One of the earliest and most important industries in North America, the American fur trade played a major role in the development of the United States and Canada for more than 300 years. Involving half a dozen European nations and numerous American Indian tribes, the fur trade began in the 1500’s. Native Americans traded furs for supplies such as tools, weapons, and horses. The furs, in turn, were utilized to make hats, coats, and blankets, which were very popular in Europe.
Some of the earliest fur traders were French explorers and fishermen who arrived in what is now Eastern Canada during the early 1500’s. By the early 1600’s the demand for beaver fur increased dramatically when fashionable European men began to wear felt hats made from the fur.
Further exploration of North America, making legends of dozens of men, as well as the great fur-trading companies such as John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company, Hudson’s Bay Company, the oldest company in North America, Manuel Lisa’s Missouri Fur Company, and dozens of others. However, by the late 1700’s, the fur trade began to decline as fur-bearing animals became increasingly scarce. In the 1830’s, the demand for beaver dropped when European manufacturers began to use silk instead of felt for hats. By 1870, most fur-trading activities had ended.