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William Boyce Thompson, (May 13, 1869 – June 27, 1930), was an American mining engineer, financier, promoter of Western support for the revolutionary Kerensky and Bolshevik governments of Russia, philanthropist, and founder of Newmont Mining.

Born in Virginia City, Montana, Thompson was a rare combination of hardheaded realist and dreamer. Born and schooled in the rough mining towns of southwest Montana - but also at Phillips Exeter Academy and the Columbia School of Mines - he built a large fortune purchasing undervalued copper and gold claims through his company Newmont Mining. By the time of his death, Newmont Mining was one of the three largest mining companies in the world after Cecil Rhodes's De Beers and Sir Ernest Oppenheimer's Anglo American plc. He was not only a shrewd man of business but also had great intellectual curiosity, particularly about science. He wished to be a force for good in the world and supported various philanthropies.

Thompson's holdings were scattered from Cobalt Lake, Canada to Peru. They included Inspiration Mine in Arizona and Indian Motorcycle Co. He financed lead, zinc and coal mines, street railways, handled the sensational Midvale Steel financing during the War when the stock rose from 290 to 500. He refinanced American Woolen Co. and Tobacco Products Co., launched Cuban Cane Sugar Co., got control of Pierce Arrow Motor Car Co., organized Submarine Boat Corp. and the Wright-Martin Aeroplane Co. Fat, good-natured, bald, a tireless worker, a devoted family man, Thompson chewed tobacco, underpaid his employees and, as one of the greatest gamblers of his time, discharged them for gambling. [1]

He was a director of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company as well as the Federal Reserve Bank of New York from 1914 to 1919 and was twice (1916 and 1920) a delegate to the Republican National Convention. He visited Russia before the revolution and again in 1918 just after the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the effects of crop failure and starvation were rampant. Thompson was a member of an American Red Cross relief mission that also hoped to encourage formation of a democratic government in Russia. He was awarded the honorary title of Colonel by the American Red Cross.

The mission saw firsthand the suffering of the people and the inability of the social democratic government headed by Alexander Kerensky to feed the hungry. Although Thompson added $1 million of his own to the relief funds provided by the U.S. government, he was unable to convince President Woodrow Wilson to do more. However, he was able to rally other financiers including the trust of J.P. Morgan to aid the effort. Soon after the Americans had returned home, the Kerensky government fell and the Bolsheviks came to power. Thompson’s hopes for a prosperous democracy in Russia were ended. The Russian experience convinced him that agriculture, food supply, and social justice are linked. World political stability in the future, he prophesied, would depend on the availability of adequate food. This conviction, along with his faith in science, helped to shape his next philanthropic project.

In 1920, he decided to establish the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, and endowed it with $10 million, a veritable fortune in the 1920s. He hoped that this "seed" money would enable the institute to acquire the very best scientists, equipment, and supplies and then to develop relationships with industry and the government to help finance research.

The yacht Alder after being converted to AGP-3 USS Jamestown in 1941. Photo c. 1943.

Boyce-Thompson also willed $1 million to Phillips Exeter Academy upon his death and a significant gem and mineral collection to New York's American Museum of Natural History[2]. His daughter, Margaret Thompson, and, wife Gertrude Hickman, inherited the balance of his wealth. In 1941 The Alder Boyce-Thompson's 265 ft. motor-yacht was given the U.S. Navy to aid the war effort.

To the Phillips Exeter Academy, Thompson donated $2 million during his lifetime. His donations created the Boyce-Thomspon science building, a new gymnasium in 1923, squash courts, a baseball field, sports cage, and other facilities.

Thompson died from pneumonia in 1930 and was buried at the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. A 1935 biography of Boyce-Thompson, The Magnate, by Herman Hagedorn, the presidential biographer of Theodore Roosevelt, profiles his life.

His portrait was painted by the Swiss-born American artist Adolfo Müller-Ury(1862-1947) about 1920-5, and was donated to the New York Chamber of Commerce around 1948/9 by the artist's friend, the soprano Jessica Dragonette(died 1980) who had acquired it from the artist's estate; she claimed in her autobiography 'Faith is a Song' (1951) that she offered it to Thompson's daughter who set a fee for the privilege of destroying the portrait. The portrait is now in the New York State Museum at Albany.

Boyce-Thompson family (listed by ancestry/generation)

  • William Boyce Thompson (1869–1930) (m. Gertrude Hickman)
    • Margaret Thompson Biddle (1902–1956) (m. Theodore Schulze II div.) (2nd m. Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle, Jr.)
      • Theodore Schulze III (1920–1962) (m. Joyce Ward)
        • Joyce Schulze
        • Charles Schulze
        • Peter Schulze
      • Margaret Boyce Schulze (1922—1964) (m. Prince Alexander zu Hohenlohe-Ingelfingen) (2nd m. Morton Downey)
        • Catherine Hohenlohe
        • Christian Hohenlohe (Prince)

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