John Jacob Astor was born in Waldorf, Germany, near Heidelberg. At age 20 he came to the United States, first to Baltimore and later to New York City. Having few resources, he worked in a variety of jobs as a bakery assistant, a peddler and manager of a music store.
In 1787, Astor entered the fur trade and in a few years became one of the wealthiest men in America. By the mid 1790's he was one of the principal fur merchants in America. Through his connections in London, Astor obtained a charter in 1796 that permitted him to trade in any port monopolized by the East India Company. Astor's way was thus opened to commercial transactions with China, the greatest market for furs at that time. He founded his own shipping line to transport his furs to Canton, St. Petersburg, London, and New York.
He simplified his business by dealing directly with Indian trappers and established two successful companies, the American Fur Company (1808) and the Pacific Fur Company (1810).
John Jacob Astor had a dream to establish a single trading company with headquarters at the mouth of the Columbia River, and serve the entire American West. Toward that end, in 1811 he erected a trading station at the site of present-day Astoria, Oregon. When the British blockaded the post during the War of 1812, Astor sold out to them. The fort became the property of the U.S. government at the war's conclusion.
Following the war, Astor invested in a small fleet of ships to carry his furs to Europe and the Far East, particularly China. This international trade was immensely profitable, allowing Astor to invest heavily in farmland on Manhattan Island. Those parcels quickly became midtown properties, further enriching Astor. In 1834, he sold his fur businesses and retired to manage his considerable assets. He built Astor House, the first of many family hotels. At the time of his death in New York on March 29, 1848, John Jacob Astor left a fortune of over $20 million.
John Jacob Astor's contemporaries were nearly unanimous in regarding him as self, grasping, and ruthless, but he was very good at it. His great grandson, also named John Jacob Astor, died when Titanic sank in the North Atlantic. His wife later gave birth to a son and heir, John Jacob Astor V.
---- Selected Quotes ----
Quotes by John Jacob Astor.
The first hundred thousandthat was hard to get; but afterwards it was easy to make more.