Thursday, April 28, 2011


Day 1, May 18,1777

John Jacob Astor's family
I’m currently living in Walldorf, Germany, near Heidelberg.  I’m fourteen years of age and I’m already working as an assistant at my father’s butcher shop.  My mother died when I was young.  My family does not have much money, so we only spend it on necessities such as food, but we still have much pride and we manage by being frugal.  By working at my father’s shop I have learned a lot about money and business. I now think that it is very important to be frugal like my family in order to be successful. My father took me out of school as soon as he could, so I could work full time at my father’s butcher shop.
I want to get out of Germany.  One of my brothers lives in England, and I hope that I can join him at one point, but I need enough money and he would have to teach me English.

Day 2, June 16, 1783

Wych Street, London
            I was living in London for a while, I knew that if I wanted to go to the United States that I would have to go to London first where I could learn English.  I worked for my brother, George Astor, manufacturing musical instruments such as pianos.  The store was located on 26 Wych Street and the firm operated under the name “George and John Astor”.   I never planned on staying in London for a long time, so when I was 20 and I had saved up $25 which was enough money in 1783, I knew it was my time to go to the United States.  I had a plan, I knew that I wanted to be successful I wanted to make a name of myself.  I knew that America is where my dream would come true, it was my only chance. My future was going to be remarkably amazing in New York. I left from London in 1783, at the beginning of winter.  My ship got stuck in ice for two months before it completed its voyage. When I was stuck I met a German man who told me how much money there was to be made in fur trade. I finally landed in Baltimore, Maryland, in March 1784.

Day 3, March 14, 1784

Fur shop
              I have another brother living in New York, and after a few days of living in Maryland I knew I wanted to join him.  He told me that New York was the place to be.  I had brought seven flutes with me from London and sold them to make money to move to New York.  When I arrived in New York, I joined my brother and found a job selling bread door to door.  Roaming around New York helped me become familiar with my new town and meet some of the residents.  At the time, New York’s population was 25, 000, so it was not difficult to walk around the whole city in one day.  Along one of the streets, I encountered a fur dealer’s shop.  I remembered what I had been told on the ship and decided to investigate the fur trade.  Soon after that I was employed at the fur dealer’s shop, at a wage of $2 per week.

Day 4, January 2, 1794

The Tonquin, One of John Jacob Astor's ship
           Two months ago, I made a contract not only with the Northwest Company of Montreal which is powerful in Quebec but also with the state of Quebec. Thanks to this contract, six weeks ago, I sent some of my men from New York to Quebec to buy furs in Montreal (the furs are indeed less expensive in Quebec). This morning, they came back with this wonderful and precious fur; the trip was very long, difficult and exhausting. All of the furs were stored in my boat. But, we missed the tide, so my ship has to wait until the next tide. Tomorrow morning, it will be sent to Europe where the furs are expensive. These furs will give me good profits to expand my trade. I have already thought of opening a trade route to China: it will earn me greater profits.

Day 5, May 23, 1800

Indians selling fur to American merchands
           This morning I bought fur from Indian trappers. I bought a lot of fur because two of my ships were in New York and I needed to load at least one in order to send it to China. Just three quarters of one had been already loaded with other fur that I had bought in the past few weeks. The Indian trappers’ fur was a little bit too expensive that day, but I bought it anyway. Afterwards with my men I went to the harbor of New York. When we arrived there, my men loaded my boat, the one which was almost full. My men succeeded in loading my boat completely and some fur was still on the dock. So I decided to send some of my men to put the rest of the fur and store it in my warehouse. Then, my boat, the full one starting its trip to China. I will get 50,000 dollars just for this ship. Regarding my other boat, I will definitely need to get more fur to load it and send it to China. Tomorrow, a long day is waiting for me.

Day 6, April 23, 1802

Sarah Told
Another child of mine died in infancy. It was supposed to be a boy, and since boys have trouble surviving the complications of infancy these days, he couldn’t make it. He was the third one who passed away in infancy. The first one, we were going to name her Sarah, and the second, Henry. We didn’t know what to name the recent one. My spouse, Sarah Todd, was not surprised. Ah… Sarah. I remember the exact day we got married. September 19th, 1785. It was a beautiful day outside, birds were singing like never before…it felt like it was a message from the heavens. She just brightened it with her dress of white crepe adorned with a trim of Brussels lace and dangling barbes. The orange blossoms she was holding surely stood out. That was the best day of my life. I find that part of my success is due to this marriage. Sarah was part of the middle class, and she possesses a frugal mind yet a business judgment that I honestly find better than most merchants. She helped greatly: she brought me important contacts through her family, and during my absences while I was on trips, she ran my store, despite her pregnancies. She’s the daughter of my poor landlady, but we were well-connected, and of Adam Todd, a highly respected citizen of New York. The second best was the day I held Magdalen, my eldest daughter who is now fourteen, for the first time. I never thought anything could be so gentle, so fragile, so small. Now, I have five children in total: Madgalen, John, William, Dorothea, and Eliza. When I die, I hope my children continue the family legacy in business since I have worked hard in it and I think that they deserve to inherit it.  

Day 7, September 5, 1811

Fort Astoria

Today, we arrived at Fort Henry, a winter camp built on the Snake River in Oregon. I will recapitulate the Astor expedition since it began and what we are going to do next. It was named the Astor expedition because I financed all of it. The expedition is made up of hunters, interpreters, guides, and one Indian woman: Marie Dorion, who is married to Pierre Dorion and has two young sons. First, we went through South Dakota and Wyoming where we accumulated 6,000 pounds of buffalo meat. After that, we went to Fort Henry, where we are today. Tomorrow we will start building canoes, and when we finish that, we will travel down the Snake River to the city of Milner in Idaho. There, the expedition will be divided into three groups. One led by Donald MacKenzie will travel north to reach Fort Astoria. The second led by Wilson Price Hunt will travel to the Columbia River and next to Fort Astoria. The third, which will be composed of Ramsey Crooks, John Day and four Canadians, will come back here to Fort Henry. They will have to trap more animals like Buffalo for furs and meat in Idaho and Wyoming.

Day 8, February 9, 1834

John Jacob Astor
           I finally retired from the American Fur Company and withdrew from both domestic and foreign trade since my interest had been declining for a long time. The American demand for furs and Chinese tea was decreasing. There were also major changes in commercial distribution due to advancement of railways and paddlewheel steamers. By the beginning of this year, I had already started to dismantle my trading empire. I was very sad that my fur trade was taking a turn for the worse, but I knew I shouldn’t stop working. I began to turn my interest into other business activities and investments including real estate, money-lending, insurance companies, banking, public securities, railroads and canals, and hopefully the hotel business in Manhattan. Even though I have many choices, I really want to concentrate mostly on real estate because I feel it will be the most profitable. I know, however, that it is quite different from trading fur, but that is what makes it even more exciting.

Day 9, June 6, 1834

           I’ve decided to leave the fur trade, a big decision for myself, since I was involved in its activities. I have returned to the wonderful streets of New York City, the place I truly call home. I feel like a new person, warmly welcomed back and ready to start over. I know exactly why I returned, I want to commence a career in real estate, particularly in uptown Manhattan.  I can sense a big boom in the popularity of this upper north section of the island; it’s time to invest. Mayor DeWitt Clinton, who served in office from 1803 to 1815, created a grid system for our city, litteraly shaping it. Meanwhile, the upper half of Manhattan is still rather underdevelopped. The possibilities for this area are limitless since the growing area of New York City is expanding and the logical land to spread onto would be the land to the north. This will be a rather easy project for the land is now occupied mostly by farms and non-developed territories. I can use the money from my selling of my American Fur Company to further expand my real estate empire. So it’s decided; I will be working in real estate.

Day 10, May 30, 1837

Former residence on 88th street near the East River
            As a businessman, I tend strictly to business. It feels like I can’t stop working. As a normal man at home, I’m a frugal person, just like my wife Sarah, but I know that with the amount of money that I have, I am able to spend it at my leisure. I love my wonderful home that I devoted my time and money to. It is my residence on 88th Street near the East River. It has three stories, and I have a room for everything I need, including rooms for the maids; all of it is at my fingertips. My two favorite rooms out of the house are the drawing room, decorated with a piano in the center, a couple of pieces of art hanging on the walls that are painted with a nice tone of beige, a few sofas and a desk with a nice comfortable chair, and the first dining room, a neo-Gothic style room with a magnificent grey marble fireplace, paintings all around the walls of the room, red velvet curtains, a large set of 18th Century dining room chairs and a Gillow table under two beautiful chandeliers. I will never regret building and putting so much effort into my home.  Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Vanderbilt will never beat me.

Day 11, September 11, 1837

Waldorf-Astoria Hotel

        All the newspapers are reporting about the recent crisis we are having in our economy. The property values are unheard of, so low that now is the perfect time to invest! They are calling this period the Crisis of 1837. It is such a horrid time that people are being forced to foreclose on their properties. I already own some properties west of
5th Avenue in the 30s, so I’ll start my empire with those properties, including my hotel. Ahh, my hotel, the prized possession of my collection. The Waldorf-Astoria, located on 49th and Park Avenue, is the best place you could stay! Everybody raves about it and how it gives New York a whole new sense of luxury. Now that’s a reputation you want for your hotel! We’ve had some pretty famous people stay there like Charles Dickens and Daniel Webster.
          Anyway, I have a good amount of money prepared to invest in the properties, and since the prices are extremely low, I will have a great return on my investments; I can’t wait!

Day 12, March 29, 1848

Trinity Churchyard
       I am talking from my grave. I have passed away today, but my memory, legacy, and fortune will stay. I am resting at the Trinity Churchyard, quite a nice place to spend the rest of eternity while in a box, surrounded by fellow notable people. Of course I am sad to be gone, but I have lived a rich and eventful life. I am so proud of how far I’ve come. Who knew an average person from Germany could make it as far as I have, and become the first multi-millionaire in America? The impact I had on New York is immense, with Astoria, the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, and my real estate empire. I also have my wonderful family to carry on my legacy. Ahh, the great things my family will do! I believe that I have made a positive influence on this city and that it will stay forever. I have no regrets.

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