“’The Four Hundred’ is the nickname for the social elite of New York, an alliance of old landed families, financial speculators, manufacturers and entrepreneurs who had assimilated European social manners and snobbery in the late nineteenth century. The overlooked the divisions of the Civil War, delighted in transatlantic marriages with the nobility of Europe, and guarded themselves from ‘new money’ coming in from the West, especially those who put too much crushed ice in their wine. The concept of the Four Hundred was popularized by Ward McAllister, the Beau Brummel of Manhattan, who coined the expression from the number who could be comfortably entertained, and felt at ease, in Mrs. Astor’s ballroom.”
Excerpted from: Rogerson, Barnaby. Rogerson’s Book of Numbers: The Culture of Numbers–from 1,001 Nights to the Seven Wonders of the World. New York: Picador, 2013.