The New International Encyclopædia/Astor, John Jacob (merchant)

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John Jacob Astor (1763-1848). A German-born American merchant. He was born in Waldorf, a village near Heidelberg, Germany, the son of a butcher. He followed his elder brother, first to London and then to New York, whither he went in 1783. He soon invested his small capital in furs, and by economy and industry he so increased his means that after six years he had acquired a fortune of $200,000. He traded directly with the Indians, peddling gewgaws among them, and buying their furs at a ridiculously low rate. At first he prepared the furs with his own hands and took them to the London market. He also became the New York agent of his brother's house, which dealt in musical instruments. Although the increasing influence of the English fur companies in North America was unfavorable to his plans, he ventured to fit out two expeditions to the Oregon Territory—one by land and one by sea—the purpose of which was to open up regular commercial intercourse with the natives. After many mishaps, his object was achieved in 1811, and the fur-trading station of Astoria (q.v.) was established; but the War of 1812 stopped its prosperity for a time. From this period Astor's commercial connections extended over the entire globe, and his ships were found in every sea. He was especially successful in the China trade. He left property amounting to $30,000,000, largely invested in real estate, which has since enormously increased in value. The Astor House, on Lower Broadway, New York, was built by him. He left a legacy of $350,000 for the establishment of a public library in New York. (See Washington Irving's Astoria and James Parton's Life of John Jacob Astor, 1865). His wealth was mainly inherited by his son, William Backhouse, who continued to augment it till his death in 1875, when it had increased to about $50,000,000. During his lifetime he made many gifts to the Astor Library, and at his death left it $250,000 and books worth $200,000. He was known as the “Landlord of New York” from the extent of his property in that city.