John Jacob Astor: Americas First Multimillionaire

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Building upon his success and associations with the wealthy, he built places for upper-class New Yorkers to socialize. With his new connections, Astor was invited to become a member of the Freemasons, which opened up all kinds of new trade opportunities.

The Birth of America's First Millionaire John Jacon Astor

Again leveraging his connections, he began to ship items including everything from wooden toys to guns and even opium all over the world. Lewis and Clark had recently returned from their expedition with stories of the vast wilderness to the west.

America's First Millionaire Made His First Fortune In the Fur Trade

Furs were still a large part of his enterprise so John Jacob Astor decided to follow the call of Thomas Jefferson and establish a business on the West Coast. In addition, he commissioned an overland expedition to map trading posts along the route from New York to the mouth of the Columbia River. This route later became known as the Oregon Trail. Astor dreamed of creating his own city and succeed when he established the town of Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia River in , which became one of the first cities on the West Coast. Within in a year, his ship was sunk in a dispute with Indians, and Astoria was overrun by the British in the War of After the War of , the peace agreement with Britain opened up new opportunities with Canada.


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Astor exploited this new source of foreign trade in furs and established the new headquarters of the American Fur Company on the shores of Mackinac Island in present-day Michigan. The lucrative fur business soon brought in competitors.

John Jacob Astor: America's 1st Multimillionaire

Astor, seeing that the fur market would soon collapse based on the increased supply of furs, sold the American Fur Company and pivoted once again to concentrate on real estate in New York City. He knew that New York would be expanding soon so he used the proceeds from selling the American Fur Company to buy cheap property outside the current metropolis of Manhattan Island.

After holding them for a few years, his properties were worth much more than he had paid for it. He proposed the layout of Manhattan with sequentially numbered streets and relatively square city blocks. His brand soon became one of luxury and prosperity. Properties, such as the Astor House or the Waldorf-Astoria, served to reinforce his brand image even more. He adeptly leveraged his brand by using the newspapers to report who was staying at the Waldorf Astoria. Reporting who stayed at the Waldorf Astoria increased his opulent brand image because if you could afford to stay at the Waldorf Astoria, you must have been somebody big.

The global depression of caused many people to seek refuge in big cities like New York.


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  • The population of New York City swelled to over a quarter of a million, but as poverty became rampant and the depression lingered, property values began to fall. Rather than viewing this as a defeat, Astor saw this as an opportunity and invested even more heavily by buying up more property. Because of his immense wealth, he was able to weather the depression longer than others.

    America’s First Multi-Millionaire, 250 Years Later

    As with many of the super rich, John Jacob Astor went on to become very philanthropic as he got older. At the time of his death in , John Jacob Astor was the wealthiest person in the United States with an estimated wealth of over 20 million dollars. The story of John Jacob Astor has many lessons for entrepreneurs. John Jacob Astor , who died on this day, was the first multi-millionaire businessman in the United States. The son of a butcher, Astor was born in at the village of Waldorf in Germany.

    At 17 he made his way to England where his brother George had set up a musical instrument business in London.

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    Astor spent three years in England, learning the language and honing his business skills. He intended to make his fortune in the United States, which he saw as a new land of opportunity after the War of Independence.


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    • He left England in November , but his ship became stuck in ice at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay, where it was stranded for two months. While kicking his heels on board, Astor is said to have fallen into conversation with a fellow passenger who had gone into business trading furs with Native Americans.

      John Jacob Astor

      For a time he did sell pianos and flutes sent by his brother in England, but with the profits he bought furs. He soon opened a shop in New York and by the turn of the century he had developed it into the country's leading fur company. It would monopolise the fur business for decades, at a time when beaver hats were considered the height of fashion in America and Europe.

      Astor also began exporting furs to China and importing Chinese silk and tea, while also turning his attention to the opium trade. China had outlawed it but Astor knew that despite the illegality, opium was still in popular demand. Ambitious and ruthless, he purchased 10 tons of Turkish opium in and sent it into China, trading it for goods — tea, pottery and fabrics.

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