JOHN JACOB ASTOR (1763-1848). Astor remains one of the quintessential representations of wealth in America and was the greatest merchant of his time. An immigrant, he began by selling furs and musical instruments, and soon founded the American Fur Company. He invested much of his profits in New York real estate, gaining control of a large portion of Manhattan and building some of its most prominent early buildings. He was the wealthiest individual in America and at his death, his fortune was conservatively estimated at $20,000,000.