Astor, John Jacob
Astor, John Jacob, 1763–1848, American merchant
Astor, John Jacob (ăsˈtər), 1763–1848, American merchant, b. Walldorf, near Heidelberg, Germany. At the age of 16 he went to England, and five years later, in 1784, he arrived in Baltimore, penniless. He later went to New York City, where in a few years he entered into business with a small shop for trade in musical instruments and furs. Shrewdness, driving ambition, and stolid concentration brought him to a commanding position in the burgeoning economy of the United States. He became a leader of the China trade and was an astute investor in lands, principally in and around New York City, but he is perhaps best remembered as a fur trader. He chartered the American Fur Company (1808) and founded subsidiary companies—the Pacific Fur Company (see Astoria, Oreg.) and the South West Company (operating around the Great Lakes). His firm exercised a virtual monopoly of the trade in U.S. territories in the 1820s and still did when he retired from it in 1834. The wealthiest man in the United States at his death, he left a fortune that has continued to make the family name prominent. Part of his money went to found the Astor Library (see New York Public Library). His Astor House was a forerunner of family hotel properties that much later included the Astor Hotel and the Waldorf-Astoria.
See biographies by J. U. Terrell (1963) and K. W. Porter (1936, repr. 1966); P. Stark, Astoria (2014).
Astor, John Jacob, 1822–90, American financier
Astor, John Jacob, 1822–90, American financier, b. New York City, educated at Columbia and Göttingen universities and at Harvard law school; son of William Backhouse Astor (1792–1875). He served in the Peninsular campaign in the Civil War and later took a minor part in New York civic and political affairs. His son was William Waldorf Astor.
Astor, John Jacob, 1864–1912, American financier
Astor, John Jacob, 1864–1912, American financier, b. Rhinebeck, N.Y.; son of William Backhouse Astor (1829–92). He served in the Spanish-American War. Drowned in the Titanic disaster, he left two sons, Vincent, the son of his first marriage, and John Jacob Astor, fifth of the name in America, the son of his second marriage.
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Astor, John Jacob(1763–1848) fur trader, real estate investor, millionaire; born in Waldorf, near Heidelberg, Germany. He moved to England at age 16 and then to New York City (1784). He worked at various jobs but soon entered the fur trade and had his own business by 1786. The leading merchant in the North American fur trade by 1800, he gained access to the China trade and invested heavily in New York City real estate. He combined all his fur holdings into the American Fur Company (1808). He planned the Astoria colony in Oregon (1811) but sold the property when it was threatened by the War of 1812. His Manhattan real estate continued to prosper and he sold his fur interests in 1834. He administered his estate wisely and at his death, his worth was at least $20 million, making him the wealthiest man in America. Among his most far-reaching bequests was $350,000 to found a public library in New York City. (The famous New York City hotel named after him, the Waldorf-Astoria, carries on the names of two hotels originally built by his grandsons.)
Astor, John Jacob(1864–1912) financier, inventor; born in Rhinebeck, N.Y. (great-grandson of John Jacob Astor, 1763–1848). He built the Astoria section of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in 1897. He served in the Spanish-American War. He invented a bicycle brake and an improved turbine engine. He went down with the Titanic after a notable display of courage and gallantry.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.