John Jacob Astor

John Jacob Astor Photo

John Jacob Astor was an entrepreneur, financier and merchant belonging to the notable Astor family and the first millionaire of the United States. He is known for creating the first trust in America.

Astor was born on 17th July 1763 in Walldorf, Electorate of the Palatinate in the Holy Roman Empire. He began his career by working with his father as a salesman. In 1779, he traveled to London where he learned how to speak English. Astor went to the United States in 1784 to live with his brother who worked in New York. There he opened up a butcher shop. After some time he started trading fur and later established a fur goods shop in New York. In 1785 he married Sarah Todd, who too possessed a business mind. She helped him manage the practical details of his work.

After the Jay Treaty was signed between the US and Great Britain in 1794, new markets were opened up in Canada and Great Lakes. Astor made full use of these opportunities making deals throughout the 1800s that earned him a lot of money. His fur trading projects were interrupted because of the War of 1812 which led to him joining the opium smuggling trade. His company the American Fur Company bought tons of opium and shipped it off. Later Astor ended his deal with the China opium trade and started selling it individually to England. In 1822 Astor made the Astor House which was on Mackinac Island, his headquarters for the American Fur Company. Soon he had connections all over the whole world and his ships roamed on every sea.

John Jacob Astor became interested in investing in property and started purchasing land in New York. At the beginning of the 19th century when Astor gained huge profits from his China trade, he began investing in land in a more systematic way. He bought a 70 acre farm and substantial properties from Aaron Burr. In 1830, Astor predicted the rise of New York City as one of the greatest cities of the world and ended his American Fur Company and other businesses. Using this money he bought a large number of properties in Manhattan.

Astor was sharp and ambitious and he used his qualities to become one of the richest man in history. He died on 29th March 1848 in New York City. He spent the last years of his life mourning the death of his wife who had been by his side throughout his entire career. They had seven children. At the time of his death he was the richest person of the country having an estimated amount of $20 million and if calculated as a fraction of the U.S GDP at that time, this amount would have been equal to $110 billion. Part of his will contained the money he left for philanthropic efforts. He left the large amount of $400,000 for the construction of the Astor Library, $50,000 for an orphanage in Walldorf and $25,000 to the German Society of the City of New York. He also donated $30,000 to Columbia University.