ASTOR, John Jacob (1763-1848), German-American merchant and
financier, born near Heidelberg, Germany. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1783, almost destitute, and established his residence in New York City. In 1786 he entered the fur trade, dealing directly with the Indians.
Because of his ambition and skillful business dealings, he acquired a fortune within six years. In order to combat the British fur-trading monopoly in Canada, he organized the American Fur Co. in 1808. He
established trading posts along the Missouri and Columbia rivers and founded the village of Astoria (now in Oregon) at the mouth of the Columbia River to serve as a terminal station. After the War of 1812,
Astor expanded his trading activities. He shipped cargoes of furs in his own vessels to many countries, notably China; he speculated in government securities; and he
acquired large tracts of real estate in New York City. He sold his fur-trading business in 1834, devoting himself thereafter to the management of his financial interests. He left a legacy of
$400,000 for a public library, later known as the Astor Library, now part of the New York Public Library in New York City.