The Cyclopædia of American Biography/Widener, George Dunton

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The Cyclopædia of American Biography
James E. Homans, editor
Widener, George Dunton

WIDENER, George Dunton, financier, b. in Philadelphia, Pa., 16 June, 1861; d. on fatal voyage of steamship “Titanic,” 15 April, 1912, son of Peter Albert Brown and Josephine (Dunton) Widener. He was educated in the private schools of Philadelphia, and began his business career as a clerk in a grocery store. Soon after he entered the office of his father, a prominent traction owner of the country, where he studied large traction problems at first hand. He acquired an extensive and detailed knowledge of transit matters with remarkable facility, and in a comparatively short time was recognized throughout the country as an expert in this department. Later, he became manager of his father's great traction interests. The ability with which he managed the business played an important part in the history of the Philadelphia street railway system. Like his father, he was of the constructive type, a builder rather than a financier. He never handled railroads for stock market purposes. His conception of the duties of a railroad man included the improvement of his properties in accordance with the most modern ideas in traction, and the building of new lines where they seemed needed. He supervised, and largely worked out the details of, the change in the street railway system from horses to cable propulsion, and again to electric power, and in each case the change was accomplished with remarkable speed, and without appreciable delay or inconvenience to the public. The extent of his railway connection is indicated by the fact that at the time of his death he was president and director of the Philadelphia Traction Company, Huntington Street Connecting Railway, Fairmount Park Passenger Railway, Catherine and Bainbridge Street Railway Company, Tioga and Venango Street Passenger Railway, Continental Passenger Railway, Doylestown and Willow Grove Turnpike Company, Ridge Avenue Passenger Railway, Walnut Street Connecting Railway, Union Passenger Railway, Seventeenth and Nineteenth Street Railway, and the Twenty-second Street and Allegheny Avenue Railway. For many years Mr. Widener was vice-president of the company controlling the elevated and subway system of Philadelphia, but resigned from the directorship upon the election of E. T. Stotesbury, although he retained his holdings in the company. In addition to traction interests, he was a director in the Land Title and Trust Company, Electric Storage Battery Company, Jarden Brick Company, Vulcanite and Portland Cement Company, and president of the company that built the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Philadelphia. Though ho took no part in politics, Mr. Widener was actively interested in civic affairs, and served as one of the commissioners of Cheltenham Townsliip. He was a philanthropist in a large and charitable way, not only through a sense of duty, but through a natural generosity of feeling. He was especially interested in the Widener Memorial Home, founded by his father, and he superintended its building and organization. The institution was to him an opportunity for exercising the great generosity and tenderness, which were such conspicuous qualities of his splendid character. Above the shock and gloom which struck the civilized world when the steamship “Titanic” foundered in the ice-strewn North Atlantic, there arose a feeling of joy and pride that there were still men who rose to high ideals of manhood and chivalry, men who were tried mercilessly and without warning, and who bore those trials with a supreme courage and chivalry such as had lent a deathless glory to the golden age of knighthood. “As a man lives, so he dies,” and as George D. Widener lived he died — bravely, conscientiously, unselfishly, and nobly. He was a director in the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts, widely known as a connoisseur of art and a discriminating collector of old books. He left valuable collections of both pictures and books. He was a member of the Union League, Philadelphia Country, Rosetree Hunt, Art, Racquet, Corinthian Yacht, Huntington Valley, and Germantown Cricket Clubs. In 1883 he married Eleanor, daughter of William L. Elkins, of Philadelphia, Pa., and they had three children: Eleanor, George D., Jr., and Harry Elkins Widener.