718 or ewilson@dailyastorian.com.

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