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John Jacob Astor I
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    (July 17, 1763-March 29, 1848)
    Born in Walldorf, Germany
    Birth name was Johann Jakob Astor
    Emigrated to England (1779) and the US (1784)
    Fur trader and real estate investor
    Founded the American Fur Company (1808)
    Worth $20 million at his death
    According to Forbes magazine, equivalent to $110 billion (2006)
    He eliminated much of his competition by getting Congress to pass a law banning Canadians from the US fur trade (1816).
    His American Fur Company then bought out or crushed his remaining competitors until he had established a near monopoly on the US fur trade by 1830.
    He thus provided a business model for everyone from John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil to Bill Gates and Microsoft.
    He smuggled opium to China (1816)
    During a fancy dinner, he wiped his fingers on the dress of his hostess.
    While on his deathbed, he berated one of his rent collectors for failing to get payment from a widow who had fallen behind.
    He sold off the American Fur Company just as European tastes in fashion were switching from furs to silk (1834).
    Her foresaw New York City's massive growth and invested heavily in cheap land in northern Manhattan.
    He was the first multimillionaire in America.
    Despite his wealth, he was largely excluded from New York's high society due to his thick German accent. (And his choice of napkin substitutes probably did not help his cause.)
    He left $400,000 in his will to found the Astor Library, which later became part of the New York Public Library.

Credit: C. Fishel

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