William Henry Aspinwall

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William Henry Aspinwall

Birthplace: Manhattan, New York, New York County, New York, United States
Death: January 18, 1875 (67)
Manhattan, New York, New York County, New York, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of John Aspinwall, Jr. and Susan Aspinwall
Husband of Anna Lloyd Aspinwall
Father of Lloyd Aspinwall; Louisa Minturn and Katherine Kingsland
Brother of Margaret Elizabeth Hodge; Louisa Edgar Aspinwall; John Lloyd Aspinwall, III; Emily Phillips Aspinwall; George Woolsey Aspinwall and 1 other

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About William Henry Aspinwall

Descendant of Mayflower passengers John Howland and Elizabeth Tilley


William Henry Aspinwall (December 16, 1807 – January 18, 1875) was an American businessman.

In 1832, he became president of the Howland & Aspinwall merchant firm, which had been founded by his cousin and expanded trade to South America, China, Europe, the Mediterranean, and the East and West Indies. Howland & Aspinwall owned some of the most famous clipper ships ever built. In 1845, while the firm owned the Ann McKim which was regarded as the fastest ship afloat, it built the Rainbow, which was even faster. The Rainbow was the high-tech racehorse of its day, and is considered to be the first of the extreme clippers. Instead of the bluff bow that was customary on ships up until that time, the Rainbow had a sharp bow, prompting on-lookers to joke that maybe she would sail better backwards. The next year, Howland & Aspinwall had the Sea Witch built, which set a speed record from China to New York which still stands.

Clipper ships sacrificed cargo capacity for speed, but in some markets, the fast service allowed their owners to charge premium rates (Tea from China tasted better if it was fresh, so the cargo on the first ship of the season to arrive in New York was worth more). Also faster speed meant that the vessel could complete more voyages in a given time period, which also helped make up for the diminished cargo capacity.

In 1848 Aspinwall founded the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, to provide service to California. This turned out to be a rather good year in which to start a steamship line to California, since the Gold Rush started the next year. The company's first vessel to make the trip was packed with passengers. Pacific Mail became American President Lines, which is now part of Neptune Orient Lines. He then promoted the Panama Railroad across the Isthmus of Panama.

He retired in 1856 but remained active as a philanthropist. He was a founder of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (1866) and of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1869).

William Henry Aspinwall is interred at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.


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William Henry Aspinwall's Timeline

December 16, 1807
New York, New York County, New York, United States
August 24, 1843
New York, New York, United States
March 8, 1847
January 18, 1875
Age 67
New York, New York County, New York, United States