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John Jacob Astor

John Jacob Astor, the man most closely associated with the American fur trade and whose name is a synonym for wealth surpassing imagination, became involved in the business without ever setting a trap. He was German-born and moved to the United States.

Fur became an item of great economic importance to the development of America, but it was politically important as well. Astor had little cause to regret the War of 1812. His own interest in it, as always, was economic profit. Because of his connections in Washington, D.C., he was able to secure concessions allowing him, in effect, to continue the fur trade in Canada throughout the war.

Though some writers, mostly in the late nineteenth century, have regarded him as a great American hero, history has not accepted this verdict. Today, in a more complex era, Americans ask more of their heroes than just the ability to make money.