Astor, John Jacob Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

John Jacob Astor established the first American monopoly with his American Fur Company (1808-1834) and devoted his business acumen and enterprising energies to controlling the fur trade from the Great Lakes to the Pacific coast and beyond to China, where he traded furs for tea and Chinese porcelains at great profits.

John Jacob Astor.

(Library of Congress)

Born to German parents of French Huguenot immigrantsHuguenot descent Johann Jacob Astor, a butcher/village bailiff, and his first wife, Maria Magdalena Vorfelder, youngest son John Jacob Astor immigrated to New York City in 1783. He opened a musical instrument/fur store that he expanded into a worldwide fur empire with his American Fur Company and its subunits, the Pacific Fur Company and the Southwest Fur Company. The American Fur Company was organized into departments after 1822, with St. Louis, Missouri[Saint Louis, Missouri]St. Louis serving as the western headquarters, controlling Missouri, the lower Mississippi RiverMississippi River, and Illinois, and the northern department headquartered at Mackinac Island, dominating the Great Lakes and the upper Mississippi River regions. Originally based at Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon (until the War of 1812), Astor engaged trappers and Native Americans to secure the fur pelts that he shipped to Canton, China, and Astor’s ships also traded with South America and Hawaii, where they purchased cargoes of sandalwood marketed in China (1816-1828). Astor’s biography appeared inAstoria (1836) by Washington Irving.German immigrants;John Jacob Astor[Astor]Astor, John JacobFur trade;and John Jacob Astor[Astor]German immigrants;John Jacob Astor[Astor]Astor, John JacobFur trade;and John Jacob Astor[Astor][cat]EUROPEAN IMMIGRANTS;Astor, John Jacob[00450][cat]BUSINESS;Astor, John Jacob[00450][cat]BIOGRAPHIES;Astor, John Jacob[00450]

Astor was selected as one of the directors of the Second Bank of the United States. Following the War of 1812, he profited from the elimination of Canadian and British fur trading competition. Astor advised President James Monroe, JamesMonroe on appointments to the port of New York. Astor carefully selected his ship captains and business agents who sold his goods abroad, and he supported a network of relatives whom he employed in his fur business, banking interests, and Manhattan real estate investments. Astor married Sarah Todd on September 19, 1785, and they had four children. His greatest benefactions were the Astor Library and the German Society of New York (1836), which dispensed information to immigrants.German immigrants;John Jacob Astor[Astor]Astor, John JacobFur trade;and John Jacob Astor[Astor]

Further Reading
  • Madsen, Axel. John Jacob Astor: America’s First Multimillionaire. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2001.
  • Porter, Kenneth Wiggins. John Jacob Astor: Businessman. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1931.

German immigrants

Melting pot theory

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