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Campus & Community

Travel Advice From the University’s Founder

December 4, 2015

A rare, candid shot of A.J. Drexel taken shortly before he died in 1893. Photo courtesy Drexel University Archives.
A rare, candid shot of A.J. Drexel taken shortly before he died in 1893.

The University's founder A.J. Drexel was a well-traveled businessman, especially by 19th-century standards. Though he usually traveled for business rather than pleasure, his international banking firm Drexel, Morgan & Co. had offices in Philadelphia, New York, Paris and London, and Drexel owned homes in Long Branch, New Jersey and West Philadelphia and Lansdowne in Pennsylvania.

On July 29, 1886, Drexel wrote a letter to his three nieces Elizabeth, Louise and Kate (the future Saint Katharine) Drexel, offering advice as they embarked on a grand tour of Europe. While dated, some of his advice still stands.

“Tony never shrank from traveling abroad, nor did he discourage his nieces from doing so. In travel as in business, he simply believed in gathering as much information as possible in order to eliminate risk,” wrote Dan Rottenberg in his biography, “The Man Who Made Wall Street: Anthony J. Drexel and the Rise of Modern Finance.”

Here is Drexel’s letter, edited and reprinted from Rottenberg’s biography:

My dear children,

I send you these few lines to bid you goodbye and to beg of you to follow my advice in these particulars.

Don’t travel too much in one day. I think six hours ought to be the outside limit. Don’t travel at night. You must not go to any northern country in the winter. Remember, the days are short, the skies gray and dark and the weather generally bad. Try to spend the winter where there is sunshine and warmth, where you can be in the open air.

I don’t want you to go to Egypt, for various reasons. In Rome avoid being out about sunset, as that is the danger time, and while there always eat a hearty breakfast and lunch. Never have empty stomachs. I think this very important. Drink good wine at meals. Avoid staying too long in damp and cold churches. Going from the warm sunshine into a cold church is often very dangerous … have warm covering to put on while in the church. Your man can always carry a lot of wraps with him so as to have them ready for use.

Don’t let exorbitant bills … worry you. That is one of the expenses of travelling. Avoid any places where there is a suspicion of cholera or any other disease. Naples is unhealthy on account of bad drainage. Sorrento is much the best place to stay if you want to go to Naples.

You must not go to the Holy Land or any similar long journey out of the reach of railways….

If you want advice or aid in any strange place where you have no acquaintances or friends, send for the Banker indicated on the line of credit. If you should require a doctor, if the hotel you are stopping at is a first-class one, apply to the manager for the best doctor in town. I would give a homeopathic doctor the preference if there is one in the town.

Now goodbye. May God have you in His holy keeping and bring you back in good health to your loving uncle,

A.J. Drexel


As Rottenberg wrote, “These words may seem ridiculously cautious in retrospect, but they constituted reasonable advice in an age devoid of antibiotics. Tony was simply offering the sort of guidance that a seasoned traveler today would provide to someone visiting, say, sub-Saharan Africa or Mongolia.”

Happy holidays and safe travels! Remember, as A.J. Drexel once wrote: “Never have empty stomachs. I think this very important.”

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