John Jacob Astor and the First Great American Fortune


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About the Book

This biography analyzes Astor’s rise from poor German immigrant in 1784 to the first modern millionaire—he was one before the term “millionaire” entered the English language. Many consider him to be the fourth wealthiest American of all times. After his death in 1848, the public began to discuss the “responsibility” of a millionaire. Some argued that he must have been greedy and cold. Some voices demanded that he should have given all his money back to the United States. More liberal thinkers praised him for his genius and vision.
This biography presents a balanced picture. Astor was the founder of the first American settlement on the Pacific (Astoria, Oregon) and of New York’s fine hotels the Astor House and the Waldorf-Astoria, as well as a developer of the American West and a fur trader. Many American cities and sites are named after him. He donated the Astor Library to the city of New York (it became the first public library of the city), now part of the New York Public Library.

About the Author(s)

Alexander Emmerich teaches transatlantic cultural history at the University of Augsburg. He has written several books in German about American history, the history of the German-Americans, and the history of the Wild West.

Bibliographic Details

Alexander Emmerich
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 204
Bibliographic Info: 21 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2013
pISBN: 978-0-7864-7213-0
eISBN: 978-1-4766-0382-7
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Preface 1

Introduction 3

1. Origins, 1763–1780 17

Family Background 19

Astor’s Youth 22

The Decision to Leave Germany 24

2. Apprentice, 1780–1784 30

First Professional Steps 31

Crossing the Atlantic Ocean 33

3. Immigrant, 1784–1800 39

Arriving in New York 41

Following Native American Paths 49

Family and Social Network 54

4. Visionary, 1800–1815 60

Enter the China Trade 61

Real Estate on the Rise 66

Founding the American Fur Company 69

Astoria, Oregon 74

The War of 1812 and the Loss of Astoria 85

Astor and the Peace Treaty of Ghent 91

5. Global Player, 1815–1834 97

The Formation of the Second Bank of the United States 98

Business Genius 100

Returning to Europe 105

Trade on the Frontier 113

Retreat from Business 119

6. New Yorker, 1834–1848 124

The Astor House 126

Washington Irving’s Astoria 131

Economic Crisis and Immigration Waves 137

Age and Death 140

Astor’s Last Will—Founding a Dynasty 143

Astor’s Public Image and Legacy 150

7. Astor Revisited—Afterthoughts 167

Notes 173

Bibliography 189

Index 195