John Jacob Astor (1763-1848)

John Jacob Astor, of New York, Founder of the American Fur Company

On coming to America from Germany, Astor established himself as a fur trader. He made a fortune trading on both coasts, dealing in furs as well as opium with the Chinese. On retiring from life in the wilds of "Indian Country" he came to New York. He took a townhouse in the city and built a modest mansion at Hellgate, being careful not to appear overly showy to his more refined, yet poorer neighbors. He then turned his hand to real estate, correctly predicting Manhattan's direction of growth. He bought up land on the cheap that would later stretch from Broadway to Times Square and beyond. On his death, he was the largest landowner in New York City and his assets were valued at about $25 million (roughly $140 billion today) at a time when 'millionaire' was a new and rarely used term. Towards the end of his life he was asked about his wealth and left a pearl of wisdom: "A man who has a million dollars is as well off as if he were rich".