John George Alexander Leishman

John George Alexander Leishman

John George Alexander Leishman (1857-1924) was an American businessman and diplomat. He worked in various executive positions at Carnegie Steel Company and later served as an ambassador for the United States.


John George Alexander Leishman was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on March 28, 1857, the only son of Scots-Irish immigrants.cite book |last=Dickson |first=William B. |title=History of Carnegie Veterans Association |publisher=Mountain Press |date=1938 |location=Montclair ] cite book |title =Who Was Who in America |publisher= | date =1897-1942 | location = | pages =page 720 | url = | doi = | id = | isbn = ]

His father John B. Leishman drowned in the Allegheny River the same year in which he was born. Leishman began a lifetime of work at age ten, as an assistant for a Pittsburgh physician. Over the next seventeen years, Leishman would rise to become a trusted confidant of both Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Carnegie.


Prior to his entry into the Carnegie service, John Leishman had been in the service of Shoenberger Steel Company, as what was termed a "mud clerk". Mud clerks were the steel industry’s representatives on the river wharf, responsible for tracking the shipping of goods: the arrival of raw materials and the departure of finished products. To guarantee efficiency and success, mud clerks lived 24 hours a day in small sheds on the riverbank. This work led first to an unsuccessful venture as an independent steel broker and then a successful partnership with his friend and colleague from Shoenberger Steel, William Penn Snyder.

As senior partner in Leishman and Snyder, Leishman caught the attention of Andrew Carnegie, who convinced Leishman to enter Carnegie's service on October 1, 1884, as Special Sales Agent. Carnegie saw more than a little of himself in the younger man; throughout his life, Carnegie continued to think of Leishman as one of his “boys” and included Leishman in the official “History of the Carnegie Veterans Association”. Leishman occupied the following positions: Vice Chairman, Carnegie Brothers & Company, Ltd.; Vice President and Treasurer, Carnegie Steel Company and President, Carnegie Steel Company.The Romance of Steel: The Story of a Thousand Millionaires,” by Herbert N Cassar, page 149]

The Leishmans' social and business connections provided entrée into an extraordinarily exclusive circle of sixty-odd families, called the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club. It was conceived as an idyllic summer colony, bought and developed by Henry Clay Frick in Cambria County, Pennsylvania, a short, convenient train ride away from the smoke and soot of Pittsburgh’s industry. To create the summer colony, an abandoned Pennsylvania Railroad earthen dam was rebuilt and increased in size to create a mountaintop reservoir for pleasure boating, which was named Lake Conemaugh. Among the Club’s members were Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Mellon. The Club’s earthen dam failed on May 31, 1889, contributing to the Johnstown Flood disaster.

Many of the Pittsburgh members of the Club were hastily assembled in an ad hoc meeting and formed “The Pittsburgh Relief Committee.” Two decisions were made at that meeting. One was to make immediate, generous and tangible gifts to help the flood relief efforts. The other was a pledge never to speak of the Club or the Flood in public or in private. All litigation was handled by attorneys Philander Knox and his partner James Hay Reed, of the firm Knox and Reed (now Reed Smith LLP), both of whom were themselves South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club members."The Johnstown Flood", David McCullough, 1995] “Henry Clay Frick: An Intimate Portrait,” Martha Frick Symington Sanger, Abbeville Press 1998]

On July 23, 1892, Alexander Berkman, a self-proclaimed anarchist, sought to destroy Henry Clay Frick, the man Berkman blamed for the carnage of the Homestead steel strike in the preceding weeks. Armed with a pistol and a sharpened rat-tailed file, Berkman gained easy access to the headquarters of Carnegie Steel and found his way into the second floor private office of the chairman, 43-year-old Henry Clay Frick. Berkman forced his way into Frick's private office on the heels of a porter who had taken in his card. He opened fire, and Frick fell to the ground with three bullets in his body. Berkman was fended off by Leishman, Frick’s second in command, who was in Frick’s office at the time."My Life" by Emma Goldman]

Amid the growing rancor between Frick and Carnegie, Leishman attempted to steer a middle course. This was thwarted when Frick engaged a stratagem to orchestrate the ouster of the man who has saved his life from the presidency of Carnegie Steel, and his removal from the Western Pennsylvanian business scene. Frick alerted Carnegie to Leishman's speculation in the stock market, a practice that Carnegie engaged in freely, but abhorred in his subordinates. Frick worked behind the scenes, with Philander Knox to see that Leishman would be offered the post as ambassador to Switzerland.

Under pressure from both men, Leishman withdrew from Carnegie service in June 1897, to accept the appointment by President William McKinley as United States Ambassador to Switzerland. Thereafter, Leishman served as United States Ambassador to Turkey, United States Ambassador to Italy and United States Ambassador to Germany.

Years later, as a board member of the Equitable Life Insurance Company, Frick used a similar scheme to wheedle the removal of James Hazen Hyde (the founder's only son and heir) from the United States to France by seeking an appointment for him to become United States Ambassador to France. Unlike Leishman a decade before, Hyde, rebuffed Frick's plan. However, Hyde did go to live in France, where he met and eventually married Leishman's eldest daughter, Marthe.

While serving in Turkey, Leishman was instrumental in effecting the safe release of missionary Miss Ellen Stone [Carpenter, Teresa, "The Miss Stone Affair", Simon and Schuster, 2003] as well as bringing about the purchase of the first overseas property to serve as a United States embassy, the Palazzo Corpi. [] While serving in Italy, Leishman purchased the much beloved and often reproduced painting called the Madonna of the Streets. The painting's current whereabouts is not known.

Marriage and children

On September 9, 1880, at Homewood Chapel, Leishman married Julia Crawford, the daughter of Edward Crawford of Pittsburgh, and his wife, Nancy Fergussen. To them were born three children, Martha (1882-1944), Nancy (1894-1983) and John, Jr (1887-1942).

Leishman's children made European marriages that were much talked of at the time,mostly because they wed above their social class -Martha (who later styled herself Marthe) married first Count Louis de Gontaut-Biron, and secondly the heir to the AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company (formerly The Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States) fortune, James Hazen HydeThe Associated Press, Sketch #2459, issued July 1, 1936: “James Hazen Hyde.”] (their son was Henry Baldwin Hyde of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in World War II.cite news |first=Wolfgang |last=Saxon |title=Henry Hyde is Dead at 82: Wartime Spymaster for O.S.S. |url=
work=New York Times |date=1997-04-08
] As the Countess de Gontaut-Biron, Marthe was couturier Coco Chanel's first "aristocratic" client. ["Chanel: A Woman of Her Own", by Axel Madsen, 1991]

Nancy married first Karl, 13th Prince von Croy, of the House of Croy, amid extensive newspaper coverage in Europe and the United States of a notoriety not to be surpassed until the romance between Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII, because Kaiser Wilhelm II refused to give his permission for their marriage; Nancy,being a commoner and an American,was not considered a good match for the prince. Karl's aunt, the formidable Archduchess Isabella, wife of Archduke Friedrich, Duke of Teschen, was chief among the European nobility who vehemently protested the match. [“Miss Leishman Weds Duke of Croy,” New York Times, October 25, 1913, page 1.] They were wed, nonetheless; today their grandson is the present Duke of Croy. Nancy married secondly Andreas d'Oldenberg, Danish ambassador to France.

John Jr. was for a time married to Elizabeth Helene Demarest, whose daughter by her subsequent marriage to Lord Alastair Sutherland-Leveson-Gower is Elizabeth Millicent Leveson-Gower, 24th Countess of Sutherland."After the Ball", Patricia Beard] [ [ - Main Page ] ]

Later life

As a result of the impasse between himself and Kaiser Wilhelm II which was created by his daughter Nancy's marriage to Karl von Croy, Leishman left Berlin and retired to private life in 1914. His wife Julia died in 1918; Leishman, on March 27, 1924--both in Monte Carlo. They are buried in the Cemeterie de Monaco. [cite news |title=J. G. Leishman Dies: A Former Diplomat |url=
work=New York Times |date=1924-03-28 |page=17


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