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Joseph E. Widener: Wikis


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Joseph Early Widener
Born August 19, 1871(1871-08-19)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
United States
Died October 26, 1943 (aged 72)
Elkins Park, Pennsylvania
Resting place Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia
Residence Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania
Education Harvard University, University of Pennsylvania
Occupation Businessman, horseman, art collector, philanthropist
Religious beliefs Episcopal Church
Spouse(s) Ella Pancoast
Children Peter A. B. Widener II, Josephine Pancoast Widener
Parents Peter A. B. Widener &
Hannah Josephine Dunton

Joseph Early Widener (August 19, 1871] – October 26, 1943) was a wealthy American art collector who was a founding benefactor of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and a major figure in Thoroughbred horse racing as head of New York's Belmont Park and builder of Miami, Florida's Hialeah Park racetrack.

Born in Philadelphia, he was the second son of Hannah Josephine Dunton (1836 –1896) and the extremely wealthy entrepreneur Peter A. B. Widener (1834 – 1915). Joseph Widener attended Harvard University and for a short time studied architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. He married Ella Pancoast with whom he had two children, Peter A. B. Widener II born in 1895, and Josephine "Fifi" Pancoast Widener, born in 1902.

Joseph Widener raised his family at Lynnewood Hall in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. The 110 room Georgian-style mansion designed by Horace Trumbauer along with its extensive and important art collection, was part of the huge fortune inherited from his father.


RMS Titanic tragedy

In April 1912, Joseph Widener lost his elder brother George Dunton Widener and George's son Harry Elkins Widener when they went down with the RMS Titanic. Mrs. Eleanor Widener was with her husband and was one of the passengers rescued from lifeboats by the RMS Carpathia. Shortly after, Mrs. Widener, in the name of her deceased son, made a gift to Harvard University to build the monumental Harry Elkins Widener Library, which opened on June 24, 1915. Not on the ship was their second son, George D. Widener, Jr., who would later be one of only four people in the history of American Thoroughbred horse racing to be named an "Exemplar of Racing" by the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

Thoroughbred horse racing

Joseph Widener used his great wealth to pursue his interest in Thoroughbred horse racing on a large scale. Not only did he become an owner of a large stable of racehorses, Widener acquired the Elmendorf Farm in Lexington, Kentucky and the Belmont Park racetrack in New York, plus he built Hialeah Park racetrack in Miami, Florida.

In 1901, thirty-year-old Joseph Widener began purchasing Thoroughbred horses to compete in both flat racing and steeplechase events. He hired future U. S Racing Hall of Fame horse trainer, J. Howard Lewis. For the next four decades they combined to race fourteen Champions, two in flat racing and twelve Steeplechase Champions. Widener's steeplechase horses won numerous important races including three editions of the American Grand National with Relluf (1914), Arc Light (1929), and Bushranger (1936). His steeplechasers Bushranger and Fairmount were both elected to the U. S Racing Hall of Fame.

Following the death of August Belmont, Jr., Joseph Widener and friends W. Averell Harriman and George Herbert Walker, purchased much of Belmont's Thoroughbred breeding stock. For his Elmendorf Farm breeding operation, Widener acquired Belmont's very important sire Fair Play and the broodmare Mahubah, the parents of Man o' War. He also purchased a son of Fair Play named Chance Shot who would go on to win the 1927 Belmont Stakes and following the 1929 death of Fair Play would become Elmendorf Farm's leading sire. Widener had a life-size statue of Fair Play erected by his grave at Elmendorf Farm.

As part of the selloff of the August Belmont, Jr. estate, in 1925 Joseph Widener also acquired majority control of Belmont Park in Elmont, New York and would serve as the race track's president until 1939 when failing health necessitated his stepping down.

In 1930, he imported the stallion Sickle from Lord Derby in England who came to visit the U.S. that year and was Widener's guest at the 1930 Kentucky Derby. A son of the very important sire Phalaris, Sickle would produce 45 Graded stakes race winners and be the Leading sire in North America in 1936 and 1938.

Following Chance Shot's win in the 1927 Belmont Stakes, Widener's racing stable won the race two more times with Hurryoff in 1933 and with a son of Chance Shot in 1934 named Peace Chance. He also had five horses compete in the Kentucky Derby with his best finishes a second place earned by Osmand in 1927 and by Brevity in 1936.

Joseph Widener's father had had business interests in France and like other wealthy elite Americans of that era, maintained a place in fashionable Paris. In addition to racing horses in the United States, Widener also kept a stable of Thoroughbreds in France. Competing in French grass racing, his horses won the 1923 and 1926 editions of the Prix La Rochette and the 1923, 1924, and 1937 runnings of the Prix d'Aumale.

Widener also owned English Hackney horses who competed at various shows.

Hialeah Park

In 1930, Joseph Widener built a 40,000 square foot mansion in Palm Beach, Florida.[1] where he would spend a good part of most winters. That same year, he purchased a controlling interest in the Miami Jockey Club and in 1931 renovated Hialeah Park. Hailed as one of the most beautiful Thoroughbred race tracks in the world, in 1979 Hialeah Park was listed on the United States National Register of Historic Places. Major races here were the Widener Handicap inaugurated in 1936, and the Flamingo Stakes, an important stepping stone to the Kentucky Derby for 3-year-old horses. Following Widener's death, ownership of the facility changed hands several times and after running into financial difficulties it closed in 2001.

Art collector

Joseph Widener added to the extensive and valuable art collection he had inherited from his father. His collection included a dozen or more works by Rembrandt as well as those by Johannes Vermeer, Edouard Manet, Pierre Auguste Renoir and others. In 1939, Widener made a number of donations from his assorted collections including manuscripts of historical and artistic importance gifted to the Rare Book Department at the Free Library of Philadelphia. However, his most important philanthropic endeavor was as a founding benefactor of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.. Widener's 1939 donation of a vast collection was announced by U. S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the Gallery's opening ceremony. Known as the Widener Collection, the more than 2,000 sculptures, paintings, decorative art, and porcelains went on display in 1942. Joseph Widener's own 1921 portrait by Augustus John hangs in the National Gallery of Art.

In poor health for several years, Joseph Early Widener died at his Lynnewood Hall estate in 1943 and was interred in the Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.


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