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William Waldorf Astor was a wealthy descendant of John Jacob Astor who became a New York State senator and a member of the New York State Assembly.
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As the great-grandson of John Jacob Astor, William Waldorf Astor achieved some success with a political career, winning a seat in the New York State Assembly and a seat in the New York State Senate, but he failed in his bid to become a U.S. senator. He moved his family to England and bought the Pall Mall Gazette, a daily newspaper, in 1892, and later bought the London weekly paper, the Observer.
Newspaper owner and politician William Waldorf Astor was born on March 31, 1848, in New York, New York. As the great-grandson of John Jacob Astor, the successful fur trader and founder of the Astor family fortune, William Waldorf was born into a life of privilege. He studied abroad in Germany and Italy before returning the United States to earn a law degree at Columbia University.
Astor achieved some minor success with a political career, winning a seat in the New York State Assembly in 1877 and a seat in the New York State Senate in 1879. But he failed in his bid to become a U.S. senator.
During, and even after, his unsuccessful senatorial campaign, Astor found himself the target of numerous media attacks. He was criticized for his aloof nature, abundant wealth and his family's history as landlords of tenement buildings.
A dedicated Republican, Astor received a reprieve from the press in the form of an appointment by President Chester Arthur to serve as the minister to Italy, a post he held from 1882 to 1885. Around this time, Astor tried his hand at writing, producing two novels; Valentino (1884) and Sforza: A Story of Milan (1889). Neither literary effort was well received.
Astor had married Mary Dahlgren Paul in 1878 and the couple had five children: William Waldorf Astor, 2nd Viscount Astor (often referred to as simply Waldorf), Pauline, John Rudolph (who died shortly after birth), John Jacob Astor V and Gwendolyn. After his father's death in 1890, Astor decided to make a fresh start abroad and moved his family to England.
He bought the Pall Mall Gazette, a daily newspaper, in 1892, and later bought the London weekly, The Observer. He published Pall Mall Magazine, a literary publication, for a number of years. The magazine featured stories from some of the emerging writers of the day, including H.G. Wells.
During the World War I, Astor supported the British cause, donating substantial sums to the Red Cross and other war-related charities. In part for his efforts, he was made a baron in 1916 and then a viscount the next year. Besides his charitable activities and newspaper interests, Astor kept a low profile, trying to avoid the intense media scrutiny he had experienced in the United States. He and his family spent a lot of their time at two estates, Cliveden and Hever Castle.
Astor died of heart failure on October 18, 1919, in Brighton, England. He had been ill in his later years and chose to spend his final days in seclusion in the coastal resort town of Brighton. By relocating his family to England, Astor created a new branch of the family and one that became as socially connected and affluent as the American Astors.
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Few families in American history have sustained a place for so long in the public eye as the Astors have. For more than 200 years, the Astor name has been synonymous with New York high society. The family's fortune began to grow after John Jacob Astor, a German immigrant, founded the American Fur Company in 1808. Learn more about John Jacob and his descendants, including William Backhouse, William Waldorf, John Jacob IV and John Jacob V, as well as Brooke and Madeleine Force Astor—who scored their own fortunes by marrying into the Astor family—only at Biography.com.
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