John Jacob Astor

John Jacob Astor

Male 1763 - 1848  (85 years)    Has 8 ancestors and more than 250 descendants in this family tree.

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  • Name John Jacob Astor 
    Relationshipwith Francis Fox
    Born 1763 
    Gender Male 
    Died 1848 
    Person ID I363800  Geneagraphie
    Last Modified 25 Oct 2010 

    Father Johannes Jakob Astor,   b. 1724,   d. 1816  (Age 92 years) 
    Mother Maria Magdalena Volfelders,   d. 1766 
    Married 1750 
    Siblings 5 siblings 
    Family ID F144247  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family Sarah Todd,   d. Yes, date unknown 
    Children 
     1. Magdalen Astor,   b. 1788,   d. 1832  (Age 44 years)
     2. Sarah Astor,   b. 1790,   d. 1790  (Age 0 years)
     3. John Jacob Astor, II,   b. 1791,   d. 1869  (Age 78 years)
     4. William Backhouse Astor,   b. 1792,   d. 1875  (Age 83 years)
     5. Dorothea Astor,   b. 1795,   d. 1874  (Age 79 years)
     6. Henry Astor,   b. 1797,   d. 1799  (Age 2 years)
     7. Eliza Astor,   b. 1801,   d. 1838  (Age 37 years)
     8. NN Astor,   b. 1802,   d. 1802  (Age 0 years)
    Last Modified 19 Jan 2002 
    Family ID F144160  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

  • Photos
    John Jacob Astor
    John Jacob Astor

  • Notes 
    • A fur trader and merchant who turned his profits into New York City's largest real estate ownership and the largest fortune in America in his times.

      emigrated from his hometown Waldorf in Germany, when he was 18 years old and first joined his older brother George Peter Astor, who was dealing in musical instruments in London. Two years later John Jacob Astor set on to America, where he first reached Baltimore and then settled in New York, his ultimate goal. At this time his sole capital was 50 $ and seven flutes, he had brought from England to sell in the New World.
      Astor started his career in the fur trade as an apprentice to New York merchant Robert Bowne. He got thoroughly acquainted with the trade and was able to start his own business in 1786. His marriage to Sarah Todd, brought him some family connections and the support of a thrifty wife. Astor quietly but constantly accumulated wealth and experience in the fur trade and by 1800, when he moved his store to 223 Broadway, he was already a thriving merchant, his fortune being estimated at 250'000 $. His business strategy was vertical integration as far as possible; buying pelts from Indians through his employed agents and shipping them on his own ships to the markets in England, Germany, Russia and even China. Thus Astor became a shipping merchant, and in the true manner of the great shippers he made his voyages pay both ways and became an international trader.
      But Astor never forgot to concentrate on his core business, the fur trade. In 1808, he founded the American Fur Company, a business enterprise that was set with an initial capital of 500'000 $, then a sizeable fortune. Astor’s plan was the concentration of American fur trade under the umbrella of this company to counter the influence of the British-Canadian Hudson Bay Company, a well structured organization which dominated trade in Canada and the North-West of America. The US Government, under the impulsion of President George Washington had already started a similar scheme in 1795, setting up government owned fur factories and trading outposts throughout the West. This enterprise was initially financed by a 50'000 $ funding which was later raised to 300'000 $. Still, the Government subsidized factory system failed, and soon Astor’s American Fur Co became the foremost fur trading enterprise in the United States of America.
      The first important project Astor started with his American Fur Company was the setup of the settlement of Astoria in Oregon, with the intention to open up the vast and still untouched resources of the Pacific West, ship the pelts to China, where a sizeable market had in the meantime been developed and finalize the China trading circuit by shipping China goods to New York or Europe. Astoria failed because of the War of 1812 and the expedition Astor sent to Oregon had to leave the terrain. Yet it was in the less spectacular enterprises that Astor’s scheme flourished. The American Fur Company soon operated an extensive network of fur trading outposts in the Great Lakes Region and the Missouri. It had three main depots in Detroit and Mackinac as well as in St.Louis, where an agreement with the Chouteaus granted him a monopoly. Through his allies in Congress, among whom Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, Astor pushed the dismantling of the Government’s fur factory system in 1822. By 1831 the capital of American Fur Co had swollen to 1'000'000 $ and its annual revenues exceeded 500'000 $. In 1834, John Jacob Astor divested from the fur trade, shortly before the market collapsed. By then, his trading profits were well invested in New York City real estate.
      Like many other merchants, John Jacob Astor invested heavily into real estate, most of it in the fast growing Manhattan. As much a visionary in real estate matters as he was in the fur trade, Astor obviously foresaw the growth of New York City as it became the gate to America for the subsequent waves of immigrants during the 19th century. In 1805, Astor made one of his first large land transactions, when he purchased the estate of Aaron Burr, after the latter had to exile following his duel with Alexander Hamilton. Included in this purchase was the famous Mortier lease from Trinity Church, a stretch of land comprising 465 lots in the heart of the City that the Church had leased to Abraham Mortier in 1767 fo 99 years for a fixed rent that had in the meantime become ridiculous. Astor further increased this lot by a water grant along the Hudson, bounding the former Burr estate. In 1809 Astor purchased the famous Philipse-Morris title to 51'012 acres in Putnam County. This estate was derived of the manorial Philipse family, through Mary Philipse and her husband Roger Morris. These Morrises were Tories and their estate had been confiscated by the Government after the Revolution. Astor bought the title for 100'000 $ from the heirs of the Philipse-Morrises on the advice of his lawyer who claimed that the expropriation was illegal, as the Morrises held a life lease to estate only and their heirs who would be the rightful owners should not be concerned by the expropriation. By 1809 over 700 families had settled on this land and considerably developed the property. The issue stayed in court for 22 years and ended with a settlement of 500'000 $, the State gave to Astor to abandon his claim. John Jacob Astor bought other large estates, such as the one half of Governor George Clinton’s Greenwich country estate which he aquired for 75'000 $. Like other influent New Yorkers, he also got numerous water grants from the City administration.
      Unlike the Goelets or Jacob Lorillard, John Jacob Astor was not directly involved in banking. He did own sizeable amounts of shares in New York’s foremost banking institutions, at that time the Bank of New York, the Manhattan Company, the Mechanics Bank and the Merchants Bank. His large fortune and extensive trading business also gave him leverage as a large depositor in any bank. Astor used his credit and his large fortune to further increase his real estate holdings. He continuously bougt land in large or small lots, gave mortgages and in the bad times foreclosed properties, when his debtors were unable to meet their payment obligations. In this way he aquired for little money the Cosine farm, extending on Broadway from 53rd to 57th streets as well as the Eden farm, running on Broadway North of 42nd street and over to the Hudson river. The aggregate value of these two properties would reach 40 million dollars at the climax of the Astor fortune, about 800 times more than he expended for them
      Among the characteristics of Astor real estate transactions were the nature of his leases to the land occupants. With the exception of the Astor Hotel and a few other buildings, John Jacob Astor did little for the development of his land. Instead he leased the land in long term leases to settlers who were authorized to build and develop the properties. The leases were long term but always foresaw the reversion of the land including all improvements to the Astor family. Thus, the Astors got valuable improvements in addition the the yearly rents at the end of each lease. This system contributed to increase the Astor fortune manifold, while the families of the occupants eventually lost the fruits of the labour of their forebears who had invested much into the development of these properties.
      Through continuous strive and parsimony, John Jacob Astor accumulated what would become Americas’s largest fortune at the time of his death, estimated to 20'000'000 $. The term millionaire had just been created, when Pierre Lorillard, a tobacco merchant, banker and large landholder died in 1843, leaving a fortune in excess of 1'000'000 $. In 1850, there were only about 25 people in New York that could be tagged millionaires, and less than this number in the rest of the United States. The Astor accumulation towered over the others. John Jacob Astor and Sarah Todd had several children, but their eldest son John Jacob Astor II was unfit for business following a fall in childhood; consequently the bulk of the Astor estate descended on the second son William Backhouse Astor, named for a long time family friend and Astors’s early banker. In his will Astor settled confortable amounts on his imbecile son and his surviving daughters, set aside a bequest of 400'000 $ to fund the Astor Library in New York and left the residual estate to his enterprising second son.

      Fortune : 20,000,000 $ (1847)
      250,000 $ 1800
      2,500,000 $ 1825
      20,000,000 E $ 1850
      Activity : Real Estate
      Main property: New York City real estate
      Other activities: Merchant, investments
      Associated properties : American Fur Co (1808-34, then divested) : monopoly in Western Fur trade acquiring the Mackinaw Co in 1809; Pacific Fur Co in 1810;
      Philanthropy: Contributed 400'000 $ to New York Public Library


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