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Remembering the Titanic

As the Titanic flooded with icy waters, the prominent couple Isidor and Ida Straus were directed to board a lifeboat. A ship’s officer tried to usher Isidor aboard, granting him access as he was 67 and well known as the co-owner of the Macy’s department store and a director of The Hanover National Bank, a JPMorgan Chase predecessor. Isidor refused and was joined by his wife Ida, who stated “where you go, I go,” giving up her lifeboat seat to her maid, Ellen Bird, in order to be with her husband.

Isidor and Ida Straus were two of more than 1,500 passengers who perished on the RMS Titanic. The ship was on her maiden voyage from Southampton, England to New York City when she struck an iceberg 400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland, sinking in under three hours. According to The Hanover National Bank’s Board of Directors minutes a few days later, “The President rose to announce to the Board the death of our late Director Mr. Isidor Straus, who as the Board knew, had gone to his death on the ill-fated steamship Titanic on April 15, 1912.”

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J.P. Morgan ties with the Titanic
The Titanic, alongside its sister ship the Olympic, were the newest luxury passenger vessels of the British shipping company, the White Star Line. Ten years prior to the Titanic disaster, J.P. Morgan & Co. had created a union of shipping companies, the International Mercantile Marine Company (IMM), of which the White Star Line was a subsidiary. The firm organized a $50 million syndicate to finance the consolidation. J. Pierpont Morgan’s son Jack often represented his father in IMM affairs, though the senior Morgan took a great interest in the Titanic’s construction.  

Morgan was present at the ship’s launching in Belfast on May 30, 1911 and had purchased tickets to set sail on the Titanic’s maiden voyage. Fortunately, Morgan cancelled his trip at the last minute to care for his failing health at a spa in Aix-Les-Bains, France. Additionally, Morgan experienced customs issues while he was in the process of transporting his extensive art collection from Europe to New York, making his decision to stay behind even more important.

Morgan was devastated by the tragedy of the Titanic, and lost many friends that day. “Monetary losses amount to nothing in life,” he said to a New York Times reporter. “It is the loss of life that counts. It is that frightful death.” Morgan’s children Jack and Anne participated in relief and fundraising efforts to support the families and survivors.

The disaster greatly hurt IMM’s reputation, and the Morgan firm remained connected to the company until 1926 when Jack Morgan and Charles Steele, another Morgan partner, resigned from its board.

The story of Isidor and Ida Straus is forever memorialized with a statue erected in 1915, at Straus Park on Broadway and 106th Street in New York City. 

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