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John Jacob Astor: America's First Multimillionaire Hardcover – January 19, 2001
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From Publishers Weekly
Expertly situating his subject's accomplishments in the context of late 18th- and early 19th-century commercial and geopolitical expansion, Madsen (Chanel; Gloria and Joe) weighs in with an absorbing biography of one of 19th-century America's most powerful men. Having immigrated to the U.S. from Germany in 1783, Astor was on friendly terms with such prominent figures as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Albert Gallatin by the time he came to dominate the North American fur trade in 1800. While Astor's relationships with Jefferson and others characterized the wheeling and dealing in fledgling Washington, D.C., his mastery over the fur trade figured significantly in opening up the American West. The book's best moments come when Madsen describes Astor's efforts to establish a permanent outpost in the Oregon territory. Called Astor, it was designed not only to aid its founder's domination of the fur trade in the Northwest, but to help him facilitate trade with China--for while fur brought Astor his first fortune, foreign trade provided him with his second. While he had a talent for exploiting new business opportunities, Astor also had the foresight to extricate himself from both the fur and trading businesses before they waned. Astor's third fortune, the legacy he would pass on to his heirs, sprang from his real estate investments in Manhattan. He sank the profits from his first ventures into large swaths of land in rapidly expanding New York City, where he built mansions and tenements alike. Madsen provides a largely sympathetic portrait of Astor; while no revelations emerge, the book effectively projects his story against the backdrop of seminal events in early American history. 21 illus. and 2 maps.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
For much of our nation's history, the name Astor has been synonymous with great wealth. Madsen (Chanel, Gloria and Joe) now adds his account of the life and times of the nation's first multimillionaire. Astor was born in Germany in 1763 and came to the New World at age 20 with a shipment of musical instruments as his stake. By the time he died in 1848, he had made separate fortunes in the fur trade, the China trade, and New York real estate, with a few bucks from opium trading thrown in. But his really big money came from land, which he purchased in large tracts in and around the burgeoning city of New York and leased out on long contracts. By the late 1880s, his descendants were collecting $9 million per year in rent from the city alone! This work is based on such published sources as Kenneth W. Porter's John Jacob Astor, Businessman (1931) and John Upton Terrell's Furs by Astor (1963) but does have both footnotes and a list of sources. Unfortunately, there are many awkwardly constructed sentences and geographic errors; otherwise, this would have been an acceptable public library purchase. Patrick J. Brunet, Western Wisconsin Technical Coll., La Crosse
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
Born in relative poverty in Germany, he immigrated to the United States via England, arriving just after the Revolutionary War ended. Marrying the daughter of the woman who ran his boarding house in New York, his business career moves from the importing of musical instruments to the exporting of furs. So successful is he in the fur business that he is able to finance the establishment of the first American fort in Oregon and supports this effort with his own ships via Cape Horn. Returning east overland, his employees discover the route that subsequently becomes the Oregon Trail!
This is a swashbuckler of a story which spans not just the North American Continent but the global economy as it existed in his day as well. Besides furs, he traded tea, seal skins, opium and assorted other commodities through global wars and economic recession on a scale to match the great trading houses of England, the British East India Company and the Hudson Bay Company. He was a man who took huge business risks. A key focus of the book is naturally the fur trade, the dominant wealth generator of its time. This was his first truly big score, one that he engaged in for over 20 years and the primary venture through which he amasses the fortune that provided the investment capital for all the endeavors which would follow.
Alex Madsen does an excellent job of fitting Astor within the economic and political time period in which he lived. I have found information here on the fur trade I have found nowhere else. This is a very well researched book; one that not only reports on the biography of the life lived but the history of the time as well. There is a lot to appreciate here. It is a book well worth the time.
My rating for the book went from four stars to three after three typos that changed the dates of activities that occurred in the 1800s to the 1900's (page 111 discussion about the Tonquin's voyage date states 1911 typo from 1811?; page 115 discussion about Astoria and the Northwest Territory date states 1911 typo from 1811?; page 169 discussion about William Astor taking the European Grand Tour date states 1913 typo from 1813?). It may not sound very important to some people but it does make one question the accuracy of all of the material of the book in a historical work when such a glaring mistake is not made once but three times.
On the "shelf it", "lend it", "donate it", or "pulp it" scale - it is a "donate".