Do you ever wonder HOW those billionaires made so much money? Was it inherited, did they earn it all themselves, what industry could possibly make someone so much money? Here, we have revealed the richest families in the U.S. along with the stories behind their wealth and even the family feuds that took place over the money. You might be surprised to find out which industries can make people billions of dollars.
John Kluge amassed his fortune trading broadcast and cellular properties; notable wins included a $2 billion sale of Metromedia TV stations to News Corp and Hearst in 1985, and a $1.3 billion cash-out for Metromedia’s stake in phone company WorldCom in 1995. Upon Kluge’s death in 2010, he gave $400 million to fund financial aid at Columbia University. His son, John Kluge Jr., is also a Columbia graduate and active philanthropist; his angel investment firm, Eirene, is focused on solving sanitation issues through its Toilet Hackers program. His siblings Samantha and Joseph Kluge share the inheritance.
One of Tennessee’s most powerful families, the Haslams own 67% of Knoxville-based $31 billion (sales) Pilot Flying J and one of the founder’s sons, Bill, is governor of Tennessee. James Haslam II founded Pilot Travel Centers in 1958 and merged the company with Flying J in 2001. In 2013 the company was accused of defrauding trucking companies out of promised fuel rebates. Pilot settled a class-action lawsuit brought by customers in November 2013 and with the Department of Justice in July 2014. The company agreed to pay a $92 million penalty to the government in order to avoid prosecution. In April 2015, Pilot settled with 4 trucking companies not part of the class-action settlement. CEO Jimmy Haslam, the founder’s oldest son, has denied any knowledge of the rebate fraud scheme. In 2012 the family (excluding Gov. Bill Haslam) bought the Cleveland Browns football team for a reported $1 billion. Daughter Ann Haslam Bailey has no role at the company.
The France family -the “First Family of NASCAR” – has controlled the stock car racing organization since its inception in 1948. Brian France, the grandson of founder Bill France, Sr. and son of former CEO Bill Jr., has been at the helm since 2003. Brian’s uncle, James France, formerly served as CEO of NASCAR’s sister company, International Speedway Corp. and still holds sway in the family business as NASCAR Vice Chairman. Current ISC chief executive Lesa France Kennedy is Brian’s older sister; she was married to a plastic surgeon, Dr. Bruce Kennedy, who died in a dramatic plane crash in 2007. Their son, Ben, is a driver with Red Horse Racing, as was his cousin, J.C. France (Jim’s son)- formerly with AX Racing. Twenty family members own shares in publicly traded International Speedway Corp.
Chicago banker Byron Smith founded the Northern Trust Company in 1889. Twenty-two years later he placed an ad offering to fund a manufacturer. Two Swedish brothers convinced him the world needed more precision-cutting tools, so he cofounded Illinois Tool Works in 1912. More than 100 years later, his descendants still have massive stakes in both companies. Byron’s great-grandson Harold Smith stepped down as president of Illinois Tool Works in 1981. The fifth-generation scion David Smith Jr., a lawyer and former regulator with the SEC, serves on the boards of both Northern Trust and Illinois Tool Works, which are still two of the city’s largest companies.
Robert Wood Johnson founded Johnson & Johnson in 1886, providing the world with dental floss and first-aid kits and cursing his descendants with billions of dollars and years of family infighting. His son Robert Wood Johnson II, known as the General, took over in 1932 and turned Johnson & Johnson into a global powerhouse. The General and his brother Seward both died with massive fortunes. Most of Seward’s is now out of the family. His much-younger housemaid whom he eventually married, Barbara Piasecka, won a nasty lawsuit with his children for the inheritance and died in 2013 with a fortune worth an estimated $3.6 billion. The General left much of his fortune to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which today has assets of $10.2 billion and is the largest philanthropic organization dedicated solely to health. The rest went to his heirs, the most famous of which is grandson Woody, the much-maligned owner of the New York Jets. Outside of the Jets, Woody’s fortune is hidden in an extremely private New York investment company called the Johnson Company. Woody’s ex-wife told family biographer Jerry Oppenheimer that even she never knew how much money her ex-husband had. Forbes went with a conservative estimate, but it is possible that the Johnson family has more than the $6.3 billion we pinned down.
Son of a Philadelphia cobbler, Henry Phipps made a fortune as Andrew Carnegie’s accountant and business partner, receiving an estimated $50 million when Carnegie Steel was sold to J.P. Morgan in 1901. Six years later, he established Bessemer Trust (named after a steel making process) to care for his fortune. Bessemer, which started accepting money from outside clients in 1974, has since grown its asset base to nearly $100 billion; it is chaired by Henry Phipps’ great grandson, Stuart Janney, III. The family also has a strong presence in the world of horse racing, having won the 2013 Kentucky Derby with their thoroughbred Orb. Ogden Phipps was Chairman of the Jockey Club for ten years before passing on the torch to his son, Dinny, who remains in charge to this day.
The LeFraks oversee one of the largest real estate empires in New York City and the tri-state area. Now heading into the fourth-generation of family involvement, they have been in the real estate business since Harry LeFrak, a glazier who moved to New York to work for Louis Comfort Tiffany, founded the LeFrak Organization in 1901. He bought his first property that year, a 120-acre farm in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. His son Sam entered the family business and helped fuel massive expansion as the post-War construction boom flourished. Now with Sam’s son, Richard, in charge and his sons involved, the LeFrak Organization has evolved further, adding properties in California and Washington State, and investing in natural resources through oil wells and mineral rights. Still it is best known for its New York City metropolitan area properties, including the 5,000-unit apartment complex LeFrak City in Queens and more than 16 million square feet of commercial, residential and retail properties in Newport, NJ (including Forbes’ new home) across the Hudson River from lower Manhattan.
The clan behind Publix Super Markets, which operates more than 1,000 grocery stores across the Southeast. George Jenkins (d. 1996) founded the company in 1930 as a protest against his former boss, owner of now-rival Piggly Wiggly, who wouldn’t grant him five minutes of his time even after Jenkins drove eight hours to see him. He gave shares in his business to employees from the outset in an effort to win their loyalty; today it’s the largest employee-owned company in America. By the time George retired in 1989, he had expanded to more than 300 stores, which dominated Florida. The Jenkins family still runs Publix, which did more than $30 billion in sales in 2014. George’s nephew, Charlie Jenkins Jr., is chairman, and his grandson, Ed Crenshaw, is the fourth family member to occupy the CEO role. George’s daughter, Carol Jenkins Barnett, is president of Publix Super Markets Charities. Altogether the family owns 20% of the retailer, while employees hold the remaining 80%. Five family members sit on the Publix board of directors.
John Willard Marriott got his start opening a nine-stool A&W root beer stand with $6,000 in 1927. The family shifted into the hotel business in 1957, opening the world’s first motor hotel in Arlington, Virginia. Marriott International today controls nearly 4,000 hotels in over 70 countries, including under the Ritz-Carlton and Bulgari brands. Older son Bill served as the company’s CEO for 40 years starting in 1972 and still remains active as chairman. Younger son Richard has run Host Hotels & Resorts since 1993, the year his older brother Bill spun the company off from the family’s Marriott International amid bondholder protests. The Marriotts are devout Mormons. Through their companies, they are strong supporters of gay and LGBT rights.
Truett Cathy opened his first Chick-fil-A restaurant at an Atlanta mall in 1967. In 2014, the poultry pioneer–he practically invented the idea of a quickly served chicken sandwich–passed away at age 93, leaving a juggernaut fast food chain in the care of his two sons, Dan, chairman and CEO, and Bubba, senior vice president. Some of Truett’s 12 grandchildren are also working at the company. Chick-fil-A had an estimated $5.9 billion in 2014 revenues and more than 1,900 locations. That’s the result of a cult-like following beginning in 1946, when Truett Cathy and his brother Ben (d. 1949) were first serving their chicken sammies to Ford factory and airport workers around the clock. The Cathy family is as known for chicken as for the business’ Christian values. Stores close on Sundays, and employees and franchisees are advised “to base your business in biblical principles.”
The Cincinnati-based E.W. Scripps media empire was founded by Edward Willis Scripps, who borrowed $10,000 at age 24 to start Penny Press in Cleveland in 1878. He established a trust that took control of the company in 1922, and the family has overseen it ever since. In 2008 it spun off its more valuable cable television operations (including HGTV, Food Network, Travel Channel) from its journalistic efforts, calling the new publicly traded company Scripps Network Interactive. E.W. Scripps merged with Journal Communications in April 2015, keeping the broadcast TV stations but spinning out their combined newspaper assets into a new company called Journal Media Group.The close-knit Scripps family, which gets together for meetings at least twice a year, controls two-thirds of the board seats for both E.W. Scripps and Scripps Network Interactive (both are publicly traded), though it’s not involved in day-to-day management. Scripps family members vowed decades ago to avoid divisiveness, for the good of the family and the company. An estimated 60 family members share the fortune.
The Chao family increased its stake in Suzhou Huasu Plastics Co. one of the largest plastic chemicals firms in China, this year to 95%. Their Texas-based Westlake Chemical Corp. is already North America’s largest manufacturer of low density polyethylene, which is used in milk and juice cartons, produce bags and plastic wrap. It’s also the second-largest producer of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, in the U.S. The late Ting Tsung “T.T.” Chao (d. 2008) moved his family from mainland China to Taiwan in 1946. More than three decades later, he relocated his family to the U.S. where T.T., and his two sons James and Albert quickly began acquiring chemical plants in the Southeast corridor. Eldest son James is Westlake’s chairman; Albert is CEO. With sister Dorothy Chao Jenkins, siblings own 35% of the company.
Warren Bechtel started out grading railroad track beds in Oklahoma in 1898 and worked his way to California building railroads. In 1906 he rented a steam shovel for a job with the Western Pacific Railroad, laying the roots of his family’s now giant engineering and construction business Bechtel. Over the decades, the family-run company has built everything from the Hoover Dam to the Channel Tunnel. In early June, it completed the tunneling under London for Crossrail, a new high capacity railway that is the largest engineering project in Europe. Fourth generation Riley Bechtel stpped down as CEO in 2014, due to health reasons, but remains chairman. His son Brendan is president and COO of Bechtel, which now has $37 billion (sales).
Atlanta’s dysfunctional Rollins clan remains locked in a legal dispute over access to trusts and holding companies worth some $3 billion. Their family feud was back before the Georgia Supreme Court in June, with four of pest control conglomerate founder O. Wayne Rollins’ grandchildren suing their father and uncle Gary (Rollins Inc CEO) and Randall (chairman) for what they claim is their rightful inheritance. Rollins Inc subsidiary Orkin, the termite killing franchise, remains the family’s best known business, although their stake in oil and fracking spin-off RPC Inc is also worth billions.
The Simplots built a fortune in potatoes, thanks to J.R. Simplot (pictured), who dropped out of the eighth grade in Idaho, worked odd jobs on farms and then bought his own potato farm. He became the father of the frozen french fry when he developed an innovative freezing process in the 1940s. Shortly before Simplot’s death in 2008, his company was supplying one third of America’s french fries. The Simplot company has expanded into phosphate mining and fertilizer production via JR Simplot Co. His three children have run the $5.8 billion (sales) company since his death.
Son of a tailor, Herb Simon grew up working class in the Bronx. In 1960 he and his brother Melvin (d. 2009) founded the precursor to Simon Property Group. It’s now one of the world’s largest REITs, with 228 shopping malls and retail strips. It spans 242 million square feet across America, Europe and Asia. Melvin’s son, David, has been CEO since 1995. Herb also owns the Indiana Pacers, which he bought with his brother; the team’s value has doubled in the past year. Herb also sits on the board of the Cheesecake Factory. He is a father of eight and on his third marriage–this time to a former Miss Universe from Thailand.
Truck-maker Paccar is a family-owned business run by the Pigotts, who founded the firm back in 1905. Originally dedicated to making railway and logging equipment, the Pigott family made Sherman tanks for the Allied forces during World War II. Then it expanded into building medium- and heavy-duty trucks, now found in more than 100 countries. Mark Pigott stepped down from his role as CEO in late 2013, but remains active as Paccar’s executive chairman. Pigott, who is also a member of the Augusta National Golf Club, is the president of the Paccar foundation which has made more than $160 million in donations to education, social services, and the arts.
Inventor Homer Stryker founded Stryker Corp. in 1941, selling new medical equipment like the mobile hospital bed. His son Lee took over in 1955 but died in a plane crash in 1976. Lee’s three children Patricia, Jon and Ronda still hold large chunks of Stryker shares. Ronda, the only one who sits on Stryker’s board, gave $100 million to endow a medical school at Western Michigan University. Jon and Patricia are influential in Democratic national politics. Jon was an early donor to Ready for Hillary, a super PAC that encouraged Hillary Clinton to run for the White House. He also founded the Arcus Foundation to promote gay and lesbian causes. Patricia runs the Bohemian Foundation, which supports the arts and education.
Hendrik Meijer opened his first grocery store in 1934 in Michigan. He and his son Frederik pioneered the idea of one-stop shopping in 1962. Two years later he officially passed the reigns to Frederik, who ran Meijer until 1990, when he then passed it on to his sons Hank and Doug. The brothers remain co-chairman of the $15 billion (estimated sales) company, which now has more than 200 stores in six Midwestern states, including big-box stores and also smaller Meijer Marketplaces. In June 2015, Meijer opened its first stores in Wisconsin.
B. Wayne Hughes cofounded the company with a single locker in 1972; today he and his children own 15% of Public Storage, the nation’s biggest chain of self-storage facilities with more than 2,200 locations in the U.S. and Europe. B. Wayne retired as CEO of the Glendale, CA company in 2002 and is now chairman emeritus. His daughter, Tamara Hughes Gustavson, and son, B. Wayne Hughes, Jr. sit on the Public Storage board. All three are individual billionaires. Well known in the thoroughbred racing world, B. Wayne Sr. spends much of his time on his 700-acre Spendthrift Farm in Kentucky. He’s also an avid supporter of conservative politics and causes as well as the founder of American Commercial Equities, which is engaged in the acquisition and operation of commercial properties in California and Hawaii.
On its 70th anniversary, U-Haul — and the Shoen family behind it — has plenty to celebrate. The ubiquitous, bright-orange trucking company for do-it-yourself movers generated record profits of $357 million in 2015 on $3.1 billion sales (also a record). Its stock, trading under the corporate name Amerco, has also reached record highs this year, boosting the net worths of billionaires Joe and Mark Shoen, the company’s largest individual shareholders. The outlook hasn’t always been this sunny, as the Shoen family lays claim to one of the messiest dramas in American business history. L.S. Shoen and wife Anna Mary Carty (d. 1957) started the company in 1945 renting trailers for $2 per day. Success abounded until the 1970s, when L.S. and eldest son Samuel diversified into rentals of everything from video tapes to jet skis. Profits plummeted and younger brothers Joe and Mark orchestrated a boardroom coup in 1987. Joe became chief (and still is today) and returned U-Haul to truck rentals and, subsequently, prosperity. Not long after Joe took the helm, the fractured family took its squabbles to the courts and remained in nearly constant litigation for 25 years. At one point, L.S. Shoen accused his estranged sons of taking part in the murder of Samuel’s wife in 1990 before a paroled rapist confessed. L.S Shoen committed suicide in 1999. The last of the litigation concluded in 2012.
The four Bass brothers — Sid, Edward, Robert and Lee — inherited a small fortune from their oil tycoon uncle Sid Richardson four decades ago and have been building on it ever since, working with investing talent like Richard Rainwater and David Bonderman. They control an intensely private fortune and may be worth far more than Forbes can pin down. Robert, the richest of the four, started an investment company called Oak Hill in the early 1990s, and it now has more than $35 billion in assets under management. The quartet’s mother Nancy Lee died at 95 in 2013, the day after her best friend and neighbor Van Cliburn, the famous pianist, passed away. She and her husband Perry (d. 2006) celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary by giving away $1 million to 50 different charities. Their collective fortune took a hit from the global rout in oil prices that has put pressure on fracking and domestic oil and gas production.
The Chicago family owns the largest beer distributor in the U.S., Reyes Beverage Group; the biggest food distributor to McDonald’s, Martin Brower; and food distributor Reinhart Foodservice . In June, Reyes Holdings signed a deal with Coca-Cola to be an exclusive distributor in the greater Chicago area and Northwest Indiana. The family first got into the business when it purchased a small South Carolina beer distributor for $740,000 in 1976. Christopher and M. Jude Reyes are majority owners and co-chairs of the $23.5 billion(sales) company. Brother David “Duke” Reyes is the CEO of Reyes Beverage Group and owns a minority stake. Brothers James and Tom are executives at Reyes Beverage Group while brother William is a director of Reyes Holdings.
The Crown family’s holdings span the ski resort of Aspen, stakes in The New York Yankees and The Chicago Bulls, and 20% of Rockefeller Center. The patriarch is 90-year-old Lester, son of progenitor Henry. Henry and his two brothers started a building-supplies company in 1919. They learned how to defer taxes and construct a business using borrowed money. Henry merged his building-supplies company with General Dynamics in 1958. The Crown family still owns 10% of General Dynamic stock, worth some $4.8 billion at press time and the family’s largest single asset. Henry Crown remained an active investor and financier until his death in 1990. An estimated three family members share the fortune.
The Marshall family derives its wealth from a 14% stake in Koch Industries that the late oilman J. Howard Marshall II left to his son E. Pierce Marshall (shortchanging his eldest son and namesake, J. Howard III). J. Howard had invested in Great Northern Oil Co. and got his Koch Industries stock in the 1950s when Koch acquired an interest in Great Northern Oil. E. Pierce died in 2006, leaving the Koch Industries stock in trust with his wife Elaine as income beneficiary. The family has spent millions on lawyers thanks to J. Howard II’s financial and romantic adventures, including a May-December marriage to former Playmate Anna Nicole Smith. In 2014 the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals largely affirmed the government’s tax claim against the family over J.Howard’s attempt to transfer the Koch stock at an unrealistically low value.
In 1933, two Gallo brothers, Ernest and Julio, started what would become the world’s largest winemaker in a Modesto, Calif. shed. They sold wine for half the going rate of $1 gallon. Wholesalers loved the bargain. Ernest (d. 2007) and Julio (d. 1993) ran E&J Gallo Winery for six decades: Julio grew the grapes, and Ernest sold them. Five-foot-four-inch Ernest was known for his swagger; he would force distributors to keep growing or threaten to take Gallo’s business elsewhere. More then a dozen children and grandchildren still run the wholly family-owned business, which has an estimated $3.8 billion in revenues, from the same fertile land in California. Wine brands include Gallo Family Vineyards, Barefoot Cellars, Frei Brothers and William Hill Estate. The company has expanded into liquor with New Amsterdam gin and vodka and Familia Camarena tequila.
Florence Butt opened a grocery store in Texas in 1905 after her husband was diagnosed with tuberculosis and unable to work. Her son Howard Butt took over the company in the 1920s and expanded throughout Texas. Howard’s son Charles started as a bag boy at age 8. He has run the company, H.E. Butt, since 1971 and is the majority shareholder. His two siblings and two nephews also own stakes in the $20 billion (estimated sales) business, which has 316 stores in Texas and 52 in Mexico.
John D. Rockefeller (pictured) struck it rich with Standard Oil in the 19th century, becoming America’s first billionaire — adjusted to today’s dollars he would have been worth in excess of $30 billion. He and son John Jr. later dedicated themselves to philanthropy, giving away more than $1 billion, including establishing University of Chicago and Rockefeller University. John Jr. built Rockefeller Center. His grandson David — who had a long career with Chase National Bank — is the world’s oldest billionaire; he turned 100 in June. A devoted art patron, David still travels the world visiting museums, and his personal collection includes works by Monet, Picasso and Van Gogh.
The Fisher family’s Gap fortune began when Donald Fisher (d. 2009) became frustrated that he couldn’t find a pair of jeans that fit. He had trouble exchanging ill-fitting Levi’s with a salesman and struggled to find his 31-inch inseam in department stores. He turned his vexation into founding the first Gap store with his wife, Doris, in 1969. Originally a San Francisco jeans and music store, he planned on calling it “Pants and Discs” before Doris came up with “the Gap,” a nod to the notion of a generation gap. Today the $16 billion (sales) giant operates about 3,700 stores globally under brands that include Old Navy, Banana Republic and Athleta. The family still owns a 43% stake, and two of the couple’s three sons (Bill and Bob Fisher) sit on Gap’s board. The company announced in June 2015 that it would be shuttering 175 stores and laying off 250 employees amid sluggish sales. In 2000, Donald and Doris cofounded the KIPP Foundation, which supports a network of charter schools; son John Fisher remains its chairman.
Judge Thomas Mellon (d. 1908) emigrated from Ireland in 1818 and made a fortune starting in the 1840s with land, real estate and banking. He disliked his peers’ philanthropic tendencies and instead left his fortune to his children–with the expectation that they grow the pile further. And they did. His son Andrew Mellon (d. 1937) was a turn-of-the-century venture capitalist, investing in companies that became Alcoa and Gulf Oil. Later generations haven’t hit grand slams like those, but are still actively building businesses. Andrew’s grandson, Timothy, owns a New England railroad company. His grandnephew Richard Scaife, who owned a media company in Western Pennsylvania that includes Pittsburgh’s Tribune-Review, died in July 2014, leaving much of his fortune to charitable foundations (which Forbes does not count toward the family’s net worth). Matthew Mellon, an entrepreneur and investor in cryptocurrency startups like Ripple Labs, is now the face of the family.
Founded by George Garvin Brown in 1870, Brown-Forman today makes some of the world’s best-known booze. That includes bar-shelf mainstay Jack Daniel’s, as well as Old Forester, the first bourbon bottled in America. The whiskey industry has been resurgent in recent years as consumers try new small-batch whiskeys and and rediscover old ones. Brown-Forman has tapped into that trend, too, making a big marketing push for its Woodford Reserve brand (now officially the bourbon of the Kentucky Derby) and Old Forester, which had been little known. The company also produces Finlandia vodka and Herradura tequila. The Browns own an estimated 51% of the publicly traded firm; George Garvin Brown IV, a member of the fifth generation, chairs the Brown-Forman board. At least 25 family members share the fortune.
The Johnson family fortune stems from Franklin Resources, a global investment management firm and mutual fund manager with nearly $890 billion in assets under management. Known as Franklin Templeton Investments, it was started by Rupert H. Johnson in 1947 as a retail brokerage firm on Wall Street. When Rupert retired in 1957, his son, Charles B. Johnson, took over and was later joined by his half-brother, Rupert Jr., in the 1960s. The company went public in 1971. Charles’ son, Gregory, is chairman and CEO, and his daughter, Jennifer, is COO. Rupert Jr. is vice chairman. The family owns about 35% of publicly traded Franklin Resources. Charles also has a large stake in the San Francisco Giants baseball team.
America’s first family of beer lost its business in 2008, when a group of Brazilian investors led InBev’s takeover of Anheuser-Busch. It was a stunning loss for a family that had been making beer since Adolphus Busch brewed his first batch of Budweiser in 1876. Prohibition almost put the company out of business, but his son August Busch Sr. survived by selling soda and ice cream. When Franklin D. Roosevelt repealed Prohibition, August reportedly sent a 24-beer crate to the White House. The family passed down the company through the generations but ended up selling an estimated 25% of the business from 1989 to 2008, leaving the family powerless to stop the $52 billion buyout bid. Seven years later, a branch of the Busch family is back in the beer business, albeit on a much smaller scale. Billy Busch founded William K Busch Brewing in 2011 with two lagers, Kraftig and Kraftig Light. Until recently, its beers were only distributed in Missouri and Illinois — but Billy insists it isn’t a micro-brewery and announced a major expansion into Texas in 2015.
At least 11 descendants of one-time Campbell Soup Co. president and owner John T. Dorrance are heirs to his fortune. Together they own an estimated 50% stake in the company. Dorrance was a chemist who invented the formula for Campbell’s famous condensed soup in 1897 and became president of the company in 1914. His billionaire grandchildren Mary Alice D. Malone and Bennett Dorrance, as well as great-grandson Archibold D. van Beuren, sit on the board today. Charlotte Colket Weber, cousin of Malone and Dorrance and a devoted equestrian, stepped down at age 72 in November 2014 due to age limits. Heir John Dorrance III renounced his U.S. citizenship and moved to Ireland before cashing out his 10.5% stake nearly 20 years ago, reportedly to avoid capital gains taxes. Campbell Soup is now a global giant with more than $8.3 billion in revenues and brands such as Prego and Pepperidge Farm.
Brothers Arthur (d. 1987), Mortimer (d. 2010) and Raymond Sackler — all doctors — founded Purdue Pharma in 1952 after taking over a small, struggling New York drug manufacturer. The company sold several moderately successful products, like earwax remover and laxatives, but remained under the radar until the mid-1990s when Purdue began selling what amounted to morphine in a pill. OxyContin — a long-lasting, narcotic pain reliever — launched in 1995 and by 2003 Purdue was selling $1.6 billion of the product annually. But it quickly became abused by addicts who would crush the pills for a quick, intense high, sparking controversy and legal action against Purdue. The company paid more than $600 million in 2007 to settle charges with federal prosecutors that it had misbranded OxyContin as safer and less addictive than it was. Today, the company — still 100% owned by the Sackler family — generates more than $3 billion in sales in U.S., mostly from OxyContin. Separate Sackler-owned companies with similar products generate just as much money selling to Europe, Canada, Asia and Latin America. Purdue is once again facing a potentially enormous legal bill: a civil lawsuit by the state of Kentucky could reportedly yield damages in excess of $1 billion. Purdue denies wrongdoing in this case, noting that courts across the United States have dismissed similar cases against Purdue because evidence failed to establish the company’s marketing caused the alleged harm. An estimated 20 family members share the fortune.
Descendants of legendary wildcatter H.L. Hunt, the family has ranked among America’s richest since the 1960s. H.L., an inspiration for the character J.R. Ewing on the long-running TV series “Dallas,” had 15 children (one died in infancy) by three women. Today his descendants oversee discrete fortunes: Son Ray Lee oversees Hunt Oil; son William Herbert is a big player in shale; and daughter Caroline founded and later sold Rosewood Hotels & Resorts. His late son, sports magnate Lamar Hunt, is said to have named the Super Bowl, and his children still own the Kansas City Chiefs. In October 2014, his son Nelson Bunker Hunt, who tried to corner the silver market in the 1970s with brother William Herbert, died at age 88.
The du Ponts own the nation’s oldest billion-dollar family fortune. It is also the largest, with an estimated 3,500 members. A prisoner during the French Revolution, E.I. du Pont fled Europe in 1799 for America, where he founded the company that continues to make his descendants rich two centuries later. DuPont started as a gunpowder manufacturer, later expanding into dynamite, paints, plastics, dyes and materials. Its scientists invented nylon, Kevlar and Teflon. Family members no longer run the company, which has evolved into a chemicals giant, but they still hold a substantial chunk of its shares. There is still an E.I. du Pont on the company’s board of directors. Pete du Pont was governor of Delaware from 1977-1985 and ran for president in 1988. Du Pont heir Robert Richards made national news in March 2014 when it came out that he had previously pled guilty to raping his three-year-old daughter. He was not the first member of the family to get in trouble with the law. In 1996 John E. du Pont murdered Olympic gold medal wrestler David Schultz. The story was retold in the 2014 film Foxcatcher, which was produced by another heir, Megan Ellison, daughter of billionaire Larry Ellison.
Third-generation Ziff brothers shook up how they’ve been managing their family fortunes: In 2014 the billionaire brothers Dirk, Daniel and Robert shuttered their hedge funds in the U.S. and London, though they’re still using high-profile Ziff Brothers Investments to manage a portion of their investments. Eldest brother Dirk started his own family office Ziff Capital Partners within the past year. The brothers are also reportedly investing some of their billions with investors who were formerly at their hedge funds. The roots of their fortune date back to 1927 when their grandfather William Sr. first started his publishing business. Their father William Jr. built up Ziff Davis, which became best known for such trade publications as PC Magazine and Car and Driver, before selling it for $1.4 billion in 1994. The brothers who got the proceeds have since increased those proceeds tenfold.
Queens, N.Y. native Estee Lauder started out selling homemade skin creams to women in hair salons. She founded the Estee Lauder cosmetics with her husband in 1946. The company has grown to encompass 30 brands of make-up, including Clinique, Bobbi Brown and MAC. The company board now includes her son Leonard, his son William (the current executive chairman) and Estee’s granddaughters Aerin and Jane, both of whom have spent their careers working for the firm. The Lauder family together controls 77% of the company’s voting power. Estee Lauder’s son Ronald, who is also the former U.S. ambassador to Austria and served as chairman of the cosmetics company, has recently spent time advocating for Jewish rights in the U.S. Congress and speaking out against antisemitism. Both Ronald and Leonard have also made names for themselves as impressive art collectors.
Brothers Samuel (“Si”) and Donald Newhouse run Advance Publications. In March, the company agreed to sell its majority stake in Bright House Networks to Charter Communications for $10.4 billion. Bright House is a cable TV and Internet service provider with customers in Florida, Alabama, Indiana, Michigan and California. The deal is awaiting shareholder and regulatory approval and is expected to close by the end of the year. The brothers also own Conde Nast, publisher of magazines such as The New Yorker and Vanity Fair; the nation’s largest privately-held newspaper chain; and a stake in Discovery Communications, the operator of cable and satellite TV networks such as the Discovery Channel and TLC. Si and Donald inherited the company from their father, Sam Newhouse (d. 1979), who started out with one newspaper in New Jersey. Si reportedly stepped down from managing the magazine side of the business in 2011, but remains chairman. Donald oversees the newspaper division, which has over 30 editions including The Times-Picayune in New Orleans and The Plains Dealer in Cleveland. Donald’s son, Steven, is responsible for day-to-day management of the newspapers.
Born poor in rural Texas, Dan Duncan was raised by his grandmother from age 7 on, following the death of his mother and brother. He eventually struck it rich in oil and gas pipelines. When Duncan died in 2010 at age 77, he left his nearly $10 billion estate to his four children: Randa Duncan Williams, Milane Frantz, Dannine Duncan Avara and Scott Duncan, all of whom got equal shares. The family fortune has since more than doubled, thanks to generous dividend payouts and a rise in the stock price of pipeline behemoth Enterprise Products Partners. Randa, the eldest, is chairman of the board. Scott, 32, is the youngest American billionaire to have inherited his wealth.
The Johnson family owns 49% of money manager Fidelity, the second largest mutual fund company in the U.S. (behind Vanguard) with $1.8 trillion in assets under management. Edward C. Johnson II (d. 1984) founded the Boston-based company in 1946. His son, Edward “Ned” Johnson III, ran the company from 1977 until last year when he stepped down as CEO. He remains chairman of the board. Ned’s daughter Abigail replaced him as Fidelity CEO in October 2014. Ned’s son Edward Johnson IV runs a family-owned real estate company. Another daughter Elizabeth is not involved at Fidelity.
The Wisconsin family created many of the cleaning products in American homes including Ziploc, Windex, Glade and Shout. The company founder, S.C. Johnson, for whom the business is named, started a parquet flooring company in 1886 and developed a floor wax for his customers two years later. His son Herbert Fisk Johnson, who ran it until his death in 1928, died without a will, leading to a family struggle over the inheritance. Ownership of SC Johnson was divided 60-40 between his two children, Herbert Fisk Jr. and Henrietta Johnson Louis. Their descendants still own 100% of the $9.6 billion (estimated sales) company. Today, Herbert Fisk III, great-great grandson of the founder is CEO.
Powerful Chicago family is best known for creating Hyatt Hotels. The family spent the 2000s feuding over trusts and eventually divvied up the fortune. Penny is Commerce Secretary; Thomas chairs Hyatt Hotels. Gigi is a movie producer (Draft Day); John owns boutique hotel group Commune Hotels; brothers Anthony and JB run Pritzker Group investment firm; Karen and her husband Michael are active investors. Liesel Pritzker Simmons, who sued her father and the Pritzker family in 2003 (the family settled), is an impact investor. Altogether there are 11 individual billionaire members of the family. Roots of the fortune date to A.N. Pritzker (d. 1986), who with his sons Jay and Robert created Hyatt Hotels and invested in holdings like industrial conglomerate Marmon Group, now owned by Berkshire Hathaway.
Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane was largely based on publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, who first placed his name on the masthead of the San Francisco Examiner as “Proprietor” in 1887. His son, William Randolph Hearst Jr., became a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. His grandson William R. Hearst III now chairs the modern day Hearst media empire, which includes 49 newspapers, nearly 340 magazines around the globe and valuable stakes in cable TV channels ESPN, Lifetime and A&E. Two years into the leadership of CEO Steven Swartz, the Hearst Corporation continues to grow, delivering record revenues north of $10 billion, while investing in up-and-coming media outlets like Vice and BuzzFeed. Over the years, the family had its fair share of scandals, from the kidnapping of Patty Hearst by a guerrilla group in the 1970s, to a nasty divorce between the late John R. “Bunky” Hearst Jr. and his wife Barbara that revealed some of the inner workings of the family’s secretive trust.
The Cox fortune dates to 1898, when James M. Cox purchased the Dayton Evening News. The company subsequently expanded to TV, radio and more: Cox Enterprises includes Cox Communications (cable TV, broadband) and Cox Media Group (newspapers, TV, radio stations), and the company is now adding to its automotive assets. In June 2015 it announced a $4 billion deal to acquire publicly traded DealerTrack, a maker of software for car dealerships. Through Cox Enterprises, the family already owns AutoTrader.com, Kelley Blue Book and Manheim car auctions. The fortune is divided between James Cox’s daughter, Anne Cox Chambers, and his grandchildren, James Kennedy and Blair Parry-Okeden; Kennedy chairs Cox Enterprises and served as its CEO from 1988 to 2008.
The Cargill-MacMillan clan includes 14 billionaires, more than any other family in the world. Along with several other cousins, they own 88% of Cargill Inc., America’s largest private company. The $128 billion (revenues) agribusiness giant sells food, processes crops, trades commodities, sources ingredients and provides financial risk management. It all started with W.W. Cargill, the son of a Scottish sea captain, who founded the company as a small grain storage business in 1865 at the close of the American Civil War. He got rich as railroads expanded westward at the end of the century, turning the Great Plains into America’s bread basket. Cargill’s son-in-law, John MacMillan, took over the business in 1909. The final member of the family to serve as CEO, Whitney MacMillan, stepped down in 1995. Today only six members of the family sit on Cargill’s 17-person board, thanks to an agreement between family factions in the mid-1990s. The family leaves 80% of the company’s net income inside the company for reinvestment each year.
Forrest Jr., Jacqueline and John own 100% of Mars, the largest candy company in the world with $33 billion in sales. The siblings, who sit on the board but have no daily role, inherited the company in 1999 when their father Forrest Sr. died. Their grandfather Frank began selling candy from his Tacoma, Washington kitchen in 1911. Their father joined the company in 1929, around the same time the company invented the malt-flavored nougat that became the basis of Milky Way and Snickers. The company later created M&Ms, over 400 million of which are produced in the U.S. each day. Mars also makes Uncle Ben’s rice and owns pet food brands Pedigree and Whiskas. Jacqueline is a trustee of the U.S. Equestrian Team and sits on the board of directors of the National Sporting Library and Fine Art Museum. Forrest is interested in historical preservation and is a trustee of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. John and his wife Adrienne are noted supporters of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon.
Bitter split led brothers William and Frederick Koch to sell out of the Koch family business – started with refineries by their father, Fred Sr., in the 1930s — for a reported $700 million in 1983. That left the two other siblings, Charles and David, in charge of expanding their conglomerate, Koch Industries, now the nation’s second largest private company (behind Cargill) with more than $100 billion in sales. Feeling shortchanged, William and Frederick spent more than a decade suing for more, but today are worth a fraction of their more powerful siblings, who both rank among the nation’s top 10 richest individuals. Charles and David plan to be big spenders in the 2016 elections through their various conservative organizations. Charles told USA Today in April he and his 450 wealthy followers plan to spend $300 million on the elections over the next two years.
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