Astor Asset Management: The History of Astor

Astor Asset Management: The History of Astor

Astor Asset Management, in addition to being a top financial company in North America, Asia and Europe, also bears the heavy responsibility of carrying on the family name and legacy.

Thomas Mellon, CEO of Astor Asset Management, is a descendent of the famed Astor family, a fact not lost on the prestigious financier. As Mellon worked his way up to the top of the financial game, he never lost sight of the fact that he stood on the shoulders of giants before him. With a financial legacy dating back 200 years, the Astor name is legendary. That legend comes with privilege, but also carries a great responsibility. Thomas Mellon works tirelessly on behalf of his loyal clients and investors. But it is never far from his mind, that he has a duty also, to live up to the name and the legacy.

Humble Beginnings

The story begins with John Jacob Astor. For without John Astor, there would be no Astor Asset Management.

One of the most successful entrepreneurs of his time, John Jacob Astor was a fur trader and real estate investor and built the foundation of the legacy that we still know today. Astor birthed an American dynasty, but also set the bar high for so many entrepreneurs who would follow his example. To understand the legacy, one must not ignore the humble beginnings.

John Jacob Astor was born on July 17, 1763, in Waldorf, Germany. Astor was not born with a silver spoon or considered generationally wealthy in any way. He was the son of a butcher. Although he came from somewhat humble circumstances, the seeds of mercantilism were planted early. He worked hard until eventually achieving mega-wealth status in New York City; but it didn’t come easily.

In his late teens, Astor journeyed to London to begin working for his older brother George, who made musical instruments. By 1784, only a few short years after arriving in London, he made the decision to venture out on his own. Arriving with only twenty-five dollars and a self-possessed confidence, he emigrated to the United States to start a new life.

After arriving in Baltimore, Astor moved North to New York City where he joined his older brother, Henry. On September 19, 1785, Astor married Sarah Cox Todd. Throughout the marriage, he’d often recognize her as the backbone of the business. It was Sarah, when Astor would travel, who would manage all the financial affairs while he was away on expeditions.

With the emergence of the fur trade, Astor opened his own fur shop in 1786. Often, he’d make the trek to desolate areas in the Great Lakes and Canada, to procure the best fur pelts for his New York

store. With a solid decade behind him, it finally paid off. The Astor empire began a major expansion from New York to the American West. Once his fur business was thriving, Astor sought to invest in real estate. Later, he would export furs to China as well as import Chinese silk and tea. Finally, in 1808, he merged all the fur businesses into the American Fur Company. With that, he became the first multi– millionaire in the United States.

During the second part of his life, he began diversifying his wealth throughout New York City, with the fur trade in decline. He set about acquiring land acquisitions. Many of his properties in New York included hotels, public buildings, and commercial and residential real estate. By the end of the century, he owned much of the landscape that made up New York City back then.

During their marriage, John Jacob Astor and Sarah Cox Todd had eight children. Among them, John Jacob Astor Jr. and William Backhouse were two of the most well-known. Sarah died in 14, leaving the elder Astor utterly bereft. However, at his death in 1848, he was still known as the wealthiest individual in the United States. His estate was reported to be worth at least $20 million. Today, that valuation would translate into the hundreds of millions.

He was always a philanthropist. So, he bequeathed $400,000 to build the Astor Library in New York (now the New York Public Library). Astor left the bulk of his fortune to his second son William as his son, John Jr., a poet, was not mentally stable. William became an American business magnate, and besides being heir to a fortune, he acquired much of his wealth through Manhattan real estate acquisitions like his father.

John Jacob “Jack” Astor IV, born July 13, 1864, was the youngest of five. He was the only son of a businessman, collector, and racehorse breeder William Backhouse Astor, Jr. He was the nephew of financier/philanthropist John Jacob Astor III, and great-nephew of occasional and disabled, John Jacob Astor Jr.

Jack, albeit a very wealthy mogul in his own right, was notorious for his death on the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. Notably, the richest passenger aboard the ship at the time of his death, he was estimated to be among the wealthiest people in the world. His net worth was $87 million. At his death, he was survived by his pregnant (second) wife, Madeleine, and first child, Vincent.

John Jacob “Jakey” Astor VI was born in August 1912, four months after his father’s passing on the fated voyage in April of that year. Destined to follow in his name sakes’ footsteps, Jakey became an American socialite and shipping magnate.

John Astor’s entrepreneurial spirit is attached to so many significant landmarks still today. His name is recognized all over the Big Apple in places like Astor Place, The Waldorf Astoria, and the familiar Astoria, Queens neighborhood just outside Manhattan. As the New York Public Library founder, the famous lions that stand guard at the entrance were once affectionately named Leo Astor and Leo Lenox (after cofounder James Lenox). Later nicknamed Lord Astor and Lady Lenox, the proud Leos sit

unfettered by change, unshaken by tragedy, and wealthier for having risked greatly. With that same Astor spirit, the two guard the space with pride over the wealth and life force that abounds in the city. Today, the lions still stand as the symbolic embodiment of the Astor Legacy so many years after a young John Astor dared to dream of more.

The Astor Legacy Continues

As the CEO of Astor Asset Management, Thomas Mellon has continued the bold legacy built by his ancestors over 200 years ago. In 2013, Mellon led the company through a significant expansion in China, Europe, and North America. Branded initially as Astor Capital Fund, the SEC objected to any abbreviation of the name, so Mellon launched a rebranding in 2020 after posting excellent send quarter growth even amid a pandemic. Today, Mellon is one of the decade’s most influential financial leaders.

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