The Astor family achieved prominence in business, society, and politics in the United States and the United Kingdom during the 19th and 20th centuries. With ancestral roots in the Italian Alps,
the Astors settled in Germany, first appearing in North America in the 18th century with John Jacob Astor, one of the wealthiest people in history.
Founding family members
John Jacob Astor (born Johann Jakob Astor) was the youngest of four sons born to Johann Jacob Astor (1724–1816) and Maria Magdalena vom Berg (1730–1764).
The Astor family can trace their ancestry back to Giovan Asdour (1595-1668) and Gretta Ursula Asdour (1589-). Giovan was born in Chiavenna and died in Zürich, Switzerland. Their son, Hans Pieter Asdor, was born in Schweiz and died in Nußloch.
In 1783, John Jacob left for Baltimore, Maryland, and was active first as a dealer in woodwind instruments, then in New York as a merchant in opium, furs, pianos, and real estate. After moving to New York, John met and married Sarah Cox Todd (1762–1842). She worked alongside her husband as a consultant, and was accused of witchcraft after her success with the company in 1817. The accusations never led to legal action. They had eight children, including John Jacob Astor Jr. (1791–1869) and real estate businessman William Backhouse Astor Sr. (1792–1875).
John Jacob's fur trading company established a Columbia River trading post at Fort Astoria in 1811, the first United States community on the Pacific coast. He financed the overland Astor Expedition in 1810–1812 to reach the outpost, which was in the then-disputed Oregon Country. Control of Fort Astoria played a key role in English and American territorial claims on the region.
John and George's brother Henry (born Heinrich) (1754–1833) also emigrated to America. He was a horse racing enthusiast, and purchased a thoroughbred named Messenger, who had been brought from England to America in 1788. The horse became the founding sire of all Standardbred horses in the United States today.
The third brother Melchior remained in Germany.
During the 19th century, the Astors became one of the wealthiest families in the United States. Toward the end of that century, some of the family moved to England and achieved high prominence there. During the 20th century, the number of American Astors began to decline, but their legacy lives on in their many public works including the New York Public Library. English descendants of the Astors hold two hereditary peerages: Viscount Astor and Baron Astor of Hever.
While many of Astor members had joined to the Episcopal Church, John Jacob Astor remained a member of the Reformed congregation to his death.
Family namesake places
For many years, the members of the Astor family were known as "the landlords of New York". Their New York City namesakes are the famous Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, an Astor Row, Astor Court, Astor Place, and Astor Avenue in the Bronx, where the Astors used to stable horses. The neighborhood of Astoria, Queens, was renamed to incite John Jacob Astor to invest there.
Beyond New York City, the Astor family name is imprinted in a great deal of United States history and geography. Astor Street, in Chicago's landmark Gold Coast district, is named after John Jacob Astor. There are towns of Astor in the states of Florida, Georgia, Iowa, and Kansas and there are Astorias in Illinois, Missouri and Oregon. In the Astoria, Oregon, school district, the primary elementary school is called John Jacob Astor Elementary.
There is a neighborhood called Astor Park just south of downtown Green Bay, Wisconsin. At the heart of this neighborhood is a park (also called "Astor Park"); the Astor family donated this land for the building of a trade school.
The Astors were also prominent on Mackinac Island, Michigan, and Newport, Rhode Island, with their summer house, Beechwood. At Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, there are the Lord and Lady Astor Suites; the hotel salon is called Astor's. There is even a Hostel in York, England called The Astor. In addition, a dorm at St. George's School in Newport, Rhode Island, bears Astor's name.
The Danubius Hotel Astoria in the center of Pest, Budapest, Hungary, opened in 1914, was given its name by the original hotel owners and Mihály Gellér, the first General Manager of the hotel, who formerly worked for the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York.
Astor family tree