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 William Backhouse Astor

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William Backhouse Astor

Businessman. The second-oldest son of John Jacob Astor and Sarah Todd Astor. Born in New York City, where he attended public schools. When he was sixteen, he was sent to the University of Göttingen in Germany, where he joined the German Student Corps Curonia of the Baltic-German students; later he moved to the University of Heidelberg. In 1815, when he was twenty-three years old, he returned to the United States and entered partnership with his father, who changed the name of his firm to John Jacob Astor & Son. (His brother, John Jacob Astor II, was, as one early-twentieth-century source put it, "feeble-minded," and incapable of working in the firm.) He worked there until his father's death. One source argued that his role in the company was never anything more than as an "an industrious and faithful head clerk," despite his official title of head of the firm's chief subsidiary, the American Fur Company, in its last several years of its ownership by Astor & Son.
Although William Backhouse's fortunes grew with his father's company, he became a truly wealthy man when he inherited the estate, worth around $500,000, of his uncle, Henry Astor who died without children. When his father died in 1848, however, he became the richest man in America; he was the last member of the Astor family to enjoy this distinction.
During the American Civil War he successfully brought a case against the income tax imposed by the United States government, which was ruled unconstitutional. His management of the family real estate holdings succeeded in multiplying their value, and he left an estate worth close to $50 million.
It was at this time that the Astor fortune underwent its first major division, between William Backhouse Astor, Jr. (1830-1892) and John Jacob Astor III (1822-1890), whose son William Waldorf Astor relocated to Great Britain in 1893. His sons, whose side-by-side mansions were on the site later occupied by the first Waldorf-Astoria Hotel (a family property) and then the Empire State Building, inaugurated an era of both more flamboyant living and more generous philanthropy than their austere father and grandfather.
His daughter Mary Alida Astor (1826-1881), married John Carey (1821-1881). Their daughter Margaret Laura Astor Carey (1853–1911) became Baroness de Stuers before her divorce, then marriage in 1880 to Count William Eliot Morris Zborowski (1858–1903) who was later to die in a racing car accident, as was their son Count Louis Zborowski who was killed at the Italian Grand Prix in 1924.

  • Maintained by: Bobby Kelley
  • Originally Created by: Charles Haig
  • Added: 4 Dec 2008
  • Find A Grave Memorial 31939422
  • Bobby Kelley
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for William Backhouse Astor (19 Sep 1792–24 Nov 1875), Find A Grave Memorial no. 31939422, citing Trinity Church Cemetery and Mausoleum, Manhattan, New York County (Manhattan), New York, USA ; Maintained by Bobby Kelley (contributor 46959922) .