Harry Elkins Widener

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Harry Elkins Widener
File:Harry E. Widener.jpg
Harry Elkins Widener
Born (1885-01-03)January 3, 1885
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died April 15, 1912(1912-04-15) (aged 27)
Atlantic Ocean (RMS Titanic)
Nationality American
Alma mater Harvard University (A.B., 1907)
Occupation Businessman, book collector
Known for Namesake of Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library

Harry Elkins Widener (January 3, 1885 – April 15, 1912) was an American businessman and bibliophile, and a member of the Widener family. His mother donated Harvard University's Widener Memorial Library in his memory, after his death on the foundering of the RMS Titanic.


File:Hew bookplate.jpg
Widener's 1908 bookplate[1]

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Widener was the son of George Dunton Widener (1861–1912) and Eleanor Elkins Widener, and the grandson of entrepreneur Peter A. B. Widener (1834–1915). He attended The Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania and graduated from Harvard College in 1907, where he was a member of Hasty Pudding Theatricals and the Owl Club.

Along with his parents, in April 1912 Widener boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg, France bound for New York City. As the ship sank Widener's mother and her maid were rescued, but Widener, his father, and his father's valet perished. In 1915, Widener's mother donated the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library to Harvard in his memory. Two buildings at Hill School are also dedicated to Widener, and stained glass windows at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania are dedicated to Widener and his father.

A Harvard legend holds that in order to spare others her son's fate, Widener's mother insisted (as a condition of her gift) that future Harvard graduates be required to learn to swim. However, while Harvard indeed implemented a swimming test in the 1920s (later dropped), this had nothing to do with Widener.[2]

File:HarryElkinsWidener Letter 1912March10 p1.jpg
First page of Widener's letter to a friend about his upcoming trip to Europe, returning in the Titanic

As book collector

Widener was a member of the Grolier Club.[3][4] Book collector and dealer George Sidney Hellman, writing soon after Harry Widener's death, commented on

the excellence of his technical knowl­edge ... His enthusiasm as a collector and his winning person­ali­ty ... afforded many opportunities of obtaining treasures whose acquisition cannot be explained alone on the basis of the wealth which he commanded. Had he not perished in the Titanic catastrophe, beyond question ... his library would surely have eventually become one of the greatest collec­tions of books in modern times. [He] was not satisfied alone in having a rare book or a rare book inscribed by the author; it was with him a prerequisite that the volume should be in immaculate condition.[5]

Further reading


  1. Houghton Library, Harvard University, HEW 2.2.15
  2. Mann, Elizabeth (December 9, 1993), "The First Abridged Dictionary of Harvard Myths", The Harvard Independent, pp. 10–11<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. John Woolf Jordan (1911). Colonial Families of Philadelphia. Lewis Publishing Company. pp. 1500–.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Grolier Club (1921). Transactions of the Grolier Club. Grolier Club. pp. 179–.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. George S. Hellman (June 2, 1912). "Harvard To Get Harry Widener's Famous Library – Titanic Victim, Though Hardly Out Of College – Acquired A Fine Collection Of Books That He Willed To His Alma Mater – His Grandfather Adds A Memorial Wing To House It". The New York Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External link

Media related to Harry Elkins Widener at Wikimedia Commons