John Jacob Astor: New York’s first drug dealer

German immigrant John Jacob Astor, who arrived in Manhattan dirt poor in 1784, made his first fortune (about $5 million) trading furs with native tribes, eventually shipping the pelts all over the world.

But in 1816, opportunistic, ruthless salesman Astor got into another lucrative new business: smuggling opium.

He had already been selling furs to China, bringing skins from the Pacific Northwest to warehouses in New York, where they were then shipped to Canton.

So it was easy for Astor to join the booming worldwide narcotics trade.

He purchasing thousands of pounds of Turkish opium and shipped it to China—illegally, as China had banned opium in 1799, according to this PBS/Frontline opium timeline.

Astor snagged a lucrative slice of the drug biz before quitting after a few years and putting his millions in another sometimes slimy venture: New York real estate. Astor Place, Astoria, and Astor Row in Harlem all bear his name.

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4 Responses to “John Jacob Astor: New York’s first drug dealer”

  1. Josie Says:

    Fascinating! Dosen’t fit the profile, does he, ha ha.

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    Something about that portrait reminds me of C. Montgomery Burns!

  3. chas1133 Says:

    Actually, it looks like he created the profile!

  4. A mystery studio building in Washington Heights | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] this Trinity cemetery is the final resting ground of the city’s famous and infamous, from John Jacob Astor to Eliza Jumel to Ed […]

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