Astoria, Queens; Astor Place; The Waldorf-Astoria… even if you’re not a New Yorker, you’ve heard of these iconic places. You also probably know that they’re named for one very powerful family — The Astors.To this day their money is making waves in society. Brooke Astor’s estate was finally settled last week after a five year legal battle that lead to nasty revelations about her son, Anthony Marshall. He was eventually convicted of fraud.
So how do you build a dynasty like this one? One whose money lasts for generations? Take a look at how the Astors made their cash and you might have clue.
Johann Jacob Astor, Sr. worked as a butcher in Walldorf, southeastern Germany. His ancestors are said to have been French Huguenots who'd fled to Germany after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, which had granted protection to Protestants.
As a youngster, Astor worked for his father as a dairy salesman. He had three brothers, the eldest of whom, George, left home to work for an uncle in London who made musical instruments. Astor met up with him there after his 16th birthday.
(Note: The Astors are low on name originality, so for clarity we will refer to the 'founding' John Jacob Astor as John Jacob.)
He got his chance after 1783, when the Treaty of Paris was signed. He immigrated to New York and after several months took a job with a fur trader. By 1800, he'd built up his own business and was said to be worth $250,000 -- or about $8.9 million in 2012 dollars.
They had three children: Magdalena, John Jacob II and William. It would be William who, thanks to his seven children, created the Astor dynasty.
He helped finance American armaments in the War of 1812 by becoming the government's largest warbond holder. This, despite some of his fur trading operations becoming disrupted by fighting.
He bought and sold acres upon acres of land in and around New York City, including what is now Times Square. At the end of his life his fortune was estimated between $20 and $30 million, making him the richest man in America upon his death in 1848.
Even if he failed to distinguish himself as a businessman, William continued his father's philanthropy.
Henry Astor, William's youngest son, married a woman who was allegedly the daughter of the man who ran the family's Red Hook, NY farm. According to Wikipedia, 'his reputed disinheritance for falling in love with a poor woman became a celebrated scandal in New York society.'
Two of William Sr.'s three sons lived in side-by-side mansions on the future site of the Empire State Building.
William Waldorf Astor, John III's son, built a 13-story hotel next door to the home of his aunt, Caroline (William Jr.'s wife), as part of a family dispute. Caroline would go on to call it a 'glorified tavern.'
John IV, Waldorf Astor's cousin, got his revenge by building his own hotel next door, four stories higher, a few years later.
Eventually the two hotels were joined, resulting in the first Waldorf=Astoria. (the hotel was and still is officially styled with an equals sign or double-hyphen instead of a single hyphen) It became the most famous hotel in the world. It too stood on the future site of the Empire State Building.
He proved something of an eccentric: He allegedly faked his own death so that he could read positive news about himself in the American press. He spent the rest of his life hungering for British peerage, which he eventually received, obtaining the rank of Viscount.
Sons of Margaret Astor Ward, the great-granddaughter of JJ Astor, achieved success in New York politics, with one becoming a Congressman and another lieutenant governor. Another Astor cousin owned Newsweek for a while.
John Jacob 'Jakey' Astor VI, son of the Astor killed on the Titanic, married four times, as did his sister Ava Alice. A cousin, William Waldorf 'Bill' Astor, 3rd Viscount Astor, married three times.
But the Astors remained a force. In 1931, the modern Waldorf Astoria opened on Park Avenue. It became legendary for its service.
Another notable Astor achievement was seating the first woman in the House of Commons in the chamber's history.
William Astor, 4th Viscount of Astor, is step-father of Samantha Cameron, the British first lady. Her cousin, John Jacob Astor, 3rd Baron Astor of Hever, serves in her husband's parliament as under-secretary of state for defence. (The baron's been married twice).
Just last week, a settlement was reached over dividing the estate of Brooke Astor, in many ways the matriarch of the American Astors.
Astor was the great-great granddaughter, by marriage, of John Jacob. Her inheritance was said to be worth $100 million. Her son Anthony Marshall, 87, saw his share cut in half, to $14.5 million. Three years ago, he was convicted of stealing from her.
Brooke Astor died in 2007 at age 105, and was the subject of a four-page obituary in the Times.
Marshall's been married three times.
Source: New York Times
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