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John Insley Blair

john insley blair, john insley blair biography
John Insley Blair August 22, 1802 – December 2, 18992 was an American entrepreneur, railroad magnate, philanthropist and one of the 19th century's wealthiest men


  • 1 Biography
  • 2 Holdings and joint holdings
  • 3 Notable philanthropy
  • 4 Children
  • 5 References
  • 6 External links


Blair's parents, John Blair and Rachel Insley, immigrated from Scotland; he was the fourth child of ten children3 He was born at Foul Rift in White Township, New Jersey,4 just south of Belvidere, and at the age of two the Blair family moved to a farm near Hope Township, New Jersey4 Even as a youth, Blair displayed a keen interest in the acquisition of wealth At the age of ten, he is reported to have told his mother, "I have seven brothers and three sisters That's enough in the family to be educated I am going to get rich"4 The young Blair began earning money by trapping wild rabbits and muskrats and selling their skins at a price of sixteen for a dollar4 The next year, Blair began working at a general store owned by his cousin John,4 and at the age of seventeen he founded a store of his own with his cousin as an equal partner,4 located in the community of Butt's Bridge, New Jersey On August 25, 1825, the name of the community was changed to Gravel Hill and Blair was appointed postmaster, a position he retained until July, 18515 He married Nancy Ann Locke on September 20, 1826, and the couple had four children: Emma Elizabeth, Marcus Laurence, DeWitt Clinton, and Aurelia Ann3 Blair bought out his cousin's share of their store and expanded operations4 By 1830, he owned five stores, each one run by one of his brothers4

On January 24, 1839, Gravel Hill was officially renamed Blairstown, New Jersey 2000 Population of 5,747 in Blair's honor5 He established Blair, Nebraska by purchasing a 1,075-acre 435 km2 tract of land in Nebraska on May 10, 1869 after the Sioux City and Pacific Rail Road chose to cross the Missouri river at that location

Blair managed his multimillion-dollar businesses from rural Blairstown, New Jersey or from his private rail car upon which it was common for him to log 40,000 miles 64,000 km annually3 As president of 16 railroad companies, he amassed a fortune estimated at $70 million3 Blair was the largest owner of rail mileage in the world3 His religion as a Presbyterian and penchant for philanthropy led him to found more than 100 churches in close proximity to his railroads6 In 1873, he was also an investor in the Green Bay and Minnesota Railroad, and the namesake of Blair, Wisconsin7

He died in Blairstown, New Jersey4

Holdings and joint holdingsedit

  • Lackawanna Coal and Iron Company 1846
  • Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad 1852
  • Union Pacific Railroad 1860
  • president, director, or joint in 20+ others

Notable philanthropyedit

  • Blair Academy Founded 18488
  • Lafayette College Easton, Pennsylvania
  • Grinnell College Grinnell, Iowa
  • Princeton University Princeton, New Jersey
    • Endowed a geology professorship, first held by Arnold Henry Guyot6 The endowed chair is the second oldest at the school; as of the start of the 2000-01 school year there were 172 such endowed chairs9
    • Served as trustee from 1866 until his death In remarks at his installation as trustee, Blair noted that he had received little formal education and had spent most of his life as a businessman learning addition, but that now "I have come to Princeton to learn subtraction"6
    • Provided funds to build Blair Hall, which was constructed in 1897 by Cope & Stewardson6


  • Emma Elizabeth Blair who married Charles Scribner I
  • Marcus Laurence Blair
  • Aurelia Ann Blair Mitchell
  • DeWitt Clinton Blair continued businesses and expanded his father's philanthropy and had as his son, C Ledyard Blair
  • Episcopal bishop John Insley Blair Larned was named after him


  1. ^ Bertholf, Jr, Kenneth; Dorflinger, Don 2011 Blairstown and Its Neighbors Arcadia p 7 
  2. ^ "John Insley Blair Dead" New York Times December 3, 1899 
  3. ^ a b c d e Blair Family Papers: Biographical Sketch of John Insley Blair Archived 2007-03-12 at the Wayback Machine, accessed December 31, 2006
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i "John Insley Blair Dead Leaves a Name for Philanthropy and Many Millions Blairstown, His Home, Famous His Determination to Acquire Wealth His Vast Railroad, Mining, and Financial Enterprises", The New York Times, December 3, 1899
  5. ^ a b Blairstown, Past and Present: An Historical Narrative, accessed December 31, 2006 Archived September 27, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ a b c d Princeton University: Blair Hall, accessed December 31, 2006
  7. ^ Edward P Blair Spring 1993 Mona Mattingly, ed "A Place Called Blair: Wisconsin" Blair Family Magazine Blair Society for Genealogical Research Retrieved July 1, 2010 
  8. ^ History of Blair Academy Archived 2006-12-03 at the Wayback Machine, accessed December 31, 2006
  9. ^ Endowed professorships, Princeton Weekly Bulletin, accessed December 31, 2006

External linksedit

  • Blair Society
  • Papers of John Insley Blair
Party political offices
Preceded by
Marcus Lawrence Ward
Republican Nominee for Governor of New Jersey
Succeeded by
Cornelius Walsh

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