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John McShain

John McShain (December 21, 1898 - September 9, 1989) was a highly successful American building contractor known as "The Man Who Built Washington."

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania the son of Irish immigrants, John McShain graduated from La Salle University in 1917. His father founded a successful construction company, which he was forced to take over at age twenty-one, when his father died in 1919. Under his management, the company became one of the leading builders in the United States. From the 1930s to the 1960s, McShain's company worked on more than one hundred buildings in the Washington, D.C. area. Most notably, the company built or was the prime contractor for a number of landmark structures including The Pentagon, the Jefferson Memorial, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Library of Congress annex, Washington National Airport, and the 1950-51 reconstruction of the White House. Of his many construction projects, McShain also built the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library at Hyde Park, New York.

McShain acquired the Barclay Hotel on Philadelphia's Rittenhouse Square and became part owner of the "Skyscraper By The Sea", the 400-room Claridge Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey


In 1927 John McShain married Mary J. Horstmann (1907-1998). Over the years, the McShains began visiting Ireland and in the late 1950s acquired the 25,000 acres (100 km2) Killarney Estate in Killarney in County Kerry. McShain owned Killarney House and eventually spent a great deal of time there. In 1973, they gifted Innisfallen Island and the ruins of its historic abbey to the government of Ireland. In 1979, he turned over the entire state for a nominal sum on the understanding that he and his wife would retain a life tenancy of the home. As part of the agreement, the property was to be merged into Killarney National Park in perpetuity. His daughter, a nun, amended this arrangement after his death in order to obtain planning permission which would otherwise have not been forthcoming.

Thoroughbred racing

In 1952 John McShain established Barclay Stable in the United States and in 1955 expanded its operations to Ireland. Based in New Jersey, his racing stable met with reasonable success at New York State tracks and Monmouth Park in New Jersey, notably with Turbo Jet II. However, his greatest racing success came in Europe where in 1958 he was the British flat racing Champion Owner. McShain's colt Ballymoss won numerous prestigious races including Ireland's Irish Derby Stakes, England's St. Leger Stakes and France's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Ballymoss was voted 1958 European Horse of the Year honors and in 1981 the Republic of Ireland honored him with his image on a postage stamp. McShain also owned the filly Gladness who had victories in the Goodwood Cup and the Ascot Gold Cup.

A devout Roman Catholic, John McShain was a major benefactor to Wheeling Jesuit University. In 2000, the newly-constructed admissions center was dedicated to the memory of him and his wife. McShain served on the Board of Directors of a number of major American corporations and educational institutions including St. Joseph's University, Catholic University, and Georgetown University. John also attended St. Joseph's Preparatory School, an urban Jesuit high school in North Philadelphia.

McShain retired in 1976 and died at Killarney House in 1989. His wife lived there until her death in 1998. They are buried together in Philadelphia and commemorated with medallions at the Cathedral-Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul. Their only child became a Roman Catholic nun. Through the John McShain Charities, Sister Pauline McShain continued her parents' tradition of financial support for various Catholic organizations such as the Neumann College scholarship program.


  • Brauer, Carl M. The Man Who Built Washington: A Life of John McShain (1996) Hagley ISBN 9780914650311


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