A Classification of American Wealth
History and genealogy of the wealthy families of America - Sponsors

 Part 1 : Colonial and Mercantile America  Part 2 : America in the Gilded Age
 Part 3 : America in the Twentieth Century  Encyclopedia of American Wealth

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  Chronicles of American Wealth / Nr 14 / November 11, 2003

<<  List of chronicles   

Content :
1 – A social historical list : “ Mrs Astor’s Four Hundred “
2 – Profile of A Wealthy American : Samuel Colt
3 – Updated Wealth Classification Lists : 1875 / 1900 / 1925


A social historical list :  “ Mrs Astor’s Four Hundred “

“Mrs Astor’s Four Hundred’’ evocates the drama of American Society at the height of the Gilded Age, when New York’s society was shaken by the arrival of ever increasing numbers of new rich, mining bonanza kings, railroad barons and industrialists, who ascended to unimaginable wealth, during the economic transformation triggered by the industrial revolution. Allegedly derived from the capacity of Mrs Astor’s ballroom, the “Four Hundred” represented the epitome of New York Society during the last quarter of the 19th century.

Caroline Webster (Schermerhorn) Astor was the self crowned queen of New York (and Newport) Society, who set herself the task, to regulate society and keep the new rich of the Gilded Age out. Assisted by social arbiter Ward McAllister, she started in the winter season of 1872-73 to build up her list of socially prominent New Yorkers, therefore designating twenty five patriarchs, who would define society, by inviting to each ball of the season, four ladies and five gentlemen. [Equilibrium would obviously require the opposite.] In addition to the thereby convened 250 people, an undefined number of visiting guests, prominent people from other cities, and debutantes would be invited directly by Mrs Astor.

The Patriarch Balls held at Mrs Astor’s mansions would go on until 1897, whereas Ward McAllister would organize them only until 1892. Of the last of these balls, held in the winter season 1891-92, Ward McAllister gave a list to the New York Times. For the first time after many years of guessing, the public was shown the official list of Mrs Astor’s Four Hundred and thereby the names of society’s sacred inner circle.

Browse and read more about the subject at "A Classification of American Wealth" :
AW Social Classification List " Mrs Astor's 400 " (abt 1891)
The original list of Mrs Astor's guests to her ball of February 1892
                 (as revealed by Ward McAllister  to the New York Times)
The original twenty five patriarchs (of 1872/73)
AW profile of Caroline Webster (Schermerhorn) Astor
AW profile of the Astor family
Chapter 4 : " Landlords of New York City "


Profile of a wealthy American : Samuel Colt

The inventor of the gun that opened the West, Samuel Colt came from a Hartford family of merchants and bankers. His father, who had made and lost a fortune in the West India trade, lent him the money to produce two prototypes of a revolving pistol he had in mind and secure patents in England and France. In 1836, Samuel Colt received patent Nr 138 for his revolver. Backed by money from a cousin and some New Yorker investors, he founded the Patent Firearms Manufacturing Co in Paterson NJ, which failed six years later, after 2'700 guns had been made, but only few for the government, initially seen as the main potential customer. After some other ventures, notably in underwater cables with Samuel F. B. Morse, Colt returned to his invention and secured an order from Captain Samuel Walker of the Texas Rangers. The thousand colts were the produced in the Whitney factory of New Haven. Samuel Colt later built on the success of his revolvers with the Texas Rangers and hiring Elisha K. Root as a plant superintendant, he expanded his business applying modern manufacturing methods, such as interchangeable parts. Samuel Colt was a strong salesman, who knew how to create demand for his product. Towards the end of the 1850's, he invested $ 2 million to build a giant armory on his South Meadows property near Hartford. This was right in time for the great expansion fuelled by Civil War, when the firms yearly profits jumped from 250'000 $ to over 1 million. Exhausted by his work and distressed by the death of his infant daughters, Samuel Colt died in 1862, when only fourty eight years old. He left his vast fortune to his widow, his only son and a favorite nephew, Samuel Caldwell Colt.

Read more about Samuel Colt and other early gun makers in
Chapter 6 “
Early Industrialists ” of “A Classification of American Wealth” or browse
Encyclopedia of American Wealth" for more in-depth information about the history and genealogy of the wealthy families of America.


Updated Wealth Classification Lists :  1875 / 1900 / 1925



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