Names like the Vanderbilts or the Rockefellers are the first that spring to mind when we consider traditionally wealthy, prestigious American families. The world of the American elite seems a glittering, fantastical one, with ‘old money’ families mingling to create a hub of beauty and wealth in the midst of the nation. However, as Forbes’ recent compilation of the richest families in America as of 2014 catalogues, America’s wealthiest families are old and new alike. The fortunes of same began to be accumulated as far back as the eighteenth century while some of the richest families only began to garner their billions as recently as the last fifty years.
The following twenty families alone represent 0.5% of the United States’ entire wealth, with a combined net worth of a baffling $252.1 billion.
20. The Brown family — $11.6 billion
At number twenty it’s the Brown family. The wealth of this family is one-hundred and forty-four years old. The source of their vast net worth of eleven point six billion dollars is the liquor market. The family company, Brown-Forman, was founded in 1870, and is one of the biggest liquor companies in the US today. Around twenty-five family members currently share the family’s wealth.
19. The Mellon family — $12 billion
At number nineteen is a family with Irish heritage, the Mellons, who have accumulated their wealth mainly through banking. Nowadays worth twelve billion dollars, the Mellon family first began making serious money during the 1840s, after Judge Thomas Mellon emigrated from Ireland. He began to work with land, banking and real estate, his work in each of which has been carried on by future generations. The current generation of Mellons focuses particularly on business building.
18. The Dorrance family — $12.8 billion
The Dorrances, at number eighteen, have a net worth of twelve point eight billion dollars. They made their money from the Campbell Soup Company, which began in 1897 when John T. Dorrance came up with the now-renowned recipe for condensed soup. Today Campbell Soup is a huge company worldwide, and has a revenue of over eight billion dollars. Several members of the Dorrance family still sit on the Campbell board. There are at least eleven members of the Dorrance family sharing its collective wealth today.
17. The Busch family — $13 billion
The Busch family is in at number seventeen, with a net worth of thirteen billion dollars. The family’s source of wealth is company Anheuser-Busch, which famously produces Budweiser. The production of the same began in the late 1800s. It was, for a time, almost put out of business during the Prohibition but went from strength to strength thereafter. The Busches had total ownership of the company until the late twentieth century, at which time they sold off around twenty percent of Anheuser-Busch.
16. The Charles & Rupert Johnson family — $14 billion
The Charles & Rupert Johnson family, at number sixteen, is worth fourteen billion dollars. The family’s wealth comes from its mutual funds and their ties to Franklin Resources. The family began to make money in the mid-twentieth century when Rupert Johnson set up a Wall Street retail brokerage firm. Today, the company is run by Johnson’s son and his half-brother, and is a mutual fund manager and global investment management firm known as Franklin Templeton Investments.
15. The Ziff family — $14.3 billion
At number fifteen, with an estimated wealth of around fourteen point three billion dollars, is the Ziff family. Having amassed their wealth through publishing, the Ziffs set up company Ziff Davis in the early twentieth century. The group is now known for such well-known brands as PC Magazine. The three Ziff brothers each received a fortune when the company was sold off in the 1990s, and now manage their wealth through investments.
14. The Hunt family — $15 billion
The Hunt family are in at number fourteen, with a net worth of about fifteen billion dollars. The family became wealthy through the oil business, and have been one of the richest in America consistently since the 1960s. H. L. Hunt had an impressive fifteen children, each of whom has their own fortune today, be it through Hunt Oil or through another venture, such as Rosewood Hotels & Resorts.
13. The Du Pont family — $15 billion
The DuPont family, also with an estimated wealth of fifteen billion dollars, are at number thirteen. The source of their wealth is the DuPont company, which was originally a gunpowder manufacturer that later expanded into making dynamite, plastics and dyes, amongst other products. The business began when E. L. DuPont fled France during the Revolution and came to America. The DuPont family no longer owns the company, but possesses a large number of its shares. There are an astonishing three thousand, five hundred cousins in the family, most of whom don’t know each other – unsurprisingly!
12. The Lauder family — $15.5 billion
The Lauder family, begetters of famous brand Estee Lauder, are at number twelve. They have a collective net worth of around fifteen and a half billion dollars, and started to earn their money when Queens-native Estee herself began selling homemade skin creams. The company now produces thirty high-end cosmetics brands, including Clinique and Bobbi Brown. Although Estee Lauder has been sold to different buyers, the family still owns thirty-nine percent of the company.
11. The Newhouse family — $17 billion
The Newhouse family are in at number eleven, having made approximately seventeen billion dollars from newspapers and magazines. Sam Newhouse set up publishing group Advance Publications, which was inherited by his sons after his death in 1979. The brothers split the duties, with one overseeing the newspaper side and the other running Conde Nast, which produces such magazines as Vogue and Vanity Fair. They also own Bright House networks, a cable TV and Internet service provider.
10. The Duncan family — $25.4 billion
At number ten are energy tycoons the Duncans, with a considerable net worth of around twenty-five point four billion dollars. Dan Duncan was born in rural Texas, and managed to make a staggering amount of money through oil, natural gas and petrochemical pipelines. After Duncan’s death, his children inherited his almost ten billion dollar estate. The subsequent increase of fifteen billion dollars is thanks to rising stock prices and generous dividends.
9. The S. C. Johnson family — $25.5 billion
The Johnson family, at number nine, managed to make their billions — twenty-five and a half of them, to be exact — through cleaning products. Their output today includes such well-known brands as Windex and Ziploc bags. The original Johnson’s cleaning products industry was founded in the late nineteenth century, and was inherited by S. C. Johnson’s son Herbert. After Herbert’s death, his estate was divided 60-40 between his two children. Today the family retains 100% ownership of the company, giving credence to their famous company slogan, ‘SC Johnson: A Family Company’.
8. The Pritzker family — $29 billion
At number eight is the Pritzker family, who have made twenty-nine billion dollars over the last seventy-eight years through hotels and investments. The family’s fortune began with Abram Nicholas Pritzker and his brother Jack, who amassed considerable wealth in the early 1900s through various investments. In the later twentieth-century Abram’s sons broadened the family’s income by way of hotels, buying the Hyatt House hotel in 1957 and building around one hundred and fifty new branches. The family, today, has notable real estate holdings and owns numerous businesses, including Royal Caribbean Cruises.
7. The Cox family — $32 billion
At number seven is the Cox family, whose net worth is thirty-two billion dollars. Their wealth comes courtesy of the media industry, their first foray into which was James M. Cox’s purchase of the Dayton Evening News in the last few years of the nineteenth century. The company has expanded hugely over the last century and now includes Cox Communications and Cox Media Group. Numerous family members have a significant hold in the business, and sit on the board of directors.
6. The Hearst family — $35 billion
With a net worth of thirty-five billion dollars, the Hearst family is at number six. Their source of wealth is the Hearst Corp., and their money-making began when William Randolph Hearst became proprietor of the San Francisco Examiner in 1887. Today’s Hearst media empire includes forty-nine newspapers and three hundred and forty magazines, and has shares and stakes in such media as channels ESPN and Lifetime.
5. The Edward Johnson family — $39 billion
Not to be confused with the previously mentioned Johnsons, the Edward Johnson family at number five have accumulated their cool thirty-nine billion dollars through money management. The family founded their wealth management company Fidelity in 1946, and since then have perpetually had significant shares in what is now the second-largest mutual fund company in the US. Fidelity has one point seven trillion dollars in assets under management, and is also the operator of funds Contrafund and Magellan.
4. The Cargill-MacMillan family — $43 billion
At number four, with a net worth of forty-three billion dollars, is the Cargill-MacMillan family. The Cargill-MacMillans made their fortune through Cargill Inc., the largest private company in the US. Cargill Inc. specialises in processing crops, food sales and providing financial risk management, amongst other things. The company first began at the close of the American Civil War and remained family-owned until 1995, when the final Cargill stepped down. Six Cargill-MacMillans are individual billionaires.
3. The Mars family — $60 billion
At number three is the Mars family, with a collective net worth of sixty billion dollars. They made their money through the candy industry, and Mars is today the biggest confectionery company in the world. The company was founded in 1911 and invented the recipe for the nougat which now makes up the base of several of the company’s candy bars, including Milky Way and Snickers, in 1929. As well as producing candy, Mars also makes pet foods and Uncle Ben’s rice.
2. The Koch family — $89 billion
The second-richest family in America, with around eighty-nine billion dollars to its name, is the Koch family. The family comprises industrialists and business people, and their company Koch Industries is a huge American private company which has around one hundred and fifteen billion dollars in sales. In recent years, unrest amongst the Koch family saw two brothers being left out in the cold, despite their spending a decade suing for more money, while Republicans David and Charles Koch – the remaining wealthiest brothers – are two of the most politically powerful billionaires in the world today.
1. The Walton family — $152 billion
The number one richest family in America, with a staggering one hundred and fifty-two billion dollars in combined net worth, are the Waltons. Their source of wealth is Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, which has over four hundred and seventy-six billion dollars in revenue. The Walton family holds fifty-one percent of the company’s shares today, and collectively own the fortune left to them by their respective fathers, James and Sam Walton, after they set up their first store in 1962.