The American Fur Company
Business and Society
The American Fur Company was a relentless monopoly operating in the climatic era of the fur trade. It was established by John Jacob Astor in 1808. The company was created at a time that was favorable to its expansion; it even grew to have a more powerful presence than the federal government over vast areas. This case study analysis will evaluate John Astor in terms of his motives, managerial ability, and ethics. This case study would also delve into a brief history of the fur trade in America and its impact on society.
A Brief History of the American Fur Industry.
Anyone who has ever observed a fur trapper separating a pelt from a recently killed animal knows it is a gruesome, painstaking procedure. Yet this very act, repeated countless millions of times, was a surprisingly vital component in the early history of the United States. The hunting and killing of animals for their skins affected the survival of the Pilgrims and their precarious, debt-ridden colony; the relentless exploration of wild places prior to settlement; and the rapid decline and near demise of numerous mammalian species. Fur became an item of great economic importance to the development of America, but it was politically important as well. The existence of French Canada depended upon the profits of the fur trade. France was not going to spend money on an unproductive outpost, and it was fur that kept Canada solvent. The beaver became a factor of empire, and battles were fought and treaties delayed over who was to control access to prime trapping areas. The future of North America depended on the flashing paddle and the beaver trap as much as it did on muskets and bayonets. In Fur, Fortune, and Empire, best-selling author Eric Jay Dolin chronicles the rise and fall of the fur trade of old, when the rallying cry was “get the furs while they last.” Beavers, sea otters, and buffalos were slaughtered, used for their precious pelts that were tailored into extravagant hats, coats, and sleigh blankets. To read Fur, Fortune, and Empire then is to understand how North America was explored, exploited, and settled, while its native Indians were alternately enriched and exploited by the trade. As Dolin demonstrates, fur, both an economic elixir and an agent of destruction, became inextricably linked to many key events in American history, including the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, and the War of 1812, as well as to the relentless pull of Manifest Destiny and the opening of the West The book concludes at the dawn of the 20th century, when the mass mayhem is largely over. Target animals have been hunted to the point where large-scale harvesting is no longer economically viable, and states across America have begun to enact regulations against furbearers. While this effort was better late than never, the damage was largely done. In the 1850s, as many as 60 million buffalo roamed North America; by 1889, barely 1,000 remained. This grand extermination was fairly predictable: Local extirpation of species began within decades of the arrival of European Colonists. The bad luck for New England’s beaver in the early to mid-1600s was that felt hats fashioned from its pelts were all the rage in Europe, where the locals were running out of their own beavers. The species had been extinct in England for a century prior to the Pilgrims’ landing. Dolin writes that by the mid- to late 1600s, “Ironically New England, where the English fur trade had begun, was no longer a factor in the growing competition for furs in eastern North America.” While mountain men out West would do some of the fur trapping, and the unimaginable slaughter of the buffalo was done almost exclusively by American hunters, a great deal of the fur trapping described in the book was done by native Americans, who grew fond of what pelts could bring them – guns,...
References: The Riches Came Pelting Down
Wall Street Journal review by Michael Taube
A Compelling and Well-Annotated Tale of Greed, Slaughter, and Geopolitics
Los Angeles Times review by Art Winslow
Fur, Fortune and Empire—The Epic History of Fur Trade in America
Eric Jay Dolin (Hardcover)
John Jacob Astor: America’s First Multimillionaire
Axel Madsen pgs 61-69
Wealthy Merchant and Fur Trader
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