Captain John Jacob Astor


'...probably the wealthiest person to have won an Olympic gold medal for Great Britain.'

Submission from Carl Watts

John Jacob Astor was born in New York City in 1886. He was born into a world of privilege as the fourth son of the 1st Viscount Astor and his wife, Mary Dahlgren Paul. The family moved to Hever Castle in Kent when John Jacob reached the age of four. This move to the UK enabled John Jacob to play for Great Britain in the 1908 Olympic games.

During his education at Eton, John Jacob excelled at Raquets, becoming the British Public Schools champion during his final year there in 1904-5. After just a single year at New College, Oxford, John Jacob joined the 1st Life Guards, but continued with his sporting endeavours, playing singles and doubles in the British Army Raquets Championships in 1908. It was in this year that Astor became probably the wealthiest person ever to win an Olympic medal. Again he was a competitor in both the singles and the doubles competitions, winning a gold medal with Vane Pennell in the doubles (winning 4-1) and a bronze in the singles. The London Olympics of 1908 is the only Games at which Raquets has been played.

Prior to the outbreak of the First World War, John Jacob was Aide-de-Camp to Baron Hardinge, Viceroy of India, a role he fulfilled from 1911 to 1914. He became a Captain in the Life Guards in 1913. He was wounded at Messines in October 1914, recovered and returned to command 520 Household Siege Battery of the Royal Garrison Artillery. Towards the end of the war in 1918 his right leg was shattered by German shell. The wound was so severe that his leg had to be amputated, a life changing treatment for a sportsman. However, this did not stop him from continuing to play racket sports – often winning against younger opponents at squash on a prosthetic leg.

While his sport continued, so too did his connection with the armed forces. He was Honorary Colonel of the Kent and Sussex Heavy Regiment, Royal Artillery, between 1927 and 1946 and Honorary Colonel of the 23rd London Regiment, between 1928 and 1949. In World War II he was Lieutenant-Colonel of the 5th Battalion, City of London Home Guard, a unit drawn from newspaper employees, between 1940 and 1944.

He was the chief proprietor and chairman of The Times from 1922 to 1959. He became the MP for Dover in 1922, holding the seat for 23 years. He was also Captain of the Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club and in 1937 became the President of the MCC and he was also the President of the Hurlingham Club. He was also a director of the Great Western Railway and Hambros Bank. He was later created the First Baron Astor of Hever in the 1956 New Year’s Honours List. In 1962 he left England to live in France, where he died nine years later.