Opium was one of the most important resources of the 19th century. It had medicinal and recreational value and most importantly, it was in hot, hot demand by those who enjoyed the illicit effects. Merchants knew the value of opium ever since the 7th century, and while many rulers and leaders attempted to suppress the sale and purchase of the drug, there was money to be made in the opium trading business. China had outlawed the opium trade on their land, under the orders of the Emperor who believed that the drug would ultimately be harmful to the population. Yet, in spite of this ban, the trade continued with countries like Britain smuggling Indian opium into China as a means of making money.For a while, the British held a strong monopoly on the trade, but there was still room for the independent merchant to get his hands on a supply and make his own fortunes. One such man was John Jacob Astor, a German-American who would become America’s first multi-millionaire.John Jacob Astor.Astor had immigrated to America after the Revolutionary War was over and the United States had declared their independence. With a new country full of business opportunity, he quickly found a market in the fur trade, making quite the fortune.As he amassed wealth, trading furs between Canada and America, he encountered a few roadblocks that would prevent him from gaining enough to claim the title of millionaire. One such roadblock was the political tensions between the United States and Britain, which led to an embargo that prevented him from trading with Canada any further. To compound the problem, when the war of 1812 broke out, British soldiers took control of his trading posts, causing him to suffer financially.John Jacob Astor (Financier), signed check.It was these pressures that caused Astor to turn his attention to trade elsewhere, namely, the opium trade in China. The Chinese didn’t particularly have any demands for American exports or even fur, but Astor knew that despite the illegality, opium was still in popular demand.Storage of opium at a British East India Company warehouse.Smuggling opium into Canton, a major Chinese port city, wasn’t a difficult or risky endeavor. Despite the Chinese government’s attempts to prevent the people from accessing opium, they didn’t have the resources or the manpower to fully lock down the ports.Painting of John Jacob Astor.Chinese smugglers would aid merchants by sending out small boats to accept shipments and then would handle the rest on land. All a wealthy merchant needed to do was to obtain the stock and sail it to Canton.18 Old English insults we need to bring backCan of Waldorf-Astoria Cigarettes. Photo by Medvedev CC BY SA 3.0And that is exactly what John Jacob Astor did to make his fortune. Unable to obtain the good stuff — Indian opium, thanks to a British monopoly — he settled for Turkish opium. Turkish opium wasn’t a bad product, but it wasn’t as popular as the Indian variety.Apothecary vessel for storage of opium as a pharmaceutical, Germany, 18th or 19th-century. Photo by Bullenwachter CC BY SA 3.0However, there was still a market value for Turkish opium, primarily because opium dealers would cut the Indian opium with Turkish, as a way to increase their supply of the more expensive of the two drugs.John Jacob Astor, engraving.With ten tons of Turkish opium in tow, Astor sent the opium to China, trading it for goods. During this time period, China only accepted silver as currency from foreigners, but silver was hard to come by. However, most Chinese merchants would also take opium as currency as well, enabling Astor to purchase Chinese goods with opium.John Jacob Astor IV (1864-1912) and fiancee Madeleine Talmage Force (1893-1940) in a launch going to the Astor yacht Noma.He would then take those goods and resell them for a fortune in the United States. While his actions were certainly on the illegal and immoral side, the opium trade was lucrative for Astor and he was able to continue growing his fortune.John Jacob Astor, 1864-1912, in automobile.John Jacob Astor would continue working in the opium trade for three years but chose to exit the market in 1819.Read another story from us: Queen Victoria sent chocolates to soldiers in the Boer War, one gift was preserved, uneaten, up to todayWith Congress having passed a law that would prevent foreign fur traders from entering the United States, his American Fur Company quickly came to dominate the fur market. Over time, he would become America’s first multi-millionaire, with a net worth of over $20 million in his lifetime. Adjusted for inflation, the buying power of his net worth today would be somewhere to the tune of $110 billion. Andrew Pourciaux is a novelist hailing from sunny Sarasota, Florida, where he spends the majority of his time writing and podcasting.
Go back to the e-newsletterThis April, historic farmstead hotel, winery and spa São Lourenço do Barrocal will introduce a wild and wonderful new program of creative and immersive nature-based experiences for children, alongside the opening of a brand new children’s pool.Set amid the grasslands of Portugal’s raw and unspoilt Alentejo region, the hotel and estate is working with local archaeologist Manuel Calado to develop a series of new family experiences inspired by the estate’s natural surroundings and fascinating megalithic heritage.Artistic little ones will explore their creativity in a wild art class, inspired by the Stone Age relics scattered throughout the region. They will explore the estate to collect natural objects, creating unique artworks using stones, sticks, feathers and wool alongside mineral and vegetable dyes.Sculptors-in-waiting will join Calado in digging for natural clay soils and pigments, which will be used to create replicas of the prehistoric pottery offerings found within the estate’s ancient stone dolmens, or megalithic tombs.Aspiring young chefs can join Calado on a feasting and foraging tour of the estate. They will find out how to use the seasonal abundance of healthy nuts, flowers, fruits and edible fungi to make salads, teas and sweet treats, and learn about the diets and cookery techniques of the region’s prehistoric communities.Competitive kids can enjoy a range of sporting challenges in the wild, learning how to craft their own prehistoric bow and arrow, propellant and assegai before competing in a tournament to prove their sporting prowess.Following an exciting day of activities in the wild, youngsters can splash about in the brand new children’s’ pool, set to open in May 2018. Situated in the heart of the estate, away from the hotel’s peaceful main pool, the 15m children’s pool will offer a family-friendly spot to cool down the summer heat.All families visiting São Lourenço do Barrocal will have the opportunity to take home a Barrocal Bird — a handmade and illustrated textile thrush bird, inspired by the resident flocks and designed by awarded Portuguese printmaker Sofia Morais — as a permanent reminder of their family break in nature.Beyond these new activities, São Lourenço do Barrocal offers a plethora of countryside experiences to keep even the most active of families entertained. Guests can set out on the estate’s sweet-natured Lusitano horses for guided explorations of the estate, with lead rein-wanderings and carriage rides available for little ones. Foodie types can indulge in family bakery classes within the pastry kitchen, learning how to bake Alentejo regional bread, cakes and biscuits; before relaxing in the shade of a gnarled holm oak tree to enjoy the spoils of their endeavours. Treasure hunts through the estate can be arranged for intrepid families, while the estate’s large playroom offers a quiet spot for children to play, with a make-believe kitchen, games, books and movies, plus childcare available on demand.Away from the estate, families can enjoy private boat trips to the countless secluded coves and islands of the vast Alqueva Lake, just 10 kilometres away, with the option of continuing their aquatic explorations on paddleboards, canoes, water-skis and wakeboards.Go back to the e-newsletter