|John Jacob Astor
John Jacob Astor was born in
the village of Walldorf, near Heidelberg,
Germany, on July 17, 1763, the son of a butcher.
He spent his early years working for his father,
then went to London, where he spent four years
working in his uncle's piano and flute factory.
He emigrated to America in 1783, and settled in
New York City in 1784.
It was while on the
transatlantic voyage that Astor first learned of
the potential wealth that could be made in the
fur business, and within a year after his arrival
in New York City he was making regular trips to
London in order to sell furs purchased in
America; he would then use part of his profits to
buy European goods, which he would in turn sell
for even more profits back in America. By 1800 he
had a net worth of $250,000, owned a ship, and
was importing arms and wool.
Always on the lookout for ever
greater business potential, Astor naturally
looked towards the vast Pacific Northwest as a
potentially rich source of valuable furs. In
April 1808 he founded the American Fur Company,
with the goal of establishing a base of
operations on the Pacific Coast, from which he
could ship furs both east and west. In 1811 one
of his subsidiary companies succeeded in founding
Fort Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia River,
at the site of what is now Astoria, Oregon. By
the early 1820's Astor had a total monopoly on
fur trade in the United States, as well as a very
successful overseas trade.
By 1835 Astor had tired of the
fur business and decided to concentrate on New
York City real estate. His first New York land
venture had actually begun back in 1797, when he
bought a farm in the middle of what is now
Manhattan for $25,000, a very high sum in those
days. At the time of his death, that same piece
of land was worth $25,000 per square yard. There
is little evidence to suggest that any of his
other land ventures were any less successful.
When John Jacob Astor died in
New York City on March 29, 1848, he left behind
an estate worth some $30,000,000. A substantial
portion of that estate was bequeathed to a number
of charitable organizations, including the New
York Public Library.
Chicago: Encyclopędia Britannica, 1957
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