Rags to riches stories are common in myths and movies – we can’t help but be inspired by the real life men and women who struggled from nothing to take small-time, privately owned businesses and turn them into mega rich empires. To know that this happened in real life, too, makes the aspiration that much more attainable and attractive. There are those families that held on tightly to their money, managed the family fortune carefully and insisted that their kids picked up the reigns, creating many rich and powerful corporations that have been in existence for over 100 years which were created by and are still led by one incredibly powerful family.
They may have been born into the money, but those who top the wealth in their respective families have obviously inherited traits of leadership and business savvy passed down from their parents. Expectations upon them were probably high and the pressure intense, however, so some family members have decided to pass up on the wealth altogether while others have had to fight for their fair share. Sibling rivalry has been intense within some of America’s families, while others have kept it together and have both personally and financially successful families around them.
Will there ever be an end to the empires America’s richest families have grown? How many more generations of the same families will continue to live in luxury? The following ten richest American families feature some of the most influential people in the country who head up some of the most successful industries in the world.
10. The Duncan Clan- Worth $25.4 Billion
Dan Duncan (b.1933) got rich courtesy of the oil industry, starting out life in a farming family in rural Texas. He created Enterprise products which required Dan to deliver oil door-to-door with only two trucks in 1968.
Eventually he earned the title of richest man in Texas and today Enterprise Products owns 51,000 miles of natural gas, oil and petrochemical lines. When the patriarch died in 2010 he left all his money to his four kids, who, because of a one year lapse in estate taxes at the time, inherited their money without having to pay any tax.
9. SC Johnson family- Worth $25.5 Billion
While product lines in a company may evolve, they typically remain in the same industry. That is the way it has been for the SC Johnson Company, who started out producing paste wax in 1886. Based in Wisconsin the company continues to produce cleaning products and chemicals for homes around the world. It’s currently privately owned by the fifth generation of Johnsons and is actively marketed as an environmentally aware company. Dr Herbert Fisk Johnson III is the current CEO of this megacorp, and if the past is anything to go by, the wealth should remain in the company for some time to come.
8. The Pritzker Family- Worth $29 Billion
The Pritzker family have had their fair share of fighting over money. It’s now divided amongst many of the current generation, who are mixed up in a few different industries, including investments, hotels and even movie production ( Gigi Pritzker was behind Ender’s Game). Abram Nicholas Pritzker (A.N Pritzker) and his sons created Hyatt hotels. They shielded their money through trusts which meant they could distribute their money as they saw fit. Pritzker’s father wrote a small book which has been passed down from generation to generation. The theme of the book is “Your immortality is the impact you have on your successors.”
7. The Cox Family – Worth $32 Billion
The Cox family has made their wealth in the field of communications, beginning way back in 1898 when grandpa Cox purchased the Dayton Evening News. Today they provide digital cable, telecommunications and wireless services under the banner Cox Communications. Some family members have no role in the business, some are stakeholders and others have assumed CEO role (James Kennedy was CEO from 1988-2008). Two of the grandchildren each have 25% shares in the company and Anne Cox Chambers is the current majority stakeholder with 50% of the company. Every brand has a mascot and the current Cox mascots, showing up in many of their advertisements, are the “Digeez” who replaced “Digital Max”, who was fazed out in 2008.
6. The Hearst Family- Worth $35 Billion
William Randolph Hearst was famous and rich in his time, so much so that Orson Welles based his movie Citizen Kane on the illustrious newspaper magnate. He launched his career in publishing in 1887 after he had taken control of The San Francisco Examiner from his father. From there he acquired more newspapers and eventually became a politically influential figure. Today the company owns 49 newspapers, 340 magazines and stakes in various cable channels. The company doesn’t just write headlines but makes headlines, having been taken to court for antitrust violations.
5. Edward Johnson Family – Worth $39 Billion
Mutual fund company Fidelity has been the cash cow for another Johnson family, this time headed up by patriarch Edward Johnson, who founded the company in 1946. Today, the company is at least partially owned by this billionaire family, with 51% belonging to the employees. Edward Johnson III is the current patriarch of this family and CEO of the company, with his daughter Abigail (currently president) likely to take over from him when he passes on the baton. Edward Johnson IV is branching out a bit from family tradition as owner of a real estate company while the third child, Elizabeth, has no part in the running of Fidelity.
4. Cargill-Macmillan – Worth $43 Billion
Cargill, a company trading agricultural products, is the largest privately held corporation in the US, with one family owning close to 90% of the business. William W Cargill purchased a grain flat house in Conover, Iowa in 1865 and from there the Cargill and Brother company built up, partly due to the strategic location of their business. They have faced debt crises throughout the generations but it seems there’s always been someone there to pull them up and back into the foray. They’ve had to deal with allegations of human rights abuses and food contamination, too. The company itself was last run by a Cargill in 1995. They are known to be a very secretive family, living quiet lives in rural Montana.
3. Mars Family – Worth $60 Billion
The Mars family (as in the chocolate, not Bruno) have gotten wealthy as the real life Willy Wonkas of the business world. Frank Mars founded the company in 1911 in Tacoma Washington after starting out selling Molasses chips at the age of 19. His son took over the company a little later and invented M&Ms and the world famous Mars bar. The three siblings who currently own the company have nothing to do with its day to day running, sitting pretty on the fortunes developed by their father and grandfather. The company has also branched into non-chocolate food such as Uncle Ben’s rice and Whiskas for cats.
2. Koch Family – Worth $89 Billion
The Koch family are proof that not all things are equal when it comes to family money. Two of the brothers, the notorious Charles and David, are fueling their wealth from Koch Industries, after they took charge of the company in 1983. The other two brothers, William and Frederick sold their shares in the company after bitter rivalry with the aforementioned brothers. Koch is a multinational corporation with subsidiaries based in trading, manufacture and investments. It is still privately owned and Charles Koch claimed it will “go public over my dead body”.
1. The Waltons – Worth $152 Billion
The Waltons’ mega rich empire began humbly with Sam Walton who proved himself a great businessman when he successfully ran Ben Franklin franchises. In 1962 he and his brother started up the first Walmart, a store that promised to sell low cost American products. He located his stores in smaller towns, originally, and focused on efficient delivery systems and bulk buying which allowed the store to sell goods at low costs. The family still, collectively, owns 51% of the Walmart company, which gives them veto power in any major decision making processes. The family fortune is split between Sam Walton‘s children; Alice Walton, John T. Walton , S. Robson Walton, Jim C. Walton.