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John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company (AFCo) was the best-funded, most successful, and most important fur-trading outfit in U.S. history. In its heyday (1810–34), none of its competitors rivaled its geographic reach, its worldwide trade network, or its success in maintaining useful political connections. Numerous rival entrepreneurs damned the AFCo as a “monopoly.” Although this is an overstatement, Astor's AFCo came closer to achieving that goal than any contemporary U.S. company.

Astor emigrated from Germany, via London, to New York City in 1784, and he engaged in general trade, which included furs. His business travel took him up the Hudson River and into Canada, where he encountered men associated with the Montreal-based North West Company. Recognizing the vast potential profits to be gleaned from the ...

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