The son of a bricklayer, Peter A.B. Widener went to public schools in Philadelphia and after a little high school began working as a butcher. Through saving and borrowing he amassed enough money to open his own meat shop, which he expanded to become one of the first chains of meat stores in the country. Widener realized the importance of political power, so he pursued several minor Philadelphia city offices which led to his election as City Treasurer. He used the salary of that position to pursue his interest in public transportation, his involvement with which ultimately created his fortune. In partnership with William Elkins, Widener came to have control over several lines of the Philadelphia streetcar system. Widener was one of the "traction kings" who promoted the use of electric power for cable cars and whose influence spread beyond his native city to Chicago and New York. Widener also wielded power in the financial world, owning large blocks of stock in steel, oil, and railroads. In 1858 Widener married Hannah Josephine Dunton [c.1836-1896] with whom he had three children, two of whom predeceased him: Henry, who died at age 15 of typhoid, George, who died in 1912 aboard the Titanic, and Joseph Early [1871/1872-1943]. The Widener home, Lynnewood Hall in Elkins Park outside Philadelphia, housed an extensive collection of paintings, sculpture, decorative art and porcelains, which was ultimately donated to the National Gallery in 1942, through Joseph Widener.
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Walker, John. Self-Portrait with Donors. Boston, 1974.
Lewis, Michael J."'He was not a Connoisseur': Peter Widener and his House." Nineteenth Century 12, no. 3 and 4 (1993): 27-36.
Quodbach, Esmé. "'The last of the American Versailles': the Widener Collection at Lynnewood Hall." Simiolus 29, no. 1/2 (2002): 42-96.
Minty, Nancy T. Dutch and Flemish Seventeeth-Century Art in America, 1800-1940: Collections, Connoisseurship and Perceptions. Ph.D. diss, New York University, 2003:172-194, 444-494