Thomas de Kay Winans was the son of Ross Winans and Julia De Kay. He married Celeste Revillon, who was a Russian of French-Italian descent, in St Petersburg on 23 August 1847. They had four children: George (1849); Ross Revillon (1851-1912); William George (1852-1861); Celeste (1855-1925). Winans's sister Julia was married to Whistler's half-brother George William Whistler.
Winans was one of the partners of the major locomotive firm Harrison, Winans and Eastwick, established to handle the construction of the St Petersburg to Moscow railroad. In 1843 he went to Russia to take charge of the mechanical department, contracted to equip the railroad with locomotives and other rolling stock in five years, and established the Alexandroffsky Mechanical Works. He returned to the USA in 1851, but was recalled to Russia for a new construction in 1866. Business interests were taken over by the Russian government with the payment of a large bonus in 1868.
Winans became director of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, and established a soup station outside his house during the Civil War. He devised with his father a cigar-shaped hull for transatlantic steamers, 1859, and devoted the rest of his life to creating a series of ingenious inventions, including improvements in organs, pianos, ventilation and plumbing.
Winans was Whistler's first patron, and a great collector of works of art. He owned Portrait of Anna Denny y004, The Fishwife y006, Copy after Boucher's 'Diane au bain' y020 and Wapping y035. He also acquired from Whistler a group of early etchings, including Sketches on the Coast Survey Plate , and The Title Page for 'Douze Eaux Fortes d'après Nature' .
Plaster portraits of Winans about 1861 and 1865 by Chauncey Bradley Ives, and a portrait by Francis Augustus Lathrop are in the Maryland Historical Society (Acc. Nos. 48.29.1, 25.20.1 and 57.72.2), and another dated 1870 by Benjamin Davis is owned by the Winans Family.
Who Was Who in America, Chicago, 1963, p. 588; National Cyclopedia of American History, vol. 1, p. 239; Dictionary of American Biography, vol. 10, p. 372; Young, Andrew McLaren, Margaret F. MacDonald, Robin Spencer, and Hamish Miles, The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and London, 1980 ; MacDonald, Margaret F., James McNeill Whistler. Drawings, Pastels and Watercolours. A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 1995 .
'Winans in American History', website. 'Thomas Winans, website. 'The Winans Cigar Ships' (including bibliography), website.