Cover image for John Jacob Astor : America's first multimillionaire
John Jacob Astor : America's first multimillionaire
Madsen, Axel.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : John Wiley, [2001]

Physical Description:
vii, 312 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HC102.5.A76 M33 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



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

Author Notes

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

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

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

Library Journal Review

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.

Choice Review

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

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. vii
Introductionp. 1
1 The Hard Yearsp. 7
2 Flutes and Miss Toddp. 16
3 Into the Woodsp. 22
4 Politicsp. 35
5 Rounding Out the Centuryp. 44
6 China Profitsp. 50
7 Realpolitikp. 60
8 Punqua Wingchongp. 66
9 Familyp. 72
10 The Good Ship Enterprisep. 81
11 A Perfect Trianglep. 90
12 Outboundp. 109
13 The Hunt Journeyp. 120
14 No Newsp. 127
15 Mr. Madison's Warp. 134
16 "So Long as I Have a Dollar"p. 154
17 John Jacob Astor and Sonp. 168
18 Parisp. 179
19 This Land Is My Landp. 195
20 Estimable Grand-Papap. 214
21 The Bigger Picturep. 225
22 Writing about Itp. 235
23 A Third Fortunep. 244
24 Richest Man in Americap. 256
25 Heirs and Gracesp. 266
Notesp. 295
Bibliographyp. 304
Indexp. 307