Henry Osborne Havemeyer was a successful manufacturer who improved and expanded the sugar refining properties which had been in his family since their immigration from Germany in the early 1800s. The Havemeyers enjoyed a strong position in the industry, and considerable financial resources. Thus they were able in 1887 to take a leading role in the organization of most of the nation's refiners into a trust, the Sugar Refineries Co. This aggregation of 15 plants was declared illegal in 1890, but Havemeyer place the properties in a holding company which, in 1892, controlled about 90 percent of the nation's sugar refining capacity. Havemeyer continued at the head of this company, the American Sugar Refining Co., until his death. By 1907 the company had been found guilty of accepting illegal railroad rebates, it faced an antitrust suit and charges of systematic cheating on custom duties, and its treasury had been weakened both by a price war and by unprofitable investments. After Henry's death, stockholders in the company discovered that the Havemeyer family owned less than a thousand of the 900,000 shares outstanding. Havemeyer was first married to
Mary Louise Elder [1847-1897], from whom he was divorced without children. He married secondly, on 22 August 1883, to Mary Louis' niece, Louisine Waldron Elder, [1855-1929]. Born in New York City, she was the daughter of George W. Elder [1831-1873], a wealthy sugar refiner, and Mathilda Adelaide Waldron Elder [1837-1907]. In 1873, while attending the fashionable Paris boarding school of Mme. Marie Del Sarte, she met the American painter Mary Cassatt, who helped to introduce her to the avant-garde schools of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. Soon afterward, Louisine became the first American patron of Degas. Louisine and Henry Osborne had three children, Horace [1886-1956], Adaline [later Mrs. Peter H.B. Frelinghuysen, 1884-1963], and Electra [later Mrs. James Watson Webb, 1888-1960]. In 1899 the Havemeyers built a mansion on Fifth Avenue, with an interior designed by Louis C. Tiffany studios, where Mrs. Havemeyer entertained a diversified group of celebrities. The Havemeyer's became prodigious art collectors; Mrs. Havemeyer herself made more than 30 transatlantic buying trips. The Havemeyer collection was bequeathed by Louisine to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.