John Jacob Astor, the son of a farmer, was born in Waldorf, Germany in 1763. When he was sixteen he moved to London to work with his brother who had started a business making musical instruments. While in England he heard from a friend that there was good money to be made buying and selling furs in America.
Astor travelled to New York in 1783. Within three years he had established a business buying furs from Native American trappers at the mouth of the Columbia River in Washington. The venture was a great success and he was soon employing a large number of men at his trading post.
Astor established trading posts along the Missouri and Columbia rivers he founded the village of Astoria to serve as a terminal station. By 1795 Astor had purchased a fleet of twelve ships. These were used to transport furs to Europe and the Far East and to bring back manufactured goods and tea that he sold to people living in America.
In 1808 Astor established the American Fur Company in an effort to challenge the powerful Hudson's Bay Company in Canada, which at the time dominated the fur trade in North America. In 1810 he established Fort Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon. Two years later Fort Astoria was sold to the North West Company for $58,000 and was renamed Fort George.
Astor continued trading under the name American Fur Company in the Rocky Mountains and by purchasing companies such as the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, owned by a group of mountain men, including Tom Fitzpatrick, David Jackson and William Sublette, obtained a virtual monopoly of the United States fur trade.
In 1834 Astor sold his fur-trading business to Ramsey Crooks and used the money to buy land in New York. When he died in 1848, John Jacob Astor left over $20 million to his children.