Guide to the Microfilm Edition

Collection Summary


This collection consists of correspondence, addresses, and other papers of financiers August Belmont, Sr. and August Belmont, Jr.

Biographical Sketches

August Belmont (1813-1890), financier, politician, and diplomat, was born August Schonburg, the son of Simon and Frederika Schonberg of Alzey, Rhenish Prussia (now Germany). As a young boy, he began an apprenticeship at the Frankfurt banking office of the Rothschild family. In 1837, on his way to Havana on Rothschild business, Belmont arrived in New York City in the midst of the financial Panic of 1837. He remained in New York City, and after the Rothschild business there failed, he founded his own financial services company, August Belmont and Co. He later served as consul general to Austria, minister to the Netherlands, and was active in Democratic politics. Belmont died in New York City on 24 November 1890, leaving his wife Catherine Slidell (Perry) Belmont (1829-1892) and five children.

August Belmont, Jr. (1853-1924) was born in New York to August Belmont, Sr. and Catherine Slidell (Perry) Belmont. A graduate of St. Mark's School and Harvard University (Class of 1875), Belmont became a financier, working first for his father's company, August Belmont and Co. He founded the Interborough Transit Company in 1902 to finance the construction of New York City's subway system and was instrumental in the promotion and construction of the Cape Cod Canal. Belmont was married twice: to Elizabeth Hamilton Morgan (1862-1898), with whom he had three children, and to actress Eleanor Robson (1879-1979). Belmont died 10 December 1924 at his apartment on Park Avenue in New York.

Collection Description

This collection consists of correspondence, addresses, and other papers of financiers August Belmont, Sr. and August Belmont, Jr. Correspondents include William Waldorf Astor, Newton D. Baker, Josephus Daniels, Stuyvesant Fish, George W. Goethals, W. Averell Harriman, Henry Cabot Lodge, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson.

The papers of August Belmont, Sr. consist of typescript translations of correspondence with his father and sister Babette, 1828-1841. These letters concern his early financial training in the Rothschild office at Frankfurt, 1829-1830, and his activities in New York City, 1836-1841, while serving as agent for the Rothschild firm. His letters contain commentary on American culture and his personal life, including a duel of honor fought with William Hayward in September 1841.

The papers of August Belmont, Jr. relate mainly to the engineering, building, and financing of the Cape Cod Canal, 1907-1924, but also include letters concerning the construction of the Belmont Tunnel in New York, Belmont's horse racing interests, and other enterprises. The bulk of the collection consists of correspondence documenting Belmont's presidency of the Cape Cod Construction Co. and the Boston, New York and Cape Cod Canal Co. Included are letters from officials of these companies about the engineering, financing, and construction of the canal. Chief correspondents during this period include vice-presidents of the firm H. P. Wilson, Captain J. W. Miller, and chief engineer William Barclay Parsons. Copies of construction contracts from 1909 contain specifications for the canal. Negotiations for agreements on land and water rights and access bridges are detailed in correspondence with local Cape Cod authorities, legislators, and officers of the New Haven Railroad. Included are minutes of directors' meetings and occasional correspondence with W. Averell Harriman and other directors.

Papers relating to the opening of the canal on 29 July 1914 include letters and telegrams of congratulations from William G. McAdoo, W. Averell Harriman, Nathan Straus, Harry Payne Whitney, and Woodrow Wilson. Other papers pertain to the opening ceremonies presided over by Seth Low and Belmont's arrangements for guests making the initial canal trip. Included are copies of addresses, notes, and telegrams acknowledging invitations to the event. Among the correspondents are Stuyvesant Fish, New York Governor Martin H. Glynn, and Eleanor Roosevelt.

The operations of the Cape Cod Canal, 1917-1935, are documented in Belmont's correspondence, reports on traffic, statistical surveys, copies of proposed legislation surrounding government takeover of the facility, and additional reports received and collected by Belmont's wife after his death in 1924. The lengthy litigation over government seizure of the canal in 1917 and negotiations over compensation are documented in papers from 1917-1924. Of special interest is correspondence with special counsel Sherman L. Whipple, 1919-1921. Boston law firms Currier and Young and Innes and Turtle also represented Belmont's interests. Included are corroborative depositions of engineering expert General George W. Goethals, operating accounts, correspondence with legislators sympathetic to Belmont's cause, and exchanges with Secretaries of War Newton D. Baker and John W. Weeks.

The papers of Eleanor (Robson) Belmont relate to a memorial tablet placed at the site of the Cape Cod Canal in memory of her husband in 1935-1936 and proposals for improvements to the canal while under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1935. Correspondence from 1959 to 1965 pertains to the publication of an edition of The Building of the Cape Cod Canal about the history of the canal and Belmont's role in its construction.

Acquisition Information

Gift of Mrs. August Belmont, March 1971.

Reel List

Reel 1
Reel 2
Reel 3
Reel 4
Reel 5

Preferred Citation

August Belmont papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

Access Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in ABIGAIL, the online catalog of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Researchers desiring materials about related persons, organizations, or subjects should search the catalog using these headings.


Astor, William Waldorf Astor, Viscount, 1848-1919.
Baker, Newton Diehl, 1871-1937.
Belmont, August, Sr., 1813-1890.
Belmont, Eleanor Robson, 1879-
Daniels, Josephus, 1862-1948.
Fish, Stuyvesant, 1851-1923.
Goethals, George W. (George Washington), 1858-1928.
Harriman, W. Averell (William Averell), 1891-1986.
Lodge, Henry Cabot, 1850-1924.
Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962.
Wilson, Woodrow, 1856-1924.


Boston, New York and Cape Cod Canal Company.
Cape Cod Canal Company.
Rothschilds and Company (Germany).


Cape Cod Canal (Mass.).
Capitalists and financiers.