Harry Elkins Widener
|Died||April 15, 1912 (aged 27)|
|Alma mater||Harvard University (A.B., 1907)|
|Occupation||Businessman, book collector|
|Known for||Namesake of Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library|
Harry Elkins Widener (January 3, 1885 – April 15, 1912) was an American businessman and bibliophile, and a member of the Widener family. His mother built Harvard University's Widener Memorial Library in his memory, after his death on the foundering of the RMS Titanic.
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Widener was the son of George Dunton Widener (1861–1912) and Eleanor Elkins Widener, and the grandson of entrepreneur Peter A. B. Widener (1834–1915). He attended The Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, and graduated from Harvard College in 1907, where he was a member of Hasty Pudding Theatricals and the Owl Club. Widener's godfather was the British banking magnate, Charles Mills, the 2nd Baron Hillingdon.
Along with his parents, in April 1912 Widener boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg, France bound for New York City. As the ship sank Widener's mother and her maid were rescued, but Widener, his father, and his father's valet perished. In 1915, Widener's mother donated the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library to Harvard in his memory. Two buildings at the Hill School are also dedicated to Widener, and stained glass windows at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania are dedicated to Widener and his father.
A Harvard legend holds that in order to spare others her son's fate, Widener's mother insisted (as a condition of her gift) that future Harvard graduates be required to learn to swim. However, while Harvard indeed implemented a swimming test in the 1920s (later dropped), this had nothing to do with Widener.
Widener was a member of the Grolier Club. Book collector and dealer George Sidney Hellman, writing soon after Widener's death, commented on
the excellence of his technical knowledge ... His enthusiasm as a collector and his winning personality ... afforded many opportunities of obtaining treasures whose acquisition cannot be explained alone on the basis of the wealth which he commanded. Had he not perished in the Titanic catastrophe, beyond question ... his library would surely have eventually become one of the greatest collections of books in modern times. [He] was not satisfied alone in having a rare book or a rare book inscribed by the author; it was with him a prerequisite that the volume should be in immaculate condition.