Tuesday, May 08, 2012


I found this image on a favorite tumblelog and I subsequently used it in a tumblr post of my own.[1]

It shows the yacht Defender and it can be found in the Detroit Publishing Company Collection of LC's Prints and Photographs Division.[2] The photographer, John S. Johnston, did a whole series on the Defender.

The caption gives the year (1895) but does not give the month or day. It does have "134" written on it and a nearby photo, number 132, shows the Defender on August 2, 1895, competing in the Goelet Cup so it's pretty near certain our photo was taken during the same race.

The yacht belonged to William Kissam Vanderbilt.[3] He was a cousin of Louis Windmuller's wife, Annie.[4] Windmuller didn't go in for yacht racing. His recreations were urban and close to home. He belonged to city clubs and supported city charities. An immigrant from Germany who never lost his German connections, he loved the city's German singing clubs and beer gardens. He was also a famous city walker and one of his last acts was to form a club of walkers. He traveled much for business, but also for pleasure, chiefly to Germany, France, England, and Italy.

Louis Windmuller had arrived in New York penniless and worked his way up to a comfortable prosperity. William Kissam Vanderbilt was born to wealthy parents and was never forced to earn a living. He did work as a manager of the family railroads but as someone learning the family business rather than in the entrepreneurial spirit of his grand- and my great-grandfather.[5] The differences between the two men were many, but the most obvious, I think, was in their choice of recreation. Where Windmuller walked, W.K.V. raced. He raced horses and he raced yachts. He founded New York's Jockey Club, owned both stables and race courses, and ran horses that won. And he was co-owner of the yacht defender.

Windmuller and his wife Annie saw only two of their six children survive to adulthood: a son and a daughter. Neither possessed the energy, cheerful optimism, and tempered ambition of their father. The son, Adolph, made a half-hearted effort to manage one of his father's enterprises (the importing firm which was Windmuller's first success) but did not stick with it and lived most of his life as a man of leisure.[6] My father, his nephew, called him a n'er do well. The daughter, Clara, was not expected to earn a living and, unlike others among her contemporaries in upper-middle-class New York, she did not attempt to make a name for herself by charity work, cultural contributions, agitation for reform, or even any sort of active participation in New York society.[7]

Somewhat late in life, Clara married a man who worked for her father. He, Julius, was a distant relative who had come from Germany with the expectation that Windmuller would put him to work. After serving in a clerical position in an organization of which Windmuller was treasurer he was, in the year following his marriage to Clara, appointed secretary-treasurer of a bank that Windmuller had helped to found and of which he was president.[8] In 1913, when his father in law died, the will was found to be not so generous to him as it was to Adolph and Julius consequently labored in the bank for the rest of his working life, eventually rising to be its manager. Once he found himself secure in his employment, he put in his bankers' hours, married his benefactor's daughter, fathered a family of four, let himself be caught with a girlfriend in the conjugal bed, and indulged in a passion for boating. The last two were actually related since he had the habit of inviting women to cruise with him from time to time.

This photo shows Julius and Clara shipboard during the first (happy) years of their marriage.

The year is 1902 or '03. He is 34 and she two years younger.

Julius was a power boat enthusiast so this photo — taken at about the same time — shows Clara on someone else's ship.

From about 1900 to about 1942 Julius owned maybe half a dozen craft, each 30- to 40 feet long, with paid skipper and crew. At the bank they called him "Commodore" (as, in similar manner, underlings had given Cornelius Vanderbilt that title) and he belonged to a number of yacht clubs including the Colonial, uptown on the Hudson near his home on Riverside Drive, and the Harlem on City Island.[9] My father once took me to the latter. The club house was rustic and in my memory its chief feature was a monumental pool table near windows overlooking the moorings.

This shows a diving demonstration at the Colonial Yacht Club in 1914 or 1915.

{Caption: Famous diver Elsie Hanneman at the Colonial Yacht Club; photo by the Bain News Service; the club was located on the small beach just below Riverside Drive on the Hudson River, roughly between 140th and 142nd Streets in Harlem; source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division}

Taken at about the same time, this photo shows canoe jousting, the club, and some of the city in the background.

{Caption: Canoe Tilting at the Colonial Yacht Club, by the Bain News Service; same source }

This shows the Harlem Yacht Club in 1906. I recollect it looked much the same in the late 1950s when my father took me there.

{Caption: Harlem Yacht Club, City Island, N.Y. by the W. F. Sleight Post Card Co., Mount Vernon, N.Y., 1906; source: Long Island Historic Postcards Collection (collection 346), Special Collections and University Archives, Stony Brook University Libraries}


Some sources:

The Yacht Photography of J.S. Johnston - Defender

Defender - 32nd America's Cup

Goelet Cup, New York Times, August 6, 1887

DEFENDER BREAKS DOWN; Snapped a Hollow Gaff in Goelet Cup Races, New York Times, August 2, 1895

THE GOELET CUP, New York Times, August 3, 1895

William Kissam Vanderbilt on wikipedia

"Newly-elected officers of the Colonial Y. C." in The Rudder, Volume 35 (Fawcett Publications, 1919)

Harlem Yacht Club By Evelyn Schneider, Harlem Yacht Club historian, as published in the July 2008 issue of Wind Check

Century of American savings banks, pub. under the auspices of the Savings banks association of the state of New York in commemoration of the centenary of savings banks in America (New York : B. F. Buck & company, 1917)



[1] The favorite Tumblr blog is Chemin faisant by Catherine Willis and my own is rouleur.

[2] Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress

[3] W.K. Vanderbilt was co-owner.

[4] Annie and W.K. were niece and nephew-once-removed, respectively, of John Edmund Thorne. W.K.'s father, also W.K., was son of J.E.T.'s brother-in-law, Samuel Kissam. Annie was daughter of J.E.T.'s sister, Sarah Lenington Thorne. If you've patience, you can trace the connection in these genealogies: Descendants of William Thorne & Susannah Booth and Windmuller Genealogy. I've written fequently about my great-grandfather. To see posts about him, click the "Louis Windmuller" link in the list of labels in the panel at right.

[5] Up until 1903 William Kissam Vanderbilt was active in the management of the family railroads, including the New York Central. His grandfather Cornelius had owned that business and, it doesn't surprise me to find that Louis Windmuller was a shareholder. Cornelius and Louis were different in many ways, but both were energetic businessmen and managers of financial affairs. In 1865 Windmuller joined other prominent New Yorkers in petitioning the state government for relief from Civil War regulations that kept rail fares and tariffs artificially low (Evening Journal, New York, March 21, 1865). In addition to the names of Cornelius and my great-grandfather, the petition showed those of William Astor, Henry Sloane, and other prominent merchants and financiers.

[6] Louis Windmuller's first successful business was "Louis Windmuller and Roelker, commissioning agents." I've written a few posts dealing with its affairs. [7] My blog post on the wives of the forty-eighters gives some idea of what determined women could accomplish at the time. It is four notable German-American women. Even within her narrow community Annie was outshined by her close neighbors the Sussdorfs whose womenfolk founded a local Sunday school and provided support for the church to which they and the Windmullers belonged. Regarding the social whirl, the Windmuller family does appear in the Social Register but the only Windmuller parties you'll find in the newspapers of the time are privately family ones and the Windmullers are never seen out coaching or at Newport or even in connection with their socially-prominent daughter in law, Adolph's wife Carolyn Hague, known as Madam Thurn.

[8] In 1901 Windmuller made Julius secretary in the Legal Aid Society, which he had helped to found and of which he was treasurer. In 1903 Windmuller helped found the Maiden Lane Bank for Savings in the building where he had previously helped found the Maiden Lane Safe Deposit Company. Here are excerpts from an article about the bank.
At the time of the establishment of the Maiden Lane Savings Bank — 1903, under the General Banking Law — it was estimated that there were about 150,000 clerks and workingmen employed in the Jewelry District, who were all earning good wages and of whom at least 25 per cent. were living either in New Jersey or on Long Island and did not have the time to make deposits in the banks in the neighborhood where they lived. In order to give these people proper facilities for depositing their surplus earn-ings without inconvenience, it was proposed to establish a new Savings Bank in that section of the city and to keep it open for receiving deposits from 9 o'clock in the morning until 5:30 in the evening, Saturdays included. It was proposed to locate the bank in the basement of the building at the corner of Maiden Lane and Broadway, where the Maiden Lane Safe Deposit Company had their premises. ... The board of directors of the Maiden Lane Safe Deposit Company was approached with the proposition to rent space in their premises and the proposition was met in a liberal manner. ... The rapid increase in deposits is ample proof that a Savings Bank was needed in the down-town section of the Borough of Manhattan. ... First officers: Louis Windmiiller, president; J. Heynen, secretary-treasurer. -- Century of American savings banks, pub. under the auspices of the Savings banks association of the state of New York in commemoration of the centenary of savings banks in America (New York : B. F. Buck & company, 1917)

[9] In 1919 Julius was elected to the board of directors of the Colonial. SeeThe Rudder, Volume 35 (Fawcett Publications, 1919).

1 comment:

Deniz said...

This is a fabulous post, thank you for all of your hard work - it is much appreciated -