Benjamin Guggenheim was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the fifth of seven sons of the wealthy mining magnate Meyer Guggenheim (1828 - 1905) and Barbara Myers (1834 - 1900). In 1894, he married Florette Seligman (1870 - 1937) , daughter of James and Rosa née, Content, Seligman, president of J & W Seligman. They had three daughters: Benita Rosalind Guggenheim (1895 - 1927), Marguerite 'Peggy' Guggenheim (1898 - 1979) and Barbara Hazel Guggenheim (1903 - 1995).
While Guggenheim inherited a great deal of money from his father, he did not inherit his father's business acumen. His inheritance dwindled considerably from a number of poor investments. He grew distant from his wife and, ostensibly for business reasons, was frequently away from their New York City home. He maintained an apartment in Paris, France.
Guggenheim boarded the RMS Titanic and was accompanied by his mistress, a French singer named Madame Léontine Aubart (1887-1964); his valet, Victor Giglio (1888-1912); his chauffeur, René Pernot (1872-1912); and Madame Aubart's maid, Emma Sägesser (1887-1964). His ticket was number 17593 and it cost £79 4s (other sources give the price as £56 18s 7d). He and Giglio occupied stateroom cabin B82 while Aubart and Sägesser occupied cabin B35. Pernot occupied an unknown cabin in second class.
Guggenheim and Giglio slept through the Titanic's encounter with the iceberg only to be awakened just after midnight ship's time by Aubart and Sägesser, who had felt the collision. Sägesser later quoted Giglio as saying, "Never mind, icebergs! What is an iceberg?" Guggenheim was persuaded to awaken and dress; Bedroom Steward Henry Samuel Etches helped him on with a lifebelt and a heavy sweater before sending him, Giglio, and the two ladies up to the Boat Deck.
As Aubart and Sägesser reluctantly entered Lifeboat No. 9, Guggenheim spoke to the maid in German, saying, "We will soon see each other again! It's just a repair. Tomorrow the Titanic will go on again". Realizing that the situation was much more serious than he had implied, as well as realizing he was not going to be rescued, he then returned to his cabin with Giglio and the two men changed into evening wear. He was later heard to remark, "We've dressed up in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen." He also gave a survivor a message saying, "If anything should happen to me, tell my wife I've done my best in doing my duty." Guggenheim, his valet Victor Giglio, and his chauffeur Rene Pernot were lost in the disaster. Their bodies, if recovered, were never identified.
Benjamin Guggenheim was one of the most prominent American victims of the Titanic disaster. As such, he has been a character in the numerous movies and television series depicting the sinking. In the 1997 film Titanic, he was portrayed by Michael Ensign. He was played by Camillo Guercio (in an uncredited role) in the 1953 movie of the same name and by Harold Goldblatt in A Night to Remember. John Moffatt played him in 1979's S.O.S. Titanic for television.