Historical Information > James Pinchot
James Wallace Pinchot (1831 - 1908)
Pinchot made a fortune first importing, then later manufacturing,
fine Victorian wall papers. Friends described him as gentle, intelligent
and distinguished, with a keen interest in public affairs. He held
strong notions about right and wrong in public life and loved the
Counted among his friends were the esteemed actor Edwin Booth (brother
of John Wilkes) and artists like Sanford Gifford and Eastman Johnson.
Poets, philosophers, generals and politicians--William Cullen Bryant,
Bayard Taylor, Launt Thompson, William T. Sherman, Charles P. Stone,
James Roosevelt, the elder Theodore Roosevelt and John Jay--rounded
out the list. His friendships with Richard Morris Hunt and Frederick
Law Olmsted thrived in a mutual interest to improve the quality
of urban and domestic life.
James belonged to a number of important New York organizations,
including the Century Association, the Union League Club, the Players
Club, the Grolier Society, and the New York Chamber of Commerce.
The Cosmos and Metropolitan Clubs in Washington, D.C. held his memberships
as well. These not only nurtured his artistic and intellectual pursuits,
but were the engines of power that ran New York and much of the
nation in the l9th century.
Into these organizations, and after their college graduations,
James brought his sons, Gifford and Amos . The boys soon struck
up acquaintances with Theodore Roosevelt, Cordell Hull, Elihu Root,
Henry L. Stimson and others -- all inducted by their fathers and
all eventually to play major roles in national politics.
James' popularity and contacts made him a natural choice to lobby
in Washington for legislation to accept the Statue of Liberty. As
a member of the Executive Committee, he helped push through the
design and construction of its pedestal on Liberty Island. With
others, James founded and was a principal benefactor of both the
National Academy of Design and the American Museum of Natural History.
He reputedly helped organize the first Model Tenement Associations
in the United States to improve living conditions for New York City's
His abhorrence of wastefulness made him a mainstay of the American
Forestry Association, which sought as early as 1875 to halt the
reckless destruction of natural resources by employing conservative
management. With his wife, Mary, he endowed the Yale School of Forestry
and established at Milford the first forest experiment station in
the nation to encourage the reforestation of denuded lands.
To the town of Milford he donated his former house for a library,
the use of Forest Hall for meetings (built for the Yale School of
Forestry), land for a cemetery and a design for it prepared at his
expense by the Olmsted Brothers in 1906.
James Pinchot's means of gaining wealth were once described as
having created no slums, fouled no rivers, corrupted no politicians,
wasted no valuable resources and enslaved no workers. His philosophy
embraced the Utilitarianism of John Stuart Mill, which defined social
good as "the greatest happiness for the greatest number of
The Pinchot children adopted the same attitude. With fathers like
James Pinchot, it's little wonder the Progressives, a political
party which Gifford and Amos helped found, bore no love for "the
malefactors of great wealth," as Theodore Roosevelt branded
those who pursued private profit at the expense of public good.
One of the chief inheritances Gifford and Amos received from their
father was the sense of struggle between right and wrong in the
world, that they were among the select few chosen to defend the
masses from the corrupt. Their weapons, provided mostly by their
parents and relatives, were education, trained wit, contacts and
the financial freedom to become crusaders.
Mary Jane Eno Pinchot (1838 - 1914)
Jane Eno entered the world within a wealthy family in New York City
and married James Pinchot there in 1864. She was well schooled in
manners and active socially. Since the couple lived in the mansions
of relatives until the 1880's, their family life was a bit unordinary.
She traveled extensively with her children--and with friends like
General Sherman--and lived in France for several years in the 1870s,
with James commuting between New York and Paris.
Mary doted on her children, especially Gifford, who remained a
bachelor until near her death. She tended to be possessive toward
him, and often expressed concern about his physical condition when
he was young. Gifford occasionally rebelled with excessive athleticism,
usually followed by remorse.
In 1900, James and Mary sold their house in New York City and purchased
one in Washington, D.C. where they could watch more closely over
Giffords career. He lived at home and, after his fathers
death in 1908, drew most of his mothers attention. Mary acquired
a reputation as a bountiful hostess, serving Giffords frequent
and sometimes large gatherings of up to 300 people at their lavish
Mary loved to collect objects of fine craftsmanship. Her set of
antique fans was borrowed for display by the Smithsonian Institution
in 1908. Too ill to attend Giffords wedding in 1914, she died
a few days later at the Eno family home in Connecticut. Gifford
was extremely attached to his mother and named his yacht the Mary
Pinchot before his voyage to the South Seas.