William Henry Aspinwall (December 16, 1807 – January 18, 1875) was an American businessman.
William Henry Aspinwall was born on December 16, 1807 in Manhattan, New York to John Aspinwall (1774–1847) and Susan Howland (1779–1852). His younger sister, Mary Rebecca Aspinwall (1809–1886) was married to Isaac Roosevelt, the grandfather of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
In 1832, he became president of the Howland & Aspinwall merchant firm, which had been founded by his cousin and expanded trade to South America, China, Europe, the Mediterranean, and the East and West Indies. Howland & Aspinwall owned some of the most famous clipper ships ever built. In 1845, while the firm owned the Ann McKim which was regarded as the fastest ship afloat, it built the Rainbow, which was even faster. The Rainbow was the high-tech racehorse of its day, and is considered to be the first of the extreme clippers. Instead of the bluff bow that was customary on ships up until that time, the Rainbow had a sharp bow, prompting on-lookers to joke that maybe she would sail better backwards. The next year, Howland & Aspinwall had the Sea Witch built, which set a speed record from China to New York which still stands.
Clipper ships sacrificed cargo capacity for speed, but in some markets, the fast service allowed their owners to charge premium rates (Tea from China tasted better if it was fresh, so the cargo on the first ship of the season to arrive in New York was worth more). Also faster speed meant that the vessel could complete more voyages in a given time period, which also helped make up for the diminished cargo capacity.
Pacific Mail Steamship Company
In 1848, Aspinwall founded the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, to provide service to California. This turned out to be a rather good year in which to start a steamship line to California, since the Gold Rush started the next year. The company's first vessel to make the trip was packed with passengers. Pacific Mail became American President Lines, which is now part of Neptune Orient Lines. He then promoted the Panama Railroad across the Isthmus of Panama. He retired in 1856, but remained active as a philanthropist.
Aspinwall was married to Anna Lloyd Breck (1812–1885). Together they had:
- Anna Lloyd Aspinwall (1831–1880)
- Lloyd Aspinwall (1834–1886)
- John Abel Aspinwall (1840–1913)
- Louisa Aspinwall (1843–1913)
- Katharine Aspinwall (1847–1924)
He was a founder of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (1866) and of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1869).
William Henry Aspinwall died on January 18, 1875 in Manhattan and is interred at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.