America's Frontier Fur Rush

Centuries before PETA campaigned for animal rights, the fur trade built America. We hear the remarkable history of how fur shaped a nation.

Buffalo hides in Dodge City, Kansas. Photograph April 4, 1874. (Kansas Historical Society)

What first built America? The Bible and the beaver, said an earlier historian. 

My guest today is laying out the remarkable history of the American fur trade — how three centuries of trade in beaver pelts, and sea otter and buffalo, opened up mile after wilderness mile of the American continent to European settlement. 

Today, fur draws a complicated reaction. For 300 years, it drew explorers, traders, trappers, mountain men. It drew political lines and battle lines – and built some of the biggest fortunes in American history. 

This Hour, On Point: fur, fortune, and the origins of North American empire.


Eric Jay Dolin, author of “Fur, Fortune, and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America.” He also wrote “Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America.” You can read an excerpt. He’s a former program manager at the Environmental Protection Agency, and a former policy analyst at the Marine Fisheries Service.

Mac Burns, executive director of the Clatsop County Historical Society in Astoria, Oregon.

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