Astor Family

Astor Family

▪ American family
      wealthy American family whose fortune, rooted in the fur trade, came to be centred on real estate investments in New York City.

      John Jacob Astor (Astor, John Jacob) (1763–1848), the founder of the family fortune, is covered in a separate article: see Astor, John Jacob. His son, William Backhouse Astor (1792–1875), who inherited the major portion of the estate, continued his father's program of investing in Manhattan real estate, and greatly expanded the Astor Library. Stung by accusations that he was a slum landlord, he attempted to renovate some of the older tenements owned by the Astors. At the same time, he more than doubled the family fortune, leaving an estate valued at nearly $50,000,000.

      John Jacob Astor (1822–90), son of William Backhouse Astor, increased the fortune to between $75,000,000 and $100,000,000. But he was a more active philanthropist than his predecessors, making substantial gifts to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Trinity Church as well as to the Astor Library.

      His son, William Waldorf Astor (1848–1919), was politically ambitious, but after a stint in the New York state legislature and three years as U.S. minister to Italy, he moved permanently to England in 1890. He became a British subject in 1899 and, in 1917, became 1st Viscount Astor, of Hever Castle. He used much of his wealth—aside from that spent building the Waldorf section of what eventually became the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel—restoring Hever Castle and funding conservative political causes in England.

      John Jacob Astor (1864–1912) was a cousin of William Waldorf Astor and a great-grandson of the fur trader who founded the family fortune. An inventor and a science fiction novelist, he was also responsible for building several great New York City hotels: the Astoria (later combined with the Waldorf), the Knickerbocker, and the St. Regis. He served as a director on the boards of several major U.S. corporations, but his career was cut short when he perished in the mid-Atlantic aboard the “Titanic.”

      Waldorf Astor (1879–1952) and his wife, Nancy (1879–1964), are covered in separate articles: see Astor (of Hever Castle), Waldorf Astor, 2nd viscount (Astor, Waldorf Astor, 2nd Viscount, Baron Astor Of Hever Castle), and Astor (of Hever Castle), Nancy Witcher Astor, Viscountess (Astor, Nancy Witcher Astor, Viscountess).

      Vincent Astor (1891–1959), son of the John Jacob Astor who built the well-known hotels, departed markedly from Astor family conservatism. He sold some Astor-owned properties to New York City under generous terms so that they might be converted into housing projects. In addition, he backed the New Deal, though temporarily, and supported other social reforms. He took an active role in managing the family real estate holdings, and during the last two decades of his life headed the corporation that published Newsweek magazine.

      For John Jacob Astor (1886–1971), younger brother of Waldorf Astor, see Astor (of Hever, of Hever Castle), John Jacob Astor, 1st Baron (Astor, John Jacob Astor, 1st Baron).

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Universalium. 2010.

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