John Jacob Astor (July 17, 1763 – March 29, 1848), born Johann Jakob Astor, was a German-American businessman who was the first prominent member of the Astor family and the first multi-millionaire in the United States. He was the creator of the first trust in America, from which he made his fortune in fur trading, real estate and opium.
Astor's career began with working in Germany as assistant in his father's business as a dairy salesman. In 1779 at age 16 he emigrated to London, where his brother George was a flute maker. John Jacob then went to the United States following the American Revolutionary War and built a fur-trading empire that extended to the Great Lakes region and Canada, and later expanded into the American West and Pacific coast. In the early 19th century he diversified into New York City real estate and later became a famed patron of the arts. At the time of his death in 1848, Astor was the most opulent person in the United States, leaving an estate estimated to be worth at least $20 million. His estimated net worth, if calculated as a fraction of the U.S. gross domestic product at the time, would have been equivalent to $110.1 billion in 2006 U.S. dollars, making him the fourth richest person in American history. An estimate based on inflation from the legally set American gold standard rate of $21 per ounce in the 1850s would result in a much more conservative net worth of $1.272 billion in 2011 dollars.
John Jacob Astor's ancestors were Waldensian refugees from Savoy, and Astor remained a member of the Reformed church throughout his life. He was born in Walldorf, near Heidelberg in the old Palatinate which became part of the Duchy of Baden in 1803, Germany (now in Rhein-Neckar-Kreis in the state of Baden-Württemberg). His father, Johann Jacob Astor (July 7, 1724-April 18, 1816), was a butcher. The son, John Jacob Astor, learned English in London while working for his brother, George Astor, manufacturing musical instruments.