Deceased , Historic

James Gordon

Bennett Jr.

1841 - 1918

A controversial figure, James Gordon Bennett, Jr. was the publisher of the New York Herald, the champion of the first transoceanic race, and the youngest Commodore of the New York Yacht Club.

James Gordon Bennett, Jr. was publisher of the New York Herald, founded by his father, James Gordon Bennett, Sr. He was generally known as Gordon Bennett to distinguish him from his father, and has been linked to the expletive “Gordon Bennett!” used mostly in the UK. Bennett was educated primarily in France. In 1866, the elder Bennett turned control of the Herald over to his son. Bennett raised the paper’s profile on the world stage when he provided the financial backing for the 1869 expedition by Henry Morton Stanley into Africa to find David Livingstone. In 1861, Bennett volunteered his newly-built schooner yacht, Henrietta, for the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service during the Civil War. She patrolled Long Island until February 1862 when she was sent to Port Royal, South Carolina. On March 3, 1862, Bennett, commanding Henrietta, was part of the fleet which captured Fernandina, Florida. In 1866, Bennett won the first transoceanic yacht race. The race was between three American yachts: Vesta, Fleetwing and Henrietta. They started off Sandy Hook, New Jersey, on December 11, 1866, amid high westerly winds and raced to The Needles, the furthest westerly point on the Isle of Wight, famous for its lighthouse. Bennett’s Henrietta won with a time of 13 days, 21 hours, 55 minutes. Controversially, Gordon Bennett often scandalized society with his flamboyant and sometimes erratic behavior. In 1877, he left New York for Europe after an incident that ended his engagement to socialite Caroline May. According to various accounts, he arrived late and drunk to a party at the May family mansion, and then urinated into a fireplace (some say grand piano) in full view of his hosts.

Settling in Paris, he launched the Paris edition of the New York Herald, titled The Paris Herald, the forerunner of the International Herald Tribune. He backed George W. DeLong’s voyage to the North Pole via the Bering Strait. The ill-fated expedition led to the deaths from starvation of DeLong and 19 of his crew, a tragedy that only increased the paper’s circulation. He was also co-founder of the Commercial Cable Company, a venture to break the transatlantic cable monopoly held by Jay Gould. Bennett established the Gordon Bennett Cup for international yachting and the Gordon Bennett Cup for automobile races. In 1906, he funded the Gordon Bennett Cup in ballooning (Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett), which continues to this day. In 1909, Bennett offered a trophy for the fastest speed on a closed circuit for airplanes. From 1896 to 1914, the champion of Paris USFSA football (soccer) received a trophy offered by Gordon Bennett.

In 1880, Bennett commissioned McKim, Mead, and White to design the Newport Casino in Newport, Rhode Island. The Stade de Roland Garros, site of the French Open, is on the Avenue Gordon Bennett. Asteroid 305 Gordonia is named after him. The following were taken from the Queene Hooper Foster Heritage Series Lecture on James Gordon Bennett Jr., September 17, 1998: With its publisher’s interest in maritime affairs, the Herald always carried a detailed shipping news section, and an extensive weather report, well before there was any weather service. It also carried full yacht race coverage, America’s Cup coverage and even New York Yacht Club Board Meeting minutes on the front page. A misuse of a nautical term in any article in the paper could get the author into deep trouble. A crow’s nest mentioned on a vessel that didn’t have a crow’s nest would excommunicate its author. “Why was that damned fool allowed to write that shipwreck story? Doesn’t he know the wind and tide in that neighborhood never perform as he states it? Never let him touch a sea story again.”

Commodore Bennett always had a great interest in the latest technology, and his reporters kept him informed: in 1899 he heard about an experimenter named Marconi, and he sent $5,000 to him if he would come to America and report on the America’s
Cup, transmitting the news directly to the Herald by wireless. In 1907, stock quotes were transmitted to a vessel by wireless courtesy of the Herald, to be hoisted in signal flags for the benefit of members during the NYYC Annual Cruise.

Sailing-related Accomplishments and Honors:
● At the age of 16 and 3 months, was the youngest member ever admitted to the New York Yacht Club
● Youngest Commodore of the New York Yacht Club
● Champion, sailing Henrietta, in the first transoceanic yacht race, with a time of 13 days, 21 hours, 55 minutes
● Established the Gordon Bennett Cup for International Yachting (as well asseveral other sports that he promoted, including automobile racing, pugilism, polo and balloon racing)
● 1872 Put up two important trophies, the Cape May Challenge Cup and the Brenton Reef Challenge Cup, both of which inspired intense racing for decades

[searchandfilter id="7549"]

Preserving America’s Sailing Legacy

Engaging Sailing’s Next Generation

Stay Connected to the National Sailing Hall of Fame