Thomas Fortune Ryan

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Thomas Fortune Ryan

Birthplace: Nelson County, Virginia, United States
Death: November 23, 1928 (77)
New York, New York, United States
Place of Burial: Oak Ridge, Nelson Co, VA
Immediate Family:

Son of George A Ryan and Lucinda Tenilla ryan
Husband of Ida Mary Barry and Mary Townsend Lord (Nicoll)
Father of Leo J. Ryan; John Barry Ryan; Thomas Fortune Ryan Jr; William Keane Ryan; Allan Aloysius Ryan, Sr. and 3 others

Managed by: Richard McKay Cryan
Last Updated:

About Thomas Fortune Ryan

Through a merge, the following information ended up attached to TFR. Not sure to whom it should be moved:

One of the leaders of the Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform; bolted the Republican Party over the prohibition issue in 1932. Jumped or fell sixteen stories to her death, from her room at New York Hospital, Manhattan, New York County, N.Y., August 9, 1940. Interment at Southampton Cemetery, Southampton, Long Island, N.Y.


From the Virginia Historical Society

Thomas Fortune Ryan (1851–1928)

Thomas Fortune Ryan's career was tainted by the greed and corruption of the Gilded Age; he came to epitomize the "robber barons" that employed unethical means to amass fortunes in business or banking. Nearly as accomplished as John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, or J. P. Morgan, Ryan is less remembered today, probably because he diversified. At one point he held controlling interest in thirty corporations.

Ryan's early life was an American success story. Fourteen years old at the close of the Civil War, he was an orphan under the care of his mother's family and seemingly destined to suffer the postwar poverty of the southern Virginia piedmont. At seventeen, however, this lanky country boy found opportunity in John S. Barry's dry-goods commission house in Baltimore. Four years later Barry financed Ryan's move to New York City, where he prospered for a decade in a Wall Street brokerage firm that he co-founded. He bought a seat on the New York Stock Exchange (the youngest member ever) and married Barry's daughter.

In 1883, when a streetcar system was proposed for New York City, Ryan bid for the first line. By the expected bribery and political influence, and unexpected creation of the nation's first holding company, he managed to conglomerate franchises for nearly the whole operation. In 1905, when his above-ground railway was threatened by a subway system, Ryan was able to consolidate with his competitors. When he retired the next year from his several traction companies, they collapsed. Among the other ventures that put to use Ryan's political savvy and cutthroat tactics, the most profitable involved tobacco and insurance. The most sensational was his development of the gold, copper, and diamond industries in the Congo at the invitation of Belgium's King Leopold, who scandalized the world by ruthless exploitation of his African colony. Ryan's collaborator, William C. Whitney, called him "the most adroit, suave and noiseless man" that American finance had ever known. Whitney once predicted that his friend would become one of the wealthiest men in the country. Indeed, at death in 1928, Ryan was said to be the nation's tenth richest, and his estate was estimated at somewhere between one and five hundred million dollars.

In 1901 Ryan and his wife Ida Barry Ryan funded construction of the only Roman Catholic cathedral ever built by a single family—the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. In 1913 Ryan financed the Confederate murals in the Confederate Memorial Institute or Battle Abbey (now the Virginia Historical Society).

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Thomas Fortune Ryan's Timeline

October 17, 1851
Nelson County, Virginia, United States
September 7, 1874
Age 22
Brooklyn, NY, United States
Age 24
August 25, 1878
Age 26
New York City, NY
May 5, 1880
Age 28
Hyde Park, NY
September 13, 1882
Age 30
Brooklyn, NY
May 13, 1884
Age 32
Brooklyn, NY
November 4, 1890
Age 39
Hyde Park, NY