American Fur Company, chartered by John Jacob Astor (1763–1848) in 1808 to compete with the great fur-trading companies in Canada—the North West Company and the Hudson's Bay Company. Astor's most ambitious venture, establishment of a post at Astoria, Oreg., to control the Columbia River valley fur trade, was made under a subsidiary, the Pacific Fur Company. His early operations around the Great Lakes were under another subsidiary, the South West Company, in which Canadian merchants had a part. The War of 1812 destroyed both companies. In 1817, after an act of Congress excluded foreign traders from U.S. territory, the American Fur Company commanded the trade in the Lakes region. An alliance made in 1821 with the Chouteau interests of St. Louis gave the company a monopoly of the trade in the Missouri River region and later in the Rocky Mts. (see mountain men). The company was one of the first great American trusts. It maintained its monopoly by the customary early practice of buying out or crushing any small company that threatened opposition. When Astor withdrew in 1834, the company split and the name became the property of the former northern branch under Ramsey Crooks, but popular usage still applied it to succeeding companies. The American Fur Company strongly influenced the history of the frontier, not only by preparing the way for permanent settlement but by opening Great Lakes commercial fishing, steamboat transportation, and trade in lead.
See G. L. Nute, Calendar of the American Fur Company's Papers (1945); B. DeVoto, Across the Wide Missouri (1948); H. M. Chittenden, The American Fur Trade of the Far West (3 vol.; 1902, repr. 1954); J. U. Terrell, Furs by Astor (1963); D. S. Lavender, The Fist in the Wilderness (1964); P. C. Phillips, The Fur Trade (1961, repr. 1967).
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