William Backhouse Astor Biography

(1792–1875)
William Backhouse Astor was the second son of John Jacob Astor and became the richest man in the U.S. upon his father's death.

Synopsis

Born in New York City in 1792, William Backhouse Astor ran the Astor family businesses, but his father, John Jacob Astor, still made all the big decisions. Upon his father's death, Astor became the richest man in the United States, inheriting roughly $18 million in 1848. Like his father, Astor invested in New York City real estate, and because of his vast holdings, he earned the nickname the "Landlord of New York."

Early Life and Education

William Backhouse Astor was born on September 19, 1792, in New York, New York. The second son of John Jacob Astor, the creator of the now-prestigious Astor family's immense wealth, William was named after a business associate of his father. He attended boarding school in Connecticut, later studying at the University of Heidelberg and the University of Göttingen in Germany. 

Inheriting the Astor Family Fortune

William Astor returned to the United States in 1815, at his father's insistence, to take the reins of the family business, the American Fur Company, which John Jacob Astor founded in 1808. His older brother, John Jacob II, struggled with mental illness and was in no position to take a leading role in his father's work so the weight of the Astor fortune fell on William's shoulders.

Soon after his arrival in New York, William became a partner in the firm Jacob Astor & Son. Though he was a partner, he mostly followed his father's instructions in the running of the business. Even when he served as head of the American Fur Company, the business that helped establish the Astors' fortune, it reportedly was his father who decided when and how to sell the company's holdings.

Upon his father's death, William Astor became the richest man in the United States, inheriting roughly $18 million in 1848. Like his father, William invested in New York City real estate. Due to his vast holdings, he earned him the nickname "Landlord of New York."

Personal Life and Death

Astor married Margaret Armstrong, the daughter of a Revolutionary War general, in 1818. The couple had six children: Emily, John Jacob, Laura, Mary, William Backhouse Jr., Henry and Sarah.

William Backhouse Astor died on November 24, 1875, at the age of 83.

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