Agoston Haraszthy was the only child of Karoly Haraszthy and Anna Maria Fischer. Karoly was from a noble Hungarian family and spoke 16 languages. He was well educated but not particularly wealthy. This may partly account for his son’s restless nature.
Agoston Haraszthy traveled extensively throughout his eventful life. As a young man, he served in the Royal Hungarian Guards to fulfill his duty to the Austria-Hungary Empire. After returning home in 1830, he took the job of County Lord Lieutenant. He married Eleanora Dedinsky in 1834 and their son Geza, was born the next year. The couple eventually had six children.
Always a colorful figure, Haraszthy associated with many of the major political figures of the tumultuous era. His friends Loius Kossuth and Baron Wesselenyi had both been imprisoned by the Hungarian Government in 1837. Louis Kossuth went on to play a major role in the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 and Baron Wesselenyi was a long time liberal politician.
Fearing that he might be next, Haraszthy left Hungary and began traveling through Europe. In 1840, he was the first Hungarian to immigrate to the United States. He settled in New York and immediately took an interest in both politics and business opportunities. Haraszthy traveled extensively through the nation and visited many states. In 1840, he bought 10,000 acres in Wisconsin and incorporated a township.
The next year, he returned to Hungary and convinced his father to sell his property in Europe and move to America. He also brought his wife and children to Wisconsin where the family began to develop and sell parcels of their property. Located on the Wisconsin River, the town’s economy grew quickly.
Despite this success, Agoston Haraszthy dreamed of equaling Europe’s best vineyards in America. He had only been able to plant the robust Vitis lambrusca vine in the cold Wisconsin climate. The harsh weather also began to cause his health to decline. He had heard about California’s temperate climate and led a wagon train to San Diego in 1848.
Haraszthy bought 160 acres and planted cherry and peach trees on his property. He immediately became involved in business and politics. In 1850, he was elected San Diego County’s first sheriff. He tried to crack down on drunkenness, but it was an uphill battle. He also backed ranching interests regarding a tax dispute with a group of Native Americans. Antonia Garra led a revolt in response to Haraszthy’s actions, but was eventually captured and executed.