|Current region||United States|
|Place of origin||Germany|
|Distinctions||America's first aristocrats|
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.
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).
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 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.
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, is named after the family as well.
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.
Both in the Peerage of the United Kingdom, the titles Viscount Astor, of Hever Castle in the County of Kent (1917), with subsidiary title Baron Astor, of Hever Castle in the County of Kent (1916), and Baron Astor of Hever, of Hever Castle in the County of Kent (1956), were granted with the standard remainder to the legitimate heirs male of the bodies of the original grantees.
Both of the current titleholders continue to sit in the House of Lords following the expulsion of the majority of the hereditary peers by the House of Lords Act 1999.
The Astors [...] were Italian Protestants from the Alpine village of Chiavenna high above the northern end of Lake Como. [...] The first documented ancestor is Jean-Jacques d'Astorg. [...] He and his family are assumed to have been followers of the persecuted Waldensian Puritan faith [...]. Like most subjects of the duke of Savoy, d'Astorg spoke French and Italian, and answered both to Jean-Jacques and Giovan Petro Astore. [...] [I]n 1685 [...] the Sun King revoked the Edict of Nantes [...]. The massacre of Protestants in Valtellina high up in the Adda Valley sent d'Astorg-Astore, his wife, and their two children fleeing north across Switzerland to Heidelberg.