HOME | FAMILY TREES | RECOLLECTIONS | STRICTLY SOLVAY | ETC. | READ ABOUT IT | NAME DROPPING
 


For the first nineteen years of his life, William Bateman Leeds Jr., could have been called "The Boy in the Bubble." There was nothing seriously wrong with him, as things turned out, but his mother, the former Nonnie May Stewart Worthington Leeds, who in 1920 became Princess Anastasia of Greece, seemed to think he was unusually frail. So she coddled the boy, thought often did it from long distance through a team of nannies and nurses.

And since her son had inherited a lot of money from his father, the princess made sure her boy was well protected against kidnappers, even when she was on another continent, as she often was during the period he was educated in the United States. Later she felt he would be better off in Europe.

And so, in 1911, when Mrs. Leeds went to London for an extended visit, she set this agenda for her son, who was then nine years old:

“I think I shall educate William in England. You see, he is fortunately or unfortunately wealthy in his own right. He will grow up to be ‘rich’ and I do not think that the sons of American millionaires are a particular credit to society because in their idleness they become dissipated. They do not work and most of them drink.

“Hostesses here often have to apologize for the condition of their young men guests, whereas in England no man would ever appear twice in an intoxicated state. Of course, the young men in the social life of England do not work, but they go in for sports and are healthy, strong and normal – and they do not drink as much as the idle young men of America.”

Exactly where William B. Leeds went to school from 1911 through 1920, I don't know. There was a period when he was enrolled in a private school in New Jersey where is mother had leased or purchased an estate. Whether he moved to England and began school there soon after her 1911 interview, I do not know. He must have spent several of his formative years there, however, because by adulthood he apparently spoke with a British accent.

Soon after his mother married Prince Christopher, she surprised some people by saying, “My son, William B. Leeds Jr. will remain in America. Were it not for his asthmatic condition I would try to put him in the American Navy, but he would be unable to pass the medical examination. I want William to become a useful citizen of his native land. And I hope he marries an American girl.”

So asthma might have been at the heart of the frequent stories about the boy's frail condition. But in 1915, when he accompanied his mother on a visit to Switzerland, he apparently seemed like a normal, healthy and active 13-year-old. He certainly would become an active adult ... almost hyperactive, given his almost non-stop travels.

By 1921, Leeds Jr. was out of his bubble, becoming a certified globe-trotter. He was in Sumatra when he learned that his mother was seriously ill. He had an unexpected, but temporary health problem of his own – a badly infected insect bite – but he headed for Greece, completing the last leg of his journey, from London to Athens, by airplane. In those days flying was still a bit of a novelty; dangerous, too. His mother urged him to come by boat, but he paid no heed.

 
New York Evening Telegram, March 10, 1921

Princess Anastasia’s Son
Here, Arm Poisoned by Fly

William B. Leeds Jr., the nineteen-year-old son of Princess Anastasia of Greece, known as the “richest boy in the world,” arrived at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel yesterday afternoon after a record-breaking trip from Shanghai to consult with eminent New York surgeons to try to save his arm from being amputated. Leeds was bitten by a poisonous fly while hunting in Sumatra and, it is feared, the left arm bone has become infected.

Leeds arrived in San Francisco on February 24, accompanied by his uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. H. M. Green; a nurse and a Chinese valet. He had been in a Shanghai hospital for several weeks before starting for home.

Young Leeds, whose full name is William Bateman Leeds, was said to be in delicate health when his mother took him to Switzerland in 1915. From his father, who died in 1908 in Paris and who was one of the leaders in the tinplate industry in this country, he is said to have inherited $7,000,000, while his mother, who was the daughter of the late William C. Stewart, of Cleveland, inherited $14,000,000. Mother and son met the royal Greek exiles in Lucerne in the winter of 1917.

Before young Leeds accompanied his mother abroad, he had spent three years at the Montclair Academy, Montclair, N.J. There mother and son were established in a magnificent dwelling at No. 208 Mountain Avenue. The son was under constant care of a nurse and was guarded by detectives.

Young Leeds traveled in a horse-drawn coach to and from the academy, and on Sundays attended services at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in company with a number of female servants. Some of the time his mother spent in Europe, when daily cable letters to her described his condition of health and his activities. When she finally took him away, she is reported to have said, “Rich men in America grow dissipated,” and she wished to remove him from such influence.

 
About three weeks later he arrived in Athens, his arm healed and his mother relieved that he had had a safe trip. His presence momentarily revived her spirits and seemed to improve her health. But she suffered a setback when he again overruled his mother. This time it involved a life-changing decision.
 
New York Evening Telegram, April 4, 1921

W. B. Leeds Engaged to Wed
17-Year-Old Grecian Princess

ATHENS – William B. Leeds, son of Princess Anastasia of Greece, has become engaged to Princess Xenia, the seventeen-year-old second daughter of Grand Duchess Marie and niece of King Constantine, it has been announced.

The Princess Xenia-Georgievna was born in 1903. She also is the daughter of Grand Duke George Mikhailovitch.

The marriage will take place in June, probably in Athens, but the young couple plan to reside in America.

Mr. Leeds arrived here a few days ago by airplane to visit his mother, who is ill.

It is understood Mr. Leeds proposed the day following his arrival and was immediately accepted. Princess Anastasia was upset over the news and at first opposed the union, declaring her son was too young to marry, but later gave her consent.

Mr. Leeds, who is nineteen, is on his way to London to obtain a new wardrobe and will return to Athens within a fortnight.

 

It was later reported that Princess Anastasia was so opposed to the match that she cried for three days before finally accepting a match that may have been made for her son ... or perhaps a choice he had impulsively made on his own. (She must have known such a marriage was likely. Months earlier there was speculation her son would be matched with Princess Olga, granddaughter of King George I of Greece. She would go on to marry Prince Paul of Yugoslavia in 1923. One of their daughters, Elizabeth, was the mother of actress Catherine Oxenberg.)

News of the engagement did not sit well with Americans who agreed with an analysis that appeared in a small New York weekly newspaper (below). The writer's name and credentials are unknown, but I think it's safe to assume that the views expressed were widely held and that this article appeared in newspapers throughout the country. In short, all the money earned by a hard-working American was not being controlled by freeloading Greek royalty.

If the Greek royal family did pull all the strings, then they were in for a disappointment. Within a couple of years they'd be forced into exile, broke and sponging off royal relatives in other European countries. Leeds would offer some support, but most of his family's money that wound up in Greek pockets was put there by what his mother's will provided for Prince Christopher after she died in 1923.

Also, my reading of Princess Xenia, in view of her life in America, is that she had her own agenda, and it concerned her Russian roots and her Romanov relatives, not the Greek royal family her grandmother, Grand Duchess Olga Constantinova, had married into in 1867. Ironically, Princess Xenia might not have survived until 1921 if her mother, Princess Maria of Greece and Denmark, had felt the same way about her heritage.

Princess Maria's mother, Grand Duchess Olga, was Russian, but her father was King George I of Greece. After she married Grand Duke George Mikhailovitch of Russia, Princess Maria had to leave Greece, a land she loved. She did not adjust well to living in Russia and became increasingly unhappy in her marriage. In 1914 she took her two daughters, Nina and Xenia, and left for England, telling her husband it was because of the girls' health (which must have been a popular excuse in those days).

The outbreak of World War I prevented her from returning to Russia, something Princess Maria might have anticipated. Duke George Mikhailovitch never again saw his wife or his daughters. He was a general during the war; afterward, when the Russian Revolution broke out , he was imprisoned by the Bolsheviks, then shot by a firing squad in 1919.

These were turbulent times. Confusing, too. In a way, World War I continued well into the 1920s as European nations were in conflict over which country was entitled to huge chunks of territories that had gone back and forth for centuries. Revolution was in the air, not only in Russia, and in Greece the royal family was losing its grip on the throne.

When the dust settled, Princess Xenia seems to have decided that living in the United States was her best option. There Russian exiles lived freely, though not often well. Her situation, of course, would be different. Eventually, however, she'd manage to alienate most of her relatives who had managed to escape Russia.

Here is how one anonymous American journalist in 1921 analyzed the upcoming marriage which would further united the Leeds family and its fortune with the royal family of Greece:

 
Cato (NY) Citizen, May 5, 1921

Greek Royalty Gets Grip
on Leeds Millions

NEW YORK – Royalty, rather battered now by fortunes and misfortunes of European wars, seems in a fair way to get practically every penny of the “tin plate” millions of the American Leeds family. Good old America!

The great fortune built up by the late William B. Leeds, once Indiana florist, humble railroad worker, then manufacturer of tin plate, then railroad pyramider, is going for the benefit of impoverished titles of Greece.

News came from Athens the other day which, it is now disclosed here, means that royalty as represented by King Constantine of Greece and his relatives, have won the lone chance of getting the Leeds fortune.

King Plays Trump Card
And a seventeen-year-old girl was the “trump card” of the king of Greece in the game of royalty vs. American millions. The girl is Princess Xenia Georgievna, second daughter of Grand Duchess Marie and niece of King Constantine. She is to marry William B. Leeds Jr., nineteen-year-old son of the late W. B. Leeds and Mrs. Leeds, who is now Princess Anastasia of Greece.

Young Leeds is sole heir to the millions his father left from his exploits in Midwestern and Chicago finances. Mrs. Leeds, now Princess Anastasia, of course, has the use of the estate, variously estimated $30,000,000 to $40,000,000, but on her death, under the terms of the Leeds will, the whole estate goes to young Leeds or his heirs.

In other words, Greek royalty didn’t stand much chance of keeping the Leeds millions unless they got the son of Mrs. Leeds (Princess Anastasia) into the royal family some way or other.

Princess Anastasia has been ill of late, too. In fact, she has been so ill in Athens that young Leeds recently rushed from New York to France, then by airplane to Athens, to be at the bedside of his mother.

It is interesting to note that Athens press dispatches say that young Leeds proposed to Princess Xenia the day after he arrived in Athens to see his sick mother. He was promptly accepted. And Xenia’s acceptance means the battered and unlucky royalty can struggle along a few centuries more with the new riches, unless politics or whims of subjects change things from royalty to democracy.

Building the Fortune
And now the details of how the Leeds fortune was started and built up are being recalled and uncovered.

Few persons of great wealth had a humbler start in life than William B. Leeds of Richmond, Indiana. It is a strange contrast to the life of the king, princesses and others of Greek royalty who now share its benefits. Leeds started in Richmond as a florist, and by his marriage in 1883 to a relative of Harry Miller, then general superintendent of the Pennsylvania Railroad, he got work in the railroad field. At length he was division superintendent of the Richmond division of the Pennsylvania and his wife inherited a large sum of money.

Then, with Daniel G. Reid as a partner, Leeds went into the making of tin plate. The tariff laws were aimed at the development of home industries and a tariff on tin plate permitted the growth of that business down in Indiana.

Moore Brothers as Partners
Acquiring the aid of W. H. and J. H. Moore of Chicago, Leeds and Reid soon organized the business on a national scale under the name of the American Tin Plate Company. In 1901 the United States Steel Corporation bought the concern and the profits of the “big four” were estimated to have been close to $40,000,000.

Mr. Leeds and his associates invested their profits in the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad. Those were the good old days of watered stocks and the Leeds-Reid-Moore combine soon had the Rock Island a far different institution that in the calm days of R. R. Cable’s control. Leeds was made president of the road in 1902, but after two years he quarreled with his partners and was ousted from office. However, he had “cleaned up” and his fortune had grown apace.

Divorced From First Wife
Meanwhile, Leeds had been divorced from the wife of his earlier years – whose money was the nest egg of his huge fortune. She received a flat sum of $1,000,000. They had a son, Rudolph Gaar Leeds of Richmond – who by the way, received $1,000,000 by his father’s will.

Mrs. Leeds’ No. 2, the present Princess Anastasia, was Miss Nannie May Stewart, daughter of a wealthy Ohio banker. She was regarded as one of the prettiest girls in Cleveland when she was married to George H. Worthington. It was not long before the Worthington marital bark struck rough waters. Mrs. Worthington secured the divorce.

It was about this time that Mr. Leeds met her and became infatuated with her. It was only three days after the Leeds divorce was granted that Mrs. Worthington became the second Mrs. Leeds. As a wedding present Mr. Leeds gave his new bride jewelry valued at more than a million dollars, a mansion on Fifth Avenue, one estimated to be worth $2,000,000, and an ocean-going steam yacht. It was on one of their visits to Paris that Leeds bought Mrs. Leeds No. 2 a $840,000 pearl necklace.

About that time a son was born to the happy pair – the present W. B. Leeds Jr. This youth gained the title “poor richest boy” because of the great care his mother and father provided and the fortune spent on guarding his footsteps.

A Royal Bringing-Up
When this child was two and one-half years old, he went with his father and mother to London. And here, in part, is a cabled newspaper dispatch of how the once humble florist and railroad worker provided for his heir by second marriage:

“Not even an heir to royalty could have more elaborate care nor more luxurious service than this little American is now receiving. It is the wonder of the whole hotel (the exclusive Claridge).

“Altogether Baby Leeds has two drawing rooms, two bedrooms in case one bores him, a sitting room and a bathroom, the whole strictly reserved for him and no one else.

“Two nurses are in constant attendance and a maid, valet and extra servants are devoted to chasing away dull care.”

Death of Mr. Leeds
It was June 23, 1908, in France, that the “tin plate king” died. The will was filed at Mineola, L.I., September 3, 1908.

Stripped of legal phraseology, here is the paragraph that gives to royalty of Greece (by marriage) the bulk of the “tin plate” millions:

“If the son, William B. Leeds Jr., or issue of his, shall survive the widow (Mrs. Leeds No. 2, now Princess Anastasia), three-fourths of the residuary estate is to be set aside for William B. Leeds Jr. or his issue.”

In other words, if Princess Anastasia dies, her husband, Prince Christopher, brother of King Constantine, gets about $10,000,000, and young Leeds about $30,000,000. Then, when young Leeds dies, his royal widow or their children, if any, will get the $30,000,000 or more of good American money.

Continued
Home Contact information