Infomotions, Inc.John Jacob Astor / Hubbard, Elbert, 1856-1915



Author: Hubbard, Elbert, 1856-1915
Title: John Jacob Astor
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): astor; jacob astor; john jacob; jacob; furs; john; dollars; new york
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John Jacob Astor

by Elbert Hubbard

January, 1996 [Etext #412]


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LITTLE JOURNEYS
TO THE HOMES OF
GREAT BUSINESS MEN
BY ELBERT HUBBARD



JOHN J. ASTOR



The man who makes it the habit of his life to go to bed at nine
o'clock, usually gets rich and is always reliable.  Of course,
going to bed does not make him rich--I merely mean that such a
man will in all probability be up early in the morning and do a
big day's work, so his weary bones put him to bed early.  Rogues
do their work at night.  Honest men work by day.  It's all a
matter of habit, and good habits in America make any man rich. 
Wealth is a result of habit.
                                   --JOHN JACOB ASTOR


LITTLE JOURNEYS

Victor Hugo says, ``When you open a school, you close a prison.''

This seems to require a little explanation.  Victor Hugo did not
have in mind a theological school, nor yet a young ladies'
seminary, nor an English boarding-school, nor a military academy,
and least of all a parochial institute.  What he was thinking of
was a school where people--young and old-- were taught to be
self-respecting, self-reliant and efficient--to care for
themselves, to help bear the burdens of the world, to assist
themselves by adding to the happiness of others.

Victor Hugo fully realized that the only education that serves
is the one that increases human efficiency, not the one that
retards it.  An education for honors, ease, medals, degrees,
titles, position--immunity--may tend to exalt the individual
ego, but it weakens the race and its gain on the whole is nil. 

Men are rich only as they give.  He who gives great service,
gets great returns.  Action and reaction are equal, and the
radiatory power of the planets balances their attraction.  The
love you keep is the love you give away.

A bumptious colored person wearing a derby tipped over one
eye, and a cigar in his mouth pointing to the northwest,
walked into a hardware store and remarked, ``Lemme see
your razors.''

The clerk smiled pleasantly and asked, ``Do you want a
razor to shave with?''

``Naw,'' said the colored person, ``--for social purposes.''

An education for social purposes is n't of any more use than
a razor purchased for a like use.  An education which merely
fits a person to prey on society, and occasionally slash it up,
is a predatory preparation for a life of uselessness, and
closes no prison.  Rather it opens a prison and takes captive
at least one man.  The only education that makes free is the
one that tends to human efficiency.  Teach children to work,
play, laugh, fletcherize, study, think, and yet again--work,
and we will raze every prison.

There is only one prison, and its name is Inefficiency.  Amid
the bastions of this bastile of the brain the guards are Pride,
Pretense, Greed, Gluttony, Selfishness.

Increase human efficiency and you set the captives free.

``The Teutonic tribes have captured the world because of
their efficiency,'' says Lecky the historian.

He then adds that he himself is a Celt.

The two statements taken together reveal Lecky to be a man
without prejudice.  When the Irish tell the truth about the
Dutch the millennium approaches.

Should the quibbler arise and say that the Dutch are not
Germans, I will reply, true, but the Germans are Dutch--
at least they are of Dutch descent.

The Germans are great simply because they have the homely
and indispensable virtues of prudence, patience and industry.

There is no copyright on these qualities.  God can do many
things, but so far, He has never been able to make a strong
race of people and leave these ingredients out of the formula.

As a nation, Holland first developed them so that they
became the characteristic of the whole people.

It was the slow, steady stream of Hollanders pushing southward
that civilized Germany.

Music as a science was born in Holland.  The grandfather of
Beethoven was a Dutchman.

Gutenberg's forebears were from Holland.

And when the Hollanders had gone clear through Germany,
and then traversed Italy, and came back home by way of
Venice, they struck the rock of spiritual resources and the
waters gushed forth.

Since Rembrandt carried portraiture to the point of perfection,
two hundred and fifty years ago, Holland has been a
land of artists--and it is so even unto this day.

John Jacob Astor was born of a Dutch family that had
migrated down to Heidelberg from Antwerp.  Through some
strange freak of atavism the father of the boy bred back, and
was more or less of a stone-age cave-dweller.  He was a
butcher by trade, in the little town of Waldorf, a few miles
from Heidelberg.  A butcher's business then was to travel
around and kill the pet pig, or sheep, or cow that the tender-
hearted owners dare not harm.  The butcher was a pariah, a
sort of unofficial, industrial hangman.

At the same time he was more or less of a genius, for he
climbed steeples, dug wells, and did all kinds of disagreeable
jobs that needed to be done, and from which sober and
cautious men shrank like unwashed wool.

One such man--a German, too--lives in East Aurora.  I
joined him, accidentally, in walking along a country road
the other day.  He carried a big basket on his arm, and was
peacefully smoking a big Dutch pipe.  We talked of music and
he was regretting the decline of a taste for Bach, when he
shifted the basket to the other arm.

``What have you in the basket?'' I asked.

And here is the answer, ``Noddings--but dynamite.  I vas
going up on der hill, already, to blow me oud some stumps
oud.''  And I suddenly bethought me of an engagement I had
at the village.



John Jacob Astor was the youngest of four sons, and as many
daughters.  The brothers ran away early in life, and went to sea
or joined the army.  One of these boys came to America, and
followed his father's trade of butcher.

Jacob Astor, the happy father of John Jacob, used to take the boy
with him on his pig-killing expeditions.  This for two
reasons--one, so the lad would learn a trade, and the other to
make sure that the boy did not run away.

Parents who hold their children by force have a very slender
claim upon them.  The pastor of the local Lutheran Church
took pity on this boy, who had such disgust for his father's
trade and hired him to work in his garden and run errands.

The intelligence and alertness of the lad made him look
like good timber for a minister.

He learned to read and was duly confirmed as a member of
the church.

Under the kindly care of the village parson John Jacob grew
in mind and body--his estate was to come later.  When he
was seventeen, his father came and made a formal demand
for his services.  The young man must take up his father's
work of butchering.

That night John Jacob walked out of Waldorf by the wan
light of the moon, headed for Antwerp.  He carried a big red
handkerchief in which his worldly goods were knotted, and in
his heart he had the blessings of the Lutheran clergyman,
who walked with him for half a mile, and said a prayer at
parting.

To have youth, high hope, right intent, health and a big red
handkerchief is to be greatly blessed.

John Jacob got a job next day as oarsman on a lumber raft.

He reached Antwerp in a week.  There he got a job on the
docks as a laborer.  The next day he was promoted to checker-
off.  The captain of a ship asked him to go to London and
figure up the manifests on the way.  He went.

The captain of the ship recommended him to the company in
London, and the boy was soon piling up wealth at the rate of a
guinea a month.

In September, Seventeen Hundred and Eighty-three, came
the news to London that George Washington had
surrendered.  In any event, peace had been declared--
Cornwallis had forced the issue, so the Americans had stopped
fighting.

A little later it was given out that England had given up her
American Colonies, and they were free.

Intuitively John Jacob Astor felt that the ``New World'' was
the place for him.  He bought passage on a sailing ship bound
for Baltimore, at a cost of five pounds.  He then fastened five
pounds in a belt around his waist, and with the rest of his
money--after sending two pounds home to his father, with a
letter of love--bought a dozen German flutes.

He had learned to play on this instrument with proficiency,
and in America he thought there would be an opening for
musicians and musical instruments.

John Jacob was then nearly twenty years of age.

The ship sailed in November, but did not reach Baltimore
until the middle of March, having to put back to sea on account
of storms when within sight of the Chesapeake.  Then a
month was spent later hunting for the Chesapeake.  There
was plenty of time for flute-playing and making of plans.

On board ship he met a German, twenty years older than
himself, who was a fur trader and had been home on a visit.

John Jacob played the flute and the German friend told
stories of fur trading among the Indians.

Young Astor's curiosity was excited.  The Waldorf-Astoria
plan of flute-playing was forgotten.  He fed on fur trading.

The habits of the animals, the value of their pelts, the
curing of the furs, their final market, was all gone over again
and again.  The two extra months at sea gave him an insight
into a great business and he had the time to fletcherize his
ideas.  He thought about it--wrote about it in his diary, for
he was at the journal-age.  Wolves, bears badgers, minks,
and muskrats, filled his dreams.

Arriving in Baltimore he was disappointed to learn that there
were no fur traders there.  He started for New York.

Here he found work with a certain Robert Bowne, a Quaker,
who bought and sold furs.

Young Astor set himself to learn the business--every part of
it.  He was always sitting on the curb at the door before the
owner got around in the morning, carrying a big key to open
the warehouse.  He was the last to leave at night.  He pounded
furs with a stick, salted them, sorted them, took them to the
tanners, brought them home.

He worked, and as he worked, learned.

To secure the absolute confidence of a man, obey him.  Only
thus do you get him to lay aside his weapons, be he friend or
enemy.

Any dullard can be waited on and served, but to serve requires
judgment, skill, tact, patience and industry.

The qualities that make a youth a good servant are the basic
ones for mastership.  Astor's alertness, willingness, loyalty,
and ability to obey, delivered his employer over into his hands.

Robert Bowne, the good old Quaker, insisted that Jacob
should call him Robert; and from boarding the young man
with a near-by war widow who took cheap boarders, Bowne
took young Astor to his own house, and raised his pay from
two dollars a week to six.

Bowne had made an annual trip to Montreal for many years.

Montreal was the metropolis for furs.  Bowne went to
Montreal himself because he did not know of any one he
could trust to carry the message to Garcia.  Those who knew
furs and had judgment were not honest, and those who were
honest did not know furs.  Honest fools are really no better
than rogues, as far as practical purposes are concerned. 
Bowne once found a man who was honest and also knew
furs, but alas! he had a passion for drink, and no prophet
could foretell his ``periodic,'' until after it occurred.

Young Astor had been with Bowne only a year.  He spoke
imperfect English, but he did not drink nor gamble, and he
knew furs and was honest.

Bowne started him off for Canada with a belt full of gold;
his only weapon was a German flute that he carried in his
hand.  Bowne being a Quaker did not believe in guns.  Flutes
were a little out of his line, too, but he preferred them to
flintlocks.

John Jacob Astor ascended the Hudson River to Albany, and
then with pack on his back, struck north, alone, through the
forest for Lake Champlain.  As he approached an Indian
settlement he played his flute.  The aborigines showed no
disposition to give him the hook.  He hired Indians to paddle
him up to the Canadian border.  He reached Montreal.

The fur traders there knew Bowne as a very sharp buyer, and
so had their quills out on his approach.  But young Astor was
seemingly indifferent.  His manner was courteous and easy.

He got close to his man, and took his pick of the pelts at
fair prices.  He expended all of his money, and even bought on
credit, for there are men who always have credit.

Young Astor found Indian nature to be simply human nature.

The savage was a man, and courtesy, gentleness and fairly
good flute-playing soothed his savage breast.  Astor had beads
and blankets, a flute and a smile.  The Indians carried his
goods by relays and then passed him on with guttural
certificates as to character, to other red men, and at last he
reached New York without the loss of a pelt or the dampening
of his ardor.

Bowne was delighted.  To young Astor it was nothing.  He had
in his blood the success corpuscle.  He might have remained
with Bowne and become a partner in the business, but
Bowne had business limitations and Astor had n't.

So after a three years' apprenticeship, Astor knew all that
Bowne did and all he himself could imagine besides.  So he
resigned.

In Seventeen Hundred and Eighty-six, John Jacob Astor began
business on his own account in a little store on Water
Street, New York.  There was one room and a basement.  He
had saved a few hundred dollars; his brother, the butcher,
had loaned him a few hundred more, and Robert Bowne had
contributed a bale of skins to be paid for ``at thy own price
and thy own convenience.''

Astor had made friends with the Indians up the Hudson clear
to Albany, and they were acting as recruiting agents for him. 
He was a bit boastful of the fact that he had taught an
Indian to play the flute, and anyway he had sold the savage
the instrument for a bale of beaver pelts, with a bearskin
thrown in for good measure.  It was a musical achievement
as well as a commercial one.

Having collected several thousand dollars' worth of furs he
shipped them to London and embarked as a passenger in the
steerage.  The trip showed him that ability to sell was quite
as necessary as the ability to buy--a point which with all of
his shrewdness Bowne had never guessed.

In London furs were becoming a fad.  Astor sorted and sifted
his buyers, as he had his skins.  He himself dressed in a suit
of fur and thus proved his ability as an advertiser.  He picked
his men and charged all the traffic would bear.  He took
orders, on sample, from the nobility and sundry of the gentry,
and thereby cut the middleman.  All of the money he received
for his skins, he invested in ``Indian Goods''--colored cloth,
beads, blankets, knives, axes, and musical instruments.

His was the first store in New York that carried a stock of
musical instruments.  These he sold to savages, and also he
supplied the stolid Dutch the best of everything in this
particular line from a bazoo to a Stradivarius violin.

When he got back to New York, he at once struck out
through the wilderness to buy furs of the Indians, or better
still, to interest them in bringing furs to him.

He knew the value of friendship in trade as no man of the time
did.

He went clear through to Lake Erie, down to Niagara Falls,
along Lake Ontario, across to Lake Champlain and then down
the Hudson.  He foresaw the great city of Buffalo, and
Rochester as well, only he said that Rochester would
probably be situated directly on the Lake.  But the water-
power of the Genesee Falls proved a stronger drawing power
than the Lake Front.  He prophesied that along the banks of
the Niagara Falls would be built the greatest manufacturing
city in the world.  There were flour-mills and sawmills there
then.  The lumber first used in building the city of Buffalo
was brought from the sawmills at ``The Falls.''

Electric power, of course, was then a thing unguessed, but
Astor prophesied the Erie Canal, and made good guesses as
to where prosperous cities would appear along its line.

In Seventeen Hundred and Ninety, John Jacob Astor married
Sarah Todd.  Her mother was a Brevoort, and it was
brought about by her coming to Astor to buy furs with which
to make herself a coat.  Her ability to judge furs and make
them up won the heart of the dealer.  The marriage brought
young Astor into ``the best Dutch New York society,'' a
combination that was quite as exclusive then as now.

This marriage was a business partnership as well as marital
and proved a success in every way.  Sarah was a worker, with
all the good old Dutch qualities of patience, persistence,
industry and economy.  When her husband went on trips she
kept store.  She was the only partner in which he ever had
implicit faith.  And faith is the first requisite in success

Captain Cook had skirted the Pacific Coast from Cape Horn
to Alaska, and had brought to the attention of the fur-dealing
and fur-wearing world the sea-otter of the Northern Pacific

He also gave a psychological prophetic glimpse of the
insidious sealskin sacque.

In Seventeen Hundred and Ninety, a ship from the Pacific
brought a hundred otterskins to New York.  The skins were
quickly sold to London buyers at exorbitant prices

The nobility wanted sea-otter, or ``Royal American Ermine,''
as they called it.  The scarcity boomed the price.  Ships were
quickly fitted out and dispatched.  Boats bound for the whale
fisheries were diverted, and New Bedford had a spasm of
jealousy.

Astor encouraged these expeditions, but at first invested no
money in them, as he considered them ``extra hazardous.''  
He was not a speculator.



Until the year Eighteen Hundred, Astor lived over his store in
Water Street, but he then moved to the plain and modest house at
Two Hundred and Twenty-three Broadway, on the site of the old
Astor House.  Here he lived for twenty-five years.

The fur business was simple and very profitable.  Astor now was
confining himself mostly to beaver- skins.  He fixed the price at
one dollar, to be paid to the Indians or trappers.  It cost fifty
cents to prepare and transport the skin to London.  There it
was sold at from five to ten dollars.  All of the money received
for skins was then invested in English merchandise, which
was sold in New York at a profit.  In Eighteen Hundred, Astor
owned three ships which he had bought so as to absolutely
control his trade.  Ascertaining that London dealers were
reshipping furs to China, early in the century he dispatched
one of his ships directly to the Orient, loaded with furs, with
explicit written instructions to the captain as to what the
cargo should be sold for.  The money was to be invested in teas
and silks.

The ship sailed away, and had been gone a year.

No tidings had come from her.

Suddenly a messenger came with news that the ship was in
the bay.  We can imagine the interest of Mr. and Mrs. Astor
as they locked their store and ran to the Battery.  Sure enough,
it was their ship, riding gently on the tide, snug, strong and
safe as when she had left.

The profit on this one voyage was seventy thousand dollars. 
By Eighteen Hundred and Ten, John Jacob Astor was worth
two million dollars.  He began to invest all his surplus money
in New York real estate.  He bought acerage property in the
vicinity of Canal Street.  Next he bought Richmond Hill, the
estate of Aaron Burr.  It consisted of one hundred and sixty
acres just above Twenty-third Street.  He paid for the land
a thousand dollars an acre.  People said Astor was crazy. 
In ten years he began to sell lots from the Richmond Hill
property at the rate of five thousand dollars an acre. 
Fortunately for his estate he did not sell much of the land at
this price, for it is this particular dirt that makes up that
vast property known as ``The Astor Estate.''

During the Revolutionary War, Roger Morris, of Putnam
County, New York, made the mistake of siding with the
Tories.

A mob collected, and Morris and his family escaped, taking
ship to England.

Before leaving, Morris declared his intention of coming back
as soon as ``the insurrection was quelled.''

The British troops, we are reliably informed, failed to quell
the insurrection.

Roger Morris never came back.

Roger Morris is known in history as the man who married
Mary Philipse.  And this lady lives in history because she had
the felicity of having been proposed to by George Washington. 
It is George himself, tells of this in his Journal, and George
you remember could not tell a lie.

George was twenty-five, he was on his way to Boston, and
was entertained at the Philipse house, the Plaza not having
then been built.

Mary was twenty, pink and lissome. She played the harpsichord.
Immediately after supper George, finding himself alone in the
parlor with the girl, proposed.

He was an opportunist.

The lady pleaded for time, which the Father of his Country
declined to give.  He was a soldier and demanded immediate
surrender.  A small quarrel followed, and George saddled his
horse and rode on his way to fame and fortune.

Mary thought he would come back, but George never proposed
to the same lady twice. Yet he thought kindly of Mary
and excused her conduct by recording, ``I think ye ladye was
not in ye moode.''

Just twenty-two years after this bout with Cupid, General
George Washington, Commander-in-Chief of the Continental
Army, occupied the Roger Morris Mansion as headquarters,
the occupants having fled.  Washington had a sly sense of
humor, and on the occasion of his moving into the mansion,
remarked to Colonel Aaron Burr, his aide, ``I move in here
for sentimental reasons--I have a small and indirect claim
on the place.''

It was Washington who formally confiscated the property,
and turned it over to the State of New York as contraband of
war.

The Morris estate of about fifty thousand acres was parceled
out and sold by the State of New York to settlers.

It seems, however, that Roger Morris had only a life interest
in the estate and this was a legal point so fine that it was
entirely overlooked in the joy of confiscation. Washington was
a great soldier, but an indifferent lawyer.

John Jacob Astor accidentally ascertained the facts. He was
convinced that the heirs could not be robbed of their rights
through the acts of a leaseholder, which, legally was the
status of Roger Morris.  Astor was a good real estate lawyer
himself, but he referred the point to the best counsel he
could find.  They agreed with him.  He next hunted up the heirs
and bought their quitclaims for one hundred thousand
dollars.

He then notified the parties who had purchased the land, and
they in turn made claim upon the State for protection.

After much legal parleying the case was tried according to
stipulation with the State of New York, directly, as defendant
and Astor and the occupants as plaintiffs.  Daniel Webster
and Martin Van Buren appeared for the State, and an array of
lesser legal lights for Astor.

The case was narrowed down to the plain and simple point
that Roger Morris was not the legal owner of the estate, and
that the rightful heirs could not be made to suffer for the
``treason, contumacy and contravention'' of another.  Astor
won, and as a compromise the State issued him twenty-year
bonds bearing six per cent interest, for the neat sum of five
hundred thousand dollars--not that Astor needed the money
but finance was to him a game, and he had won.



In front of the first A. T. Stewart store there used to be an old
woman who sold apples.  Regardless of weather, there she sat and
mumbled her wares at the passer-by.  She was a combination beggar
and merchant, with a blundering wit, a ready tongue and a
vocabulary unfit for publication.

Her commercial genius is shown in the fact that she secured one
good paying customer--Alexander T. Stewart.  Stewart grew to
believe in her as his spirit of good luck.  Once when bargains
had been offered at the Stewart store and the old woman was not
at her place on the curb, the merchant-prince sent his carriage
for her in hot haste ``lest offense be given.''  And the day was
saved.

When the original store was abandoned for the Stewart
``Palace'' the old apple woman with her box, basket and
umbrella were tenderly taken along, too.

John Jacob Astor had no such belief in luck omens, portents,
or mascots as had A. T. Stewart.  With him success was a
sequence--a result--it was all cause and effect.  A. T. Stewart
did not trust entirely to luck, for he too, carefully devised and
planned.  But the difference between the Celtic and Teutonic
mind is shown in that Stewart hoped to succeed, while Astor
knew that he would.  One was a bit anxious; the other
exasperatingly placid.

Astor took a deep interest in the Lewis and Clark expedition.

He went to Washington to see Lewis, and questioned him
at great length about the Northwest.  Legend says that he
gave the hardy discoverer a thousand dollars, which was a
big amount for him to give away.

Once a committee called on him with a subscription list for
some worthy charity.  Astor subscribed fifty dollars.  One of
the disappointed committee remarked, ``Oh, Mr. Astor, your
son William gave us a hundred dollars.''

``Yes,'' said the old man, ``But you must remember that
William has a rich father.''

Washington Irving has told the story of Astoria at length.  It
was the one financial plunge taken by John Jacob Astor.

And in spite of the fact that it failed, the whole affair does
credit to the prophetic brain of Astor.

``This country will see a chain of growing and prosperous
cities straight from New York to Astoria, Oregon,'' said this
man in reply to a doubting questioner.

He laid his plans before Congress, urging a line of army posts,
forty miles apart, from the western extremity of Lake
Superior to the Pacific.  ``These forts or army posts will evolve
into cities,'' said Astor, when he called on Thomas Jefferson,
who was then President of the United States.  Jefferson was
interested, but non-committal.  Astor exhibited maps of the
Great Lakes, and the country beyond.  He argued with a
prescience then not possessed by any living man that at the
western extremity of Lake Superior would grow up a great
city.  Yet in Eighteen Hundred and Seventy-six, Duluth was
ridiculed by the caustic tongue of Proctor Knott, who asked,
``What will become of Duluth when the lumber crop is cut?'' 
Astor proceeded to say that another great city would grow
up at the southern extremity of Lake Michigan.  General
Dearborn.  Secretary of War under Jefferson had just
established Fort Dearborn on the present site of Chicago.  Astor
commended this, and said:  ``From a fort you get a trading
post, and from a trading post you will get a city.''

He pointed out to Jefferson the site, on his map, of the Falls
of St. Anthony.  ``There you will have a fort some day, for
wherever there is water-power, there will grow up mills for
grinding grain and sawmills, as well.  This place of power will
have to be protected, and so you will have there a post which
will eventually be replaced by a city.'' Yet Fort Snelling was
nearly fifty years in the future and St. Paul and Minneapolis
were dreams undreamed.

Jefferson took time to think about it and then wrote Astor
thus, ``Your beginning of a city on the Western Coast is a
great acquisition, and I look forward to a time when our
population will spread itself up and down along the whole
Pacific frontage, unconnected with us, excepting by ties of
blood and common interest, and enjoying like us, the rights
of self-government.''

The Pilgrim Fathers thought land that lay inward from the sea
as valueless.  The forest was an impassible barrier.  Later, up
to the time of George Washington, the Alleghanies were
regarded as a natural barrier.  Patrick Henry likened the
Alleghany Mountains to the Alps that separated Italy from
Germany and said, ``The mountain ranges are lines that God
has set to separate one people from another.''

Later, statesmen have spoken of the ocean in the same way,
as proof that a union of all countries under an international
capital could never exist.

Great as was Jefferson, he regarded the achievement of
Lewis and Clarke as a feat and not an example.  He looked
upon the Rocky Mountains as a natural separation of
peoples ``bound by ties of blood and mutual interest'' but
otherwise unconnected.  To pierce these mighty mountains
with tunnels, and whisper across them with the human voice,
were miracles unguessed.  But Astor closed his eyes and saw
pack-trains, mules laden with skins, winding across these
mountains, and down to tide-water at Astoria.  There his ships
would be lying at the docks, ready to sail for the Far East. 
James J. Hill was yet to come.


A company was formed, and two expeditions set out for the mouth
of the Columbia River, one by land and the other by sea.

The land expedition barely got through alive--it was a perilous
undertaking, with accidents by flood and field and in the
imminent deadly breech.

But the route by the water was feasible.

The town was founded and soon became a centre of commercial
activity.  Had Astor been on the ground to take personal charge,
a city like Seattle would have bloomed and blossomed on the
Pacific, fifty years ago.  But power at Astoria was subdivided
among several little men, who wore themselves out in a struggle
for honors, and to see who would be greatest in the kingdom of
heaven.  John Jacob Astor was too far away to send a current of
electricity through the vacuum of their minds, light up the
recesses with reason, and shock them into sanity.  Like those
first settlers at Jamestown, the pioneers at Astoria saw only
failure ahead, and that which we fear, we bring to pass.  To
settle a continent with men is almost as difficult as Nature's
attempt to form a soil on a rocky surface.

There came a grand grab at Astoria and it was each for himself
and the devil take the hindermost--it was a stampede.

System and order went by the board.  The strongest stole
the most, as usual, but all got a little.  And England's gain in
citizens was our loss.

Astor lost a million dollars by the venture.  He smiled calmly
and said, ``The plan was right, but my men were weak, that
is all.  The gateway to China will be from the northwest.  My
plans were correct.  Time will vindicate my reasoning.''

When the block on Broadway, bounded by Vesey and Barclay
Streets, was cleared of its plain two story houses, preparatory
to building the Astor House, wise men shook their heads and
said, ``It's too far uptown.''

But the free bus that met all boats solved the difficulty, and
gave the cue to hotel men all over the world.  The hotel that
runs full is a gold mine.  Hungry men feed, and the beautiful
part about the hotel business is that the customers are hungry
the next day--also thirsty.  Astor was worth ten million, but
he took a personal delight in sitting in the lobby of the Astor
House and watching the dollars roll into this palace that his
brain had planned.  To have an idea--to watch it grow--to
then work it out, and see it made manifest in concrete
substance, this was his joy.  The Astor House was a bigger
hostelry in its day than the Waldorf-Astoria is now.

Astor was tall, thin, and commanding in appearance.  He had
only one hallucination, and that was that he spoke the English
language.  The accent he possessed at thirty was with him
in all its pristine effulgence at eighty-five.  ``Nopody vould
know I vas a Cherman--aind't it?'' he used to say.  He spoke
French, a dash of Spanish and could parley in Choctaw, Ottawa,
Mohawk and Huron.  But they who speak several languages must not
be expected to speak any one language well.

Yet when John Jacob wrote it was English without a flaw. 
In all of his dealings he was uniquely honorable and upright. 
He paid and he made others pay.  His word was his bond.  He
was not charitable in the sense of indiscriminate giving.  ``To
give something for nothing is to weaken the giver,'' was one
of his favorite sayings.  That this attitude protected a miserly
spirit, it is easy to say, but it is not wholly true.  In his
later years he carried with him a book containing a record of his
possessions.  This was his breviary.  In it he took a very
pardonable delight.  He would visit a certain piece of property,
and then turn to his book and see what it had cost him ten or
twenty years before.  To realize that his prophetic vision had
been correct was to him a great source of satisfaction.

His habits were of the best.  He went to bed at nine o'clock,
and was up before six.  At seven he was at his office.  He knew
enough to eat sparingly and to walk, so he was never sick.

Millionaires as a rule are woefully ignorant.  Up to a
certain sum, they grow with their acquisitions.  Then they
begin to wither at the heart.  The care of a fortune is a
penalty.  I advise the gentle reader to think twice before
accumulating ten millions.

John Jacob Astor was exceptional in his combined love of
money and love of books.  History was at his tongue's end,
and geography was his plaything.  Fitz-Greene Halleck was
his private secretary, hired on a basis of literary friendship. 
Washington Irving was a close friend, too, and first crossed
the Atlantic on an Astor pass.  He banked on Washington
Irving's genius, and loaned him money to come and go, and
buy a house.  Irving was named in Astor's will as one of the
trustees of the Astor Library Fund, and repaid all favors by
writing ``Astoria.''

Astor died, aged eighty-six.  It was a natural death, a thing
that very seldom occurs.  The machinery all ran down at once.

Realizing his lack of book advantages, he left by his will
four hundred thousand dollars to found the Astor Library,
in order that others might profit where he had lacked.

He also left fifty thousand dollars to his native town of
Waldorf, a part of which money was used to found an Astor
Library there God is surely good, for if millionaires were
immortal, their money would cause them great misery and
the swollen fortunes would crowd mankind, not only 'gainst
the wall, but into the sea.  Death is the deliverer, for Time
checks power and equalizes all things, and gives the new
generation a chance.

Astor hated gamblers.  He never confused gambling, as a
mode of money getting, with actual production.  He knew
that gambling produces nothing--it merely transfers wealth,
changes ownership.  And since it involves loss of time and
energy it is a positive waste.

Yet to buy land and hold it, thus betting on its rise in value,
is not production, either.  Nevertheless, this was to Astor,
legitimate and right.

Henry George threw no shadow before, and no economist had
ever written that to secure land and hold it unused, awaiting
a rise in value, was a dog-in-the-manger, unethical and
selfish policy.  Morality is a matter of longitude and time.

Astor was a member of the Dutch Reformed Church, and
yet he lived out his days with a beautiful and perfect
disbelief in revealed religion.

He knew enough of biology to know that religions are not
``revealed''--they are evolved.  Yet he recognized the value
of the Church as a social factor.  To him it was a good police
system, and so when rightly importuned he gave, with becoming
moderation, to all faiths and creeds.

A couple of generations back in his ancestry there was a
renegade Jew who loved a Christian girl, and thereby moulted
his religion.  When Cupid crosses swords with a priest, religion
gets a death stroke.  This stream of free blood was the
inheritance of John Jacob Astor.

William B. Astor, the son of John Jacob, was brought up in
the financial way he should go.  He was studious, methodical,
conservative, and had the good sense to carry out the wishes
of his father.  His son John Jacob Astor was very much like
him, only of more neutral tint.  The time is now ripe for
another genius in the Astor family.  If William B. Astor
lacked the courage and initiative of his parent, he had more
culture, and spoke English without an accent.  The son of
John Jacob Astor second, is William Waldorf Astor, who
speaks English with an English accent, you know.

John Jacob Astor, besides having the first store for the sale
of musical instruments in America, organized the first
orchestra of over twelve players.  He brought over a leader
from Germany, and did much to foster the love of music in
the New World.

Every worthy Maecenas imagines that he is a great painter,
writer, sculptor or musician, side-tracked by material cares
thrust upon him by unkind fate.  John Jacob Astor once told
Washington Irving that it was only business responsibility
that prevented his being a novelist; and at other times he
declared his intent to take up music as a profession as soon as
he had gotten all of his securities properly tied up.  And
whether he worked out his dreams or not, there is no doubt
but that they added to his peace, happiness and length of
days.  Happy is the man who escapes the critics by leaving his
literary masterpiece in the ink.




End of Project Gutenberg's Etext of John Jacob Astor, by Elbert Hubbard


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