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John Jacob Astor : America's first multimillionaire /
Axel Madsen.
imprint
New York : John Wiley, c2001.
description
vii, 312 p. : ill. ; 25 cm.
ISBN
0471385034 (cloth : alk. paper)
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
author
imprint
New York : John Wiley, c2001.
isbn
0471385034 (cloth : alk. paper)
catalogue key
4240326
 
Includes bibliographical references and index.
A Look Inside
About the Author
Author Affiliation
Axel Madsen has written fifteen biographies, including Chanel: A Woman of Her Own, Gloria and Joe: The Star-Crossed Love Affair of Gloria Swanson and Joe Kennedy, and The Deal Maker: How William C. Durant Made General Motors
Excerpts
Flap Copy
"All he touched turned to gold, and it seemed as if fortune delighted in erecting him a monument of her unerring potency."-Philip Hone, the last aristocratic mayor of New York When he died a few months short of his eighty-fifth birthday, John Jacob Astor was the richest man in the United States. The fortune he left behind represented an astounding one-fifteenth of all personal wealth in America. Now, in this revelatory biography, bestselling author Axel Madsen deftly examines the private life of the first multinational entrepreneur of the New World. Ruthless, tightfisted, but with an amazing gift for organizing business, Astor built an empire that spanned the commercial world of his time. From the end of the American Revolution to the mid-nineteenth century, Astor exhibited his flair for business and left a lasting impact on an emerging America. Astute and audacious, he became one of the first merchants to imagine the world as a global economy. And he had an uncanny knack for bolting out of businesses just before they went bust. He liquidated his China clippers just as tea from India and Japan cut into the tea trade; he dropped his fur interest just as fashion shifted and beavers and other furs became too scarce to be used in the emerging ready-made clothing industry. He then successfully converted his profits into Manhattan real estate. Astor was a slumlord, a war profiteer, and a merciless jobber who shipped opium to China and sold liquor to Indians. He tricked President Thomas Jefferson into making an exception on the trade embargo against Britain and France for him-and profited handsomely when James Madison blundered into the War of 1812. John Jacob Astor tells the fascinating tale of this German-born son of a butcher who made his fortune in a new world where his money influenced public policy and led him to socialize with presidents and kings. This intriguing book features some of the most fascinating figures in the early history of the United States, including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Aaron Burr, and Washington Irving. A thrilling account of this legendary figure and the harrowing cross-country expedition he financed in order to rule the rich western fur trade, John Jacob Astor weaves the story of the beginning of big business in America with Astor's life and, ultimately, reveals a man whose desire to reinvent himself reshaped the modern world.
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Library Journal on 2001-02-15:
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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Appeared in Choice on 2001-11-01:
By the time of his death in 1848, Astor had become the richest person in the US. Madsen, a prolific biographer, examines the qualities that led to Astor's extraordinary business success--a keen sense of market timing, a knack for making connections with important politicians, and the good sense to select capable people to handle his far-flung business interests. In the late 18th century when demand for fur was high and pelts were plentiful, his American Fur Company trapped across much of North America and sold furs in the fashion-conscious East coast and Europe. With profits from fur trading, Astor bought ships and cargo for the China trade. New York City real estate was the third and enduring source of wealth for Astor and his heirs. Chronicling Astor's youth in Germany and his move to England and finally New York, Madsen describes Astor's home and social life as well as his business ventures. This accessible volume concludes with brief outlines of the lives of Astor's descendents in England and the US. John Jacob Astor: Business and Finance in the Early Republic, by John D. Haeger (CH, Jan'92), offers a well-researched account of Astor's business life. Madsen's volume is recommended for general readers and undergraduate students. G. W. Goodale Castleton State College
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2001-01-15:
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 ChinaÄfor 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. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Reviews
Review Quotes
Fur trader, slumlord, war profiteer, opium dealer, liquor salesman. That''s the rap on the first of America''s legendary business titans, John Jacob Astor. The biography, John Jacob Astor: America''s First Multimillionaire by Axel Madsen, records how in 1784, he arrived in America after an unusually long crossing of the Atlantic: He was at sea for 4 months. He was 20 years old with $25 in his pocket. At the time of his death, a few months shy of his 85th birthday, he was worth upward of $20 million and was the richest man in the USA. According to Axel Madsen (who has written 15 biographies on famous figures, such as Joe Kennedy and Gloria Swanson), Astor embodied the American Dream His desire to reinvent himself propelled him to levels of financial success few could attain. By all historical accounts (the vast majority supplied by the New York Public Library archives), Astor was ruthless and stingy, but he had a flair for business. Sounds like a viable strategy. And he had an uncanny ability for high-tailing it out of a business before it went bust. A poor German immigrant, Astor made his way to New York and rapidly stamped his mark on an economy that was taking off. He seemingly glided from the fur trade, bolstered by selling liquor to the Indians, to shipping opium to China, to Manhattan real estate (his greatest coup). He is described as a slum lord. Fairly unsavory stuff, but worth a fortune. Money was his passion, and that''s all that mattered to him. He understood the impermanence of success and understood the volatility of the markets and how to anticipate change. Worthy instincts, even today. The fascinating thing about Astor is that, regardless of how one feels about his business practices, he was one of the first businessmen to imagine the world as a global economy. He went for it with gusto. To get a snapshot of how rich he was in his heyday, the author gives us this fine example: In 1844, the average New Yorker earned $1 a week. That year, Astor gave his granddaughter Laura a wedding gift of $250,000, conservatively worth $50 million today. The author reveals that it was really his wife, Sarah Todd, who came with a $300 dowry and a free place to live with her family, who started him on his financial way. Her wealth allowed him to quit hawking bread on the streets of lower Manhattan, his first job in this country. His work schedule is admirable, given the hours many of today''s workers put in. He would have breakfast at 9a.m., leave the office at 2 in the afternoon, have dinner at 3, then savor a glass of beer and three games of checkers each evening, according to Madsen. Astor offers a historical insight into a vibrant, growing American economy, as well as a glimpse of a man who made the most of his time here. The fault is the inability to tap into the real heart of what propelled this man to such great heights. We learn of his business practices but little about his inner motivation and soul. We know that after money was no object, he spent much time traipsing around Europe from court to court, trying to marry his favorite daughter off to royalty. But more of his business acumen would have been worth noting beyond the notion that he was merciless and aggressive. How so? The author assures us that part of that problem was that none of Astor''s children or siblings ever published an anecdote that might throw light on his character. Too bad. -- USA Today 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 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. -- Publishers Weekly Like Caesar''s Gaul, the continent of popular business biographies has lately been divided into three parts - let''s call them Pittsburgh, Wall Street and Silicon Valley. The Pittsburgh precinct is crowded with tales of the famous empire builders of the Gilded Age, the perennially interesting Morgans, Mellons and Rockefellers. The Wall Street region has produced a vast crop of books about various stock market geniuses. And Silicon Valley has become a fertile field for stories about famous young nerds and their favorite gadgets. So it is refreshing to find a new business biography that returns to some long-neglected historical terrain: America''s first generation of business titans. Long before there were Steel mills in Pittsburgh - indeed, before there was anything but Fort Duquesne in Pittsburgh - there were colorful American entrepreneurs who mobilized the capital, labor force and greed of the frontier to produce a new aristocracy of wealth to challenge the pedigrees of Europe. And the most successful of them all, for those who use money to keep score, was John Jacob Astor. At the time of his death in 1848, at the age of 84, he was by far the richest man in America - indeed, he personally owned nearly 7 percent of all the personal wealth in the young country, far more than the young upstart Cornelius Vanderbilt. As recently as the early 20th century, the Astor name was still a widely recognized synonym for limitless wealth. "John Jacob Astor: America''s First Multimillionaire" by Axel Madsen (John Wiley Sons, $30) offers an overdue refresher course in the roots of what is still a formidable fortune. Born in what is now southern Germany in 1763, Astor was a bright, enterprising young man whose early schooling gave him a tantalizing glimpse of the world''s possibilities. He reluctantly followed his father into the butcher''s trade, but two older brothers struck out for London and New York. Soon, he followed - first, to England, and finally, in November 1783, to America. He made his first fortune in the fur trade, and the men of his American Fur Company left their mark - and inevitably, their bruises - on the face of a barely explored North American wilderness. To help his fur trade with the Indians, he built a shipping empire, competing with the Boston Brahmins for a lucrative slice of the infamous opium trade with China. Finally, he plowed his profits into real estate, buying and leasing out the bucolic farms and riverfront property that are now known as Midtown Manhattan. Astor left money for what became one of the founding collections of the New York City Public Library, b
This item was reviewed in:
Kirkus Reviews, December 2000
Publishers Weekly, January 2001
Library Journal, February 2001
Wall Street Journal, March 2001
Globe & Mail, April 2001
Choice, November 2001
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Summaries
Back Cover Copy
On The Deal Maker: How William C. Durant Made General Motors: "A well-written biography."-New York Times On Stanwyck: The Life and Times of Barbara Stanwyck: "Madsen's admirably researched, insightful portrait of her aloof nature . . . reveals she was always torn between her wish to give of herself and her need to be in control."-Christian Science Monitor On Chanel: A Woman of Her Own: "Fascinating . . . . Takes the reader behind the coromandel veneers of Chanel's life."-New York Times Book Review "Carefully knits together the complex pattern of Chanel's complicated existence. It's not an easy task."-Toronto Globe and Mail On Gloria and Joe: "Axel Madsen finally gives the public a fascinating chronicle of the romance that could have ruined more than two careers."-Dallas Morning News On Cousteau: "Both critical and understanding. And it is exceptionally readable. Readers are well advised to take the plunge."-Chicago Tribune On Malraux: "Will stand as the best of more than a dozen books about Malraux in print."-Kansas City Star
Bowker Data Service Summary
An account of this legendary figure and the cross-country expedition he financed in order to rule the rich western fur trade, this volume weaves the story of the beginning of big business in America with Astor's life.
Table of Contents
Acknowledgmentsp. vii
Introductionp. 1
The Hard Yearsp. 7
Flutes and Miss Toddp. 16
Into the Woodsp. 22
Politicsp. 35
Rounding Out the Centuryp. 44
China Profitsp. 50
Realpolitikp. 60
Punqua Wingchongp. 66
Familyp. 72
The Good Ship Enterprisep. 81
A Perfect Trianglep. 90
Outboundp. 109
The Hunt Journeyp. 120
No Newsp. 127
Mr. Madison's Warp. 134
"So Long as I Have a Dollar"p. 154
John Jacob Astor and Sonp. 168
Parisp. 179
This Land Is My Landp. 195
Estimable Grand-Papap. 214
The Bigger Picturep. 225
Writing about Itp. 235
A Third Fortunep. 244
Richest Man in Americap. 256
Heirs and Gracesp. 266
Notesp. 295
Bibliographyp. 304
Indexp. 307
Table of Contents provided by Syndetics. All Rights Reserved.

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