John Jacob Astor is born

John Jacob Astor is born

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Destined to make a fortune from the furs of the American West, John Jacob Astor is born in modest circumstances in the small German village of Waldorf.

Although the number of foreign immigrants to the U.S. who succeeded in striking it rich is often exaggerated in the popular mind, Astor’s brilliant success demonstrates that “rags to riches” stories did sometimes happen. In his home village of Waldorf, Germany, not far from the city of Heidelberg, the young Astor’s opportunities were respectable though limited. The son of the village butcher, Astor could have followed in his father’s footsteps or entered some other modest trade. Instead, when he was 16 years old, Astor left Waldorf and traveled to London to join his brother in the manufacture of musical instruments.

Eager to find new markets, the two brothers looked overseas to the newly independent United States of America. In 1793, Astor sailed for America with a shipload of flutes and little money. En route, Astor became friends with a fur dealer who persuaded him to sell his flutes in New York and use the profits to buy furs to sell upon returning to London. He did, and the sizeable profit convinced him to enter full-time into the fur trade.

Quickly learning all he could about the growing American fur trade, Astor made numerous trips to the western frontier, and by the end of the century, he had become the leading fur merchant in the United States. After the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, Astor moved aggressively to exploit this huge new territory for its furs. Although Lewis and Clark’s exploration of the territory brought back the disappointing news that there was no easy water passage across the continent to the Pacific, Astor was nonetheless convinced that a Pacific Coast operation could profitably sell its furs to the huge China market. In 1810, he created the Pacific Fur Company. Within two years, his men had established a trading post named Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia River (about sixty miles northwest of modern-day Portland).

The outbreak of the War of 1812 forced Astor to abandon Astoria to the British, effectively destroying his Pacific Fur Company, but he eventually achieved much the same end by gradually expanding his New York-based American Fur Company westward. By 1823, Astor’s firm dominated the American fur trade east of the Rockies, although the British Hudson Bay Company maintained its hold in Oregon Territory until 1845. By then, the fur trade was already going into steep decline as beaver populations were wiped out and fashion shifted to silk rather than fur hats.

Fortunately, in the 1830s, the crafty Astor had begun diversifying his business interests by purchasing huge amounts of New York real estate. Building on the profits he had made in the fur trade, Astor abandoned his interest in the western frontier altogether in 1834 and concentrated on his East Coast investments. When he died in New York City in 1848, the German butcher’s son that had arrived in the U.S. with nothing but a shipload of flutes was the wealthiest man in America. His estate was conservatively estimated at $20 million.

John Jacob Astor

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    John Jacob Astor was the wealthiest man in America in the early 19th century, and when he died in 1848 his fortune was estimated to be at least $20 million, an astounding sum for the time.

    Astor had arrived in America as a poor German immigrant, and his determination and business sense led him to eventually create a monopoly in the fur trade. He diversified into real estate in New York City, and his fortune increased as the city grew.


    Early life Edit

    Johann Jakob Astor was born in 1763 in Walldorf, near Heidelberg, in the Electoral Palatinate. [3] [4] He was the youngest son of Johann Jacob Astor and Maria Magdalena vom Berg. His three elder brothers were George, Henry, and Melchior. In his childhood, Johann worked in his father's butcher shop [5] and as a dairy salesman. [6] In 1779, at the age of 16, he moved to London to join his brother George in working for an uncle's piano and flute manufacturer, Astor & Broadwood. [5] While there, he learned English and anglicized his name to John Jacob Astor. [7]

    Migration to the United States Edit

    In 1783 [5] or March 1784, [ citation needed ] Astor emigrated to New York City, just after the end of the Revolutionary War when the United States became independent of Great Britain. There, he rented a room from Sarah Cox Todd, a widow, and began a flirtation with his landlady's daughter, also named Sarah Cox Todd. The young couple married in 1785. His intent had been to join his brother Henry, who had established a butcher shop in New York City. [6] [8] [9]

    However, a chance meeting with a fur trader on his voyage had inspired him to join the North American fur trade as well. [3] [8] After working at his brother's shop for a time, Astor began to purchase raw hides from Native Americans, prepare them himself, and resell them in London and elsewhere at great profit. [5] He opened his own fur goods shop in New York in the late 1780s and also served as the New York agent of his uncle's musical instrument business. After gold was discovered [ where? ] , Astor looked for business throughout the United States. [10]

    Fortune from fur trade Edit

    Astor took advantage of the 1794 Jay Treaty between Great Britain and the United States, which opened new markets in Canada and the Great Lakes region. In London, Astor at once made a contract with the North West Company, who from Montreal rivaled the trade interests of the Hudson's Bay Company, then based in London. [ citation needed ]

    Astor imported furs from Montreal to New York and shipped them to Europe. [11] By 1800, he had amassed almost a quarter of a million dollars (the equivalent of six million dollars in 2020) and had become one of the leading figures in the fur trade. His agents worked throughout the western areas and were ruthless in competition. In 1800, following the example of the Empress of China, the first American trading vessel to China, Astor traded furs, teas, and sandalwood with Canton in China, and greatly benefited from it. [12]

    The U.S. Embargo Act in 1807, however, disrupted Astor's import/export business because it closed off trade with Canada. With the permission of President Thomas Jefferson, Astor established the American Fur Company on April 6, 1808. [13] He later formed subsidiaries: the Pacific Fur Company, and the Southwest Fur Company (in which Canadians had a part), in order to control fur trading in the Great Lakes areas and Columbia River region. His Columbia River trading post at Fort Astoria (established in April 1811) was the first United States community on the Pacific coast. He financed the overland Astor Expedition in 1810–12 to reach the outpost. Members of the expedition were to discover South Pass, through which hundreds of thousands of settlers on the Oregon, Mormon, and California trails used to later pass through the Rocky Mountains. [12]

    Astor's fur trading ventures were disrupted during the War of 1812, when the British captured his trading posts. In 1816, he joined the opium-smuggling trade. His American Fur Company purchased ten tons of Ottoman-produced opium, and shipped the contraband to Canton onboard the packet ship Macedonian. Astor later left the Chinese opium trade and sold opium solely in Britain. [14]

    Astor's business rebounded in 1817 after the U.S. Congress passed a protectionist law that barred foreign fur traders from U.S. territories. The American Fur Company came to dominate trading in the area around the Great Lakes, absorbing competitors in a monopoly. John Jacob Astor had a townhouse at 233 Broadway in Manhattan [15] and a country estate, Hellgate, in Northern New York City. [15]

    In 1822, Astor established the Robert Stuart House on Mackinac Island in Michigan as headquarters for the reorganized American Fur Company, making the island a metropolis of the fur trade. Washington Irving described this at length, based on contemporary documents, diaries, etc., in his travelogue Astoria. Astor's commercial connections extended over the entire globe, and his ships were found in every sea. He and Sarah moved to a townhouse on Prince Street in Manhattan, New York. [10]

    Real estate and retirement Edit

    Astor began buying land in New York City in 1799 and acquired sizable holdings along the waterfront. After the start of the 19th century, flush with China trade profits, he became more systematic, ambitious, and calculating by investing in New York real estate. In 1803, he bought a 70-acre farm on which he built the Astor Mansion at Hellgate. The property ran west of Broadway to the Hudson River between 42nd and 46th streets. That same year, and the following year, he bought considerable holdings from the disgraced Aaron Burr. [16]

    In the 1830s, Astor foresaw that the next big boom would be the build-up of New York, which would soon emerge as one of the world's greatest cities. Astor sold his interests in the American Fur Company, as well as all his other ventures, and used the money to buy and develop large tracts of Manhattan real estate. Astor correctly predicted the city's rapid growth northward on Manhattan Island, and he purchased more and more land beyond the then-existing city limits. Astor rarely built on his land, but leased it to others for rent and their use. After retiring from his business, Astor spent the rest of his life as a patron of culture. He supported the ornithologist John James Audubon in his studies, art work, and travels, and the presidential campaign of Henry Clay, Kentucky statesman. [12]

    On September 19, 1785, Astor married Sarah Cox Todd (April 9, 1762 – August 3, 1842). Her parents were Scottish immigrants Adam Todd and Sarah Cox. [17] Although she brought him a dowry of only $300, she possessed a frugal mind and a business judgment that he declared better than that of most merchants. She assisted him in the practical details of his business, [18] and managed Astor's affairs when he was away from New York. [19]

    • Magdalena Astor, 1788–1832
    • Sarah Todd Astor, stillborn in 1790
    • John Jacob Astor Jr., 1791–1869, sickly and mentally unstable [citation needed] , 1792–1875
    • Dorothea Astor, 1795–1874
    • Henry Astor II, 1797–1799
    • Eliza Astor, 1801–1838, married Vincent Rumpff[2]
    • Unnamed son, 1802, died within a few days of birth

    Astor belonged to the Freemasons, a fraternal order, and served as Master of Holland Lodge #8, New York City in 1788. Later he served as Grand Treasurer for the Grand Lodge of New York. [20] He was president of the German Society of the City of New York from 1837 to 1841. [21]

    At the time of his death in 1848, Astor was the wealthiest person in the United States, leaving an estate estimated to be worth at least $20 million, or 0.9% of estimated US GDP at the time, which would be approximately $210 billion in equivalent 2020 value. [22] His estimated net worth would have been equivalent to approximately $649.5 million in 2021 U.S. dollars using the more simple inflation chain estimation method. [1] By comparison, the fortune of Jeff Bezos was worth approximately $200 billion in 2020, [23] similar to Astor at approximately 0.9% of US GDP. [24]

    In his will, Astor bequeathed $400,000 to build the Astor Library for the New York public, [3] which was later consolidated with other libraries to form the New York Public Library. He also left $50,000 for a poorhouse and orphanage in his German hometown of Walldorf. [3] The Astorhaus is now operated as a museum honoring Astor. It is a renowned and popular fest hall for marriages. Astor donated gifts totaling $20,000 to the German Society of the City of New York, during his term as president, from 1837 until 1841. [25]

    Astor left the bulk of his fortune to his second son William, because his eldest son, John Jr., was sickly and mentally unstable. Astor left enough money to care for John Jr. for the rest of his life. Astor is buried in Trinity Church Cemetery in Manhattan, New York. Many members of his family had joined its congregation, but Astor remained a member of the local German Reformed congregation to his death. [26] In the short story Bartleby, the Scrivener, Herman Melville used Astor as a symbol of men who made the earliest fortunes in New York. [ citation needed ]

    The pair of marble lions that sit by the entrance of the New York Public Library Main Branch at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street were originally named Leo Astor and Leo Lenox, after Astor and James Lenox, who founded the library from his own collection. Next, they were called Lord Astor and Lady Lenox (both lions are males). Mayor Fiorello La Guardia renamed them "Patience" and "Fortitude" during the Great Depression. [ citation needed ]

    The coastal town of Astoria, Oregon, is named after Astor.

    In 1908, when the association football club FC Astoria Walldorf was formed in Astor's birthplace in Germany, the group added "Astoria" to its name in his, and the family's, honor. [27]

    John J. Astor 5th, 79 Son of Builder of Hotel

    John Jacob Astor 5th, a descendant of one of America's most fabled merchant princes, died yesterday at his home in Miami Beach. He was 79 years old.

    His death was reported by two of his cousins, R. Thornton Wilson, and Stephen Spencer, who said they did not know the cause.

    Mr. Astor was born in New York in August 1912. His father was John Jacob Astor 4th, a businessman and inventor, who built the Astoria Hotel in New York City that was later combined with the hotel next door to become the Waldorf-Astoria. His mother was the former Madeline Talmage Force of New York City. She was pregnant with him when she and her husband sailed on the Titanic. Her husband put her on a lifeboat and went down with the ship on April 15, 1912.

    Mr. Astor 5th, one of whose half-brothers was Vincent Astor, the New York philanthropist, attended St. George's School, in Newport, R.I. Mr. Spencer said that his cousin never worked after he was dismissed from a job he held briefly after graduating from St. George's in the early 1930's.

    Mr. Astor was married three times and divorced twice. His first wife was Ellen Tuck. His second wife was Gertrude Gretch. His third wife, Sue Sandford, died several years ago, Mr. Spencer said.

    Establishing the Astor Empire

    Sharp, ambitious and ruthless, Astor grew his shop into the country&aposs leading fur company by the turn of the century. He also began exporting furs to China and importing Chinese silk and tea. All of his fur businesses were merged into the American Fur Company in 1808.

    After the successful expedition of Lewis and Clark ended in 1806, Astor saw opportunity in the West. He bought property in Oregon where a fort was built in 1811 and a settlement named Astoria was planned. But he sold the outpost soon after because of the War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain.

    After the war, he became even richer than before from a bond deal with the U.S. government. Astor&aposs New York City property holdings also substantially increased in value. He sold off his fur business in the 1830s and focused much of time of managing his estate and extensive real estate investments, included hotels and residential properties.

    Astor was born on July 13, 1864, in Rhinebeck, New York. The great-grandson of John Jacob Astor, he grew up in a rich, influential family. Known as Jack, he attended Harvard University and later managed the family estate. He became active in real estate development, building the Astoria section of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in 1897. Astor built several other notable New York City hotels, including the St. Regis, which some have said was his greatest achievement.

    Outside of the family business, Astor had many other interests. He tried his hand at being a writer in 1890s and authored an 1894 science-fiction novel called Journey in Other Worlds. Astor also enjoyed inventing things. He designed a bicycle brake and an improved turbine engine. When the Spanish-American War began in 1898, Astor offered his yacht, the Nourmahal, to the U.S. Navy to help in the war effort. He also served in the U.S. Army during this conflict.

    Astor&aposs first marriage to Ava Lowle Willing was reportedly an unhappy one. The couple married in 1891 and had two children: Vincent and Alice. They divorced in 1909. He remarried in 1911 to Madeleine Talmage Force, who was 30 years younger than Astor. The couple went on holiday to Europe for a time and made the fateful decision to return the United States on the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic in April 1912.

    Family tree of John Jacob ASTOR IV

    John Jacob Astor IV was born on July 13, 1864. He was the youngest of five children and only son of businessman, collector, and race horse breeder/owner William Backhouse Astor, Jr. (1829–1892) and socialite Caroline Webster "Lina" Schermerhorn (1830–1908). His four elder sisters were Emily (1854–1881), Helen (1855–1893), Charlotte (1858–1920), and Caroline (Carrie) (1861–1948). He was a great-grandson of fur-trader John Jacob Astor (1763–1848) and Sarah Cox Todd (1761–1834), whose fortune made the Astor family one of the wealthiest families in the United States. Jack's paternal grandfather William Backhouse Astor, Sr. (1792–1875).

    In April 1912, Astor earned a prominent place in history when he embarked on the ocean liner RMS Titanic, which struck an iceberg and sank in the early hours of April 15. Astor was among the 1,514 people on board who did not survive. He was the richest passenger aboard the Titanic, and was thought to be among the richest people in the world at that time, with a net worth of $85,000,000 when he died.

    © Copyright Wikipédia authors - This article is under licence CC BY-SA 3.0

    Geographical origins

    The map below shows the places where the ancestors of the famous person lived.

    Commercial Networks

    The cold New York winter of 1788-1789 proved to be a boon for Astor’s fledgling import business. Local demand for furs increased dramatically and Astor could have sold many more if only he had had them in stock. To prevent future shortages, Astor decided to hunt for furs himself. He bought the necessary supplies in New York City and set out for the relatively unsettled northwestern corner of the state near the Canadian border and Lake Ontario. He targeted beavers and raccoons, because their furs were popular for coats, caps, and gloves. First, he followed Native American trails on foot, but soon he bought a canoe to move north more quickly. He slept outside and ate fish or meat from the animals he hunted. After a couple of weeks, he returned to New York City with many furs. With Sarah’s assistance, he dressed the animal skins skillfully and made a substantial profit selling them in his store. The large profit margin on furs fueled Astor’s ambition to expand his trade business. On subsequent trips, he brought beads, clothing, and wooden toys to trade with the Native Americans for furs and used the music from his flute to gain their trust in trade negotiations.

    Other merchants began to copy Astor’s trade practices. Trade routes were established throughout upstate New York and merchants began to look to Montreal in British Canada as a source for additional furs. British colonial regulations required that Canadian furs had to be exported to London before they could be imported to the United States. This made imported Canadian furs much more expensive in the New York market. After Jay’s Treaty loosened trade restrictions between Canada and the United States in 1796, Astor began to import furs from Montreal directly to New York City. The region around the Great Lakes became more accessible to American traders as a result of the treaty. Consequently, competition in the New York fur trade stiffened, but Astor continued to profit due to his head start and years of experience.

    Astor began to look for other outlets for his supply of furs. In 1800, he decided to enter the China trade. The first American-flag vessel had sailed to China in 1784, two years after the emperor of China had allowed certain merchants in Canton to trade with non-Chinese merchants. In the years that followed, Astor had watched the cautious steps taken by fellow New York merchants in the China trade. After careful research and meetings with fellow merchants and ship owners, Astor decided to ship furs and Hawaiian sandalwood to China and purchase silk, tea and spices for sale in New York. Silk was particularly important to Astor, since it was becoming fashionable in New York City and would complement his fur sales.[5]

    Thomas Jefferson’s Embargo Act of 1807, which forbade American-flag shipping from leaving American ports for foreign destinations in response to attacks on American vessels by British and French warships during the Napoleonic Wars, halted Astor’s overseas trade endeavors. The embargo was nothing short of a financial catastrophe for Astor, particularly since he also faced serious competition in the Great Lakes fur trade from the British-Canadian North West and Hudson’s Bay Companies. Astor decided to outflank the powerful, continental fur-trading duopoly by establishing fur trading posts on the Pacific coast and cementing American claims to the Oregon Territory. Astor’s plan for trading posts on the Pacific depended on support from President Jefferson. In 1808 he wrote, confidentially, to his friend DeWitt Clinton and explained his expansion plan with the expectation that Clinton would use his family connections to secure presidential consideration of the proposal. At the time, DeWitt Clinton’s uncle, George Clinton, served as Jefferson’s vice president.

    In his first letter to the president on February 27, 1808, Astor asked for Jefferson’s permission to trade with the Native American tribes west of the Mississippi River. He also inquired about government assistance in the form of military support in the case of attacks by hostile Native Americans or the British. Jefferson was delighted with Astor’s letter because Astor’s plan mirrored his own vision of how the American West should be developed. An exchange of letters ensued in which Astor developed his idea of expanding American fur trading networks to the Pacific and impressed the president with his vision. Astor’s ambition was to gain control over the new fur trade in the relatively unexplored territories by establishing his own fur trading company. The company would provide structure and pace for the development of the West and would drive the British trading companies from United States territory. New York would serve as the enterprise’s headquarters.

    Astor intended to lay out his trading route from St. Louis to the Pacific following in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark’s expedition through the Louisiana Territory. He wanted to make use of the knowledge gained from the expedition, but more importantly he wanted to take advantage of the region’s geography to further his business activities. Following the Louisiana Purchase, the United States had gained control of the entire length of the Mississippi River and Astor planned to use the river as the main route into the Louisiana Territory. The natural network of regional rivers branching westward from the Mississippi would provide access to hunting grounds and trading posts in the trans-Mississippi West. The furs would be brought to St. Louis first, and then shipped down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico where they would be loaded onto ships for the sea voyage to New York.

    Astor called his new business the American Fur Company, underscoring his own sense of patriotism. The trading company was incorporated for twenty-five years and capitalized with two million dollars (approximately $36 million in 2010$) in assets. Since Astor preferred to keep the company’s financial control in his own hands in order to increase the wealth of his family, he did not invite other investors to join the firm and tailored the organizational structure of the company to suit his needs. As the company’s sole owner, he made all the decisions and bore all the risk, sharing none with the nine managing directors he employed and who reported to him.

    The Embargo Act of 1807 and subsequent trade restrictions forced Astor to focus on American-based business endeavors. Trading in furs and real estate provided income and helped him accumulate wealth during these years. He invested his profits from the pre-embargo China trade into New York real estate. The city had grown significantly over the years, and Astor believed that more immigrants would continue to arrive from Europe. In fact, the number of New York City inhabitants doubled from 33,000 to 60,000 between1790 and 1800. Astor began to purchase real estate in Manhattan outside the original colonial city limits. By 1819 he had invested $715,000 (approximately $12 million in 2010$) in Manhattan real estate, an investment of most of his cash and liquid capital that paid off because the city continued to grow during the early decades of the nineteenth century.

    Astor continued to invest in real estate and housing from 1819 to 1834, when he stepped back as president of the American Fur Company. During these 15 years, Astor spent another $445,000 to acquire real estate and buildings. When he retreated from the fur trade after 1834, he entered a third phase of acquiring real estate. By then he had become convinced that the real estate business was the perfect business for him, because it allowed him to capitalize on the housing needs of thousands of immigrants arriving annually in New York City. He spent about $832,000 on real estate between the years 1834 and 1848. In total, he bought nearly two million dollars (approximately $57 million in 2010$) of Manhattan real estate, making his New York real estate endeavors the most important of all of his enterprises and providing the bulk of a fortune that far surpassed the wealth of all of his contemporaries. His courage to invest in unsettled farmland, his business instincts, and his foresight when it came to the future development, growth, and expansion of New York enabled him to become the richest man in America.

    Astor was always concerned about his public image. He often discussed it with his advisors, and followed their strategy in order to make sure that his name was always associated with positive achievements and economic success and that only the most successful or most prestigious projects would bear the name Astor. Accordingly, the outpost in the Oregon Territory on the Pacific coast was named “Astoria,” his most prestigious hotel was the Astor House, the library he donated was the Astor Library, and in his will he provided funds for the construction and operation of a poorhouse in his hometown of Walldorf, named Astorhaus, which opened in 1854. Astor’s donation to the library represented his most significant philanthropic project. He wanted to enable all New Yorkers to educate themselves regardless of class. Astor was grateful for the education he had enjoyed as a relatively poor child in Walldorf, and he cherished learning as a highly valuable good. The Astor Library was first located on Astor Place, formerly Lafayette Square, close to William Backhouse Astor’s house, an Astor landmark in his beloved city. About fifty years after Astor’s death, however, New York City officials merged the Astor Library with the Lennox Library and the Tilden Trust to create the New York Public Library. The front of the current building still proudly shows visitors Astor’s mission: The Astor Library Founded By John Jacob Astor For The Advancement Of Useful Knowledge MDCCCXLVIII. Inside, the first room is still called Astor Hall, capturing the spirit of Astor in the library.

    Astor accumulated his fortune in order to provide for his family and hence he made a will that assured that none of his children, grandchildren, and other kin would ever experience the kind of poverty that he had endured during his childhood. In return he demanded success and discipline from his heirs he expected eagerness, diligence, and entrepreneurial achievements from all members of the family and punished underachievers, who did not help increase the family fortune, by withdrawing care and financial support. When John Jacob Astor died, he was proud patriarch of his family and a respected member of New York’s elite. William Astor was his primary heir. He succeeded his father as patriarch of the family and inherited the title of the richest man in the United States.

    Astor the Gentleman Farmer

    Jakey Astor VI was often referred to as a gentleman farmer as he managed the approximate 150 acre farmstead. He was very proud of his dairy farm that had originally been called Bakehaven or Baker Haven Farm, named after Dr. Charles Baker, a Newark radiologist and milk delivery business owner. Astor had over 60 cows in the barn. Astor renamed the farm New Haven Farms and worked for years breading cows and selling his milk to a Bernardsville Creamery.

    As a working farm, there were frequent visits from the area’s cub scouts and brownies in the late 1950s. On September 11, 1952 it was reported that over 700 children went on hayrides on John Astor’s tractor that was driven by Clyde Swensen. Also noted in the local Bernardsville News on November 10, 1955 that 15 windows in the estate were broken by someone with a slingshot. The Astor’s weren’t home at the time.

    In 1964, the Somerset County Board of Chosen Freeholders began negotiating to purchase the farm for open space. The transaction closed with a purchase of over 460 acres covering from the Somerset Hills Airport all the way north to the Basking Ridge Country Club.

    John Jacob Astor Passes Away

    Today in Masonic History John Jacob Astor passes away in 1848.

    John Jacob Astor was a German-born American businessman.

    Astor was born in Waldorf, Germany near Heidelberg on July 17th, 1763. He was born Johann Jakob Astor. He was the youngest of 4 brothers. Astor began his business career in Germany as a dairy salesman for his fathers business.

    In 1779, Astor, who was 16, moved to London where his brother had a musical instrument shop. He would work for his brother in London. He would also learn to speak English and anglicized his name.

    In 1784, Astor immigrated to the United States just after the Revolutionary War. Initially he would help one of his other brothers establish a butcher shop. He would eventually start trading furs with Native Americans in the late 1780's. In New York City he would establish a fur shop and would sell instruments for his brother back in London.

    Astor was a horse racing enthusiast. He would purchase a thoroughbred named Messenger. The horse would become the sire of the Standardbred breed of horses which is commonly used in trot or pace harness racing.

    In 1794, Astor started trading with Canada for furs. He would import them to the United States and then sell them in Europe. By 1807, the United States Embargo Act prevented Astor from further trading with Canada. With the blessing of Thomas Jefferson, Astor created the American Fur Company. Some of the owners of the company were Canadians, this allowed Astor to get around the Embargo. During this time, Astor opened trade with China.

    In 1799, Astor began acquiring land on the waterfront in New York City. Astor was convinced, correctly, that New York City was going to become one of the largest cities in the World. He began buying other land as well and in the 1830's saw the boom that was coming in New York City and bought land, even outside the then city limits of New York. He never settled or used any of the land himself, instead renting it out to others for their use.

    After the War of 1812, the United States passed a ban on foreign fur traders, this allowed the American Fur Company to dominate the market in the United States.

    When Astor finally decided to retire he was arguably the richest man in the United States. In adjusted 2006 U.S. dollars it is believed that Astor was worth $110.1 Billion. This would make Astor the 5th richest man ever in the United States. In 2011 adjusted dollars it is estimated that he was worth a more conservative figure of $1.272 Billion. He would use that wealth to support cultural endeavors. He would be a supporter of ornithologist John James Audubon.

    When Astor passed away on March 29th, 1848, his will provided $400,000 for the establishment of the Astor Library, which after merging with other smaller libraries become the New York Public Library. He also provided money to create an orphanage in his home town of Waldorf. The orphanage is now a museum honoring Astor.

    Astor was a member of Holland Lodge No. 8 in New York City. In 1788, he would serve as Worshipful Master of the lodge. He would later become the Grand Treasurer for the Grand Lodge of New York.

    Later life and legacy

    After retiring from his business, Astor spent the rest of his life as a patron of culture. He supported the famous ornithologist, John James Audubon, the poet/writer Edgar Allan Poe, and the presidential campaign of Henry Clay. At the time of his death in 1848, Astor was the wealthiest person in the United States, leaving an estate estimated to be worth at least 20 million dollars. In his will, in addition to the orders to build the Astor Library for the New York public, he had a poorhouse erected in his German hometown, Waldorf. As a symbol of the earliest fortunes in New York, John Jacob Astor is mentioned in Herman Melville’s great novella “Bartleby the Scrivener.”

    The great bulk of his fortune was bequeathed to his second son, William Backhouse Astor Sr., instead of his eldest son John Jacob Astor II (1791-1869).

    John Jacob Astor is interred in the Trinity Churchyard Cemetery in the New York City borough of Manhattan. The famous pair of marble lions that sit by the stairs of The New York Public Library at Fifth Avenue and Forty-second Street were origially named Leo Astor and Leo Lenox, after Astor and James Lenox, who founded the library. Then they were called Lord Astor and Lady Lenox (both lions are males), before being given the names Patience and Fortitude by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia during the Great Depression.

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