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Chronicles: Who is John Jacob Astor?

John Jacob AstorBorn Johann Jakob Astor into a poor family of refugees in Waldorf, Germany, John Jacob Astor was the first man in America to fulfill the American dream of becoming obscenely wealthy. In fact, considering inflation, interest rates, the national debt and various other technical jargon, John Jacob Astor was the fourth wealthiest man in American history who would have had a modern net-worth of $110.1 billion.
Arriving in the United States post Revolutionary War in 1784, fresh from having learned English working for his brother making musical instruments in London, John Jacob was set on making his fortune. And even at the young age of twenty, Astor had a head for business, a ruthless one at that. In a madly coincidental turn of fate for the Astor family, while John Jacob Astor was crossing the Atlantic to America, his ship became lodged in an iceberg for two months. It was during this time when Astor learned from a fellow passenger about the great business opportunities that lay in the fur trade. It was nearly 130 years later that his great-grandson, while enjoying the fruit of his ancestor’s fortuitous conversation aboard the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic, too plunged into an iceberg while crossing the pond. Unfortunately, John Jacob Astor the IV was not as lucky; he went down with the ship.

Through shrewd business dealings and an ability to see opportunity where once there was none, John Jacob Astor soon went from local fur trader to having a hold on the fur trading industry in America. He even convinced Congress to pass a law forbidding foreigners from entering the fur trade to ensure he had no competition. Astor traded fur on both sides of the US, owning a fleet of ships that regularly brought American goods to China (and sometimes even the highly illegal opium).
In the 1830s, Astor withdrew from the fur trade industry and spent the remainder of his years as a real estate baron in New York, foreseeing that the city would one day become a metropolis. He bought huge tracts of land leasing it for a profit that on rent alone, generated $1,250,000 in revenue. Luckily for New Yorkers, Astor wasn’t miserly with his fortune and supported the arts, particularly the ornithologist John James Audubon and the poet and writer Edgar Allan Poe and in his will, he left $400,000 to build the Astor Library, which patrons can still visit today under the name The New York Public Library. Astor is buried in the Trinity Church Cemetery in lower Manhattan at Broadway and Wall Street.
New York Public Libaray
11 West 40th Street, New York, NY‎ – (212) 930-0800‎

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Trinity Church Cemetery

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