By Audrey Kyanova
America is the land of the free and the home of the billionaires. Though the country is full of young entrepreneurs, much of U.S. wealth comes from “old money,” meaning it comes from families that have been rich for generations.
Old money families usually have ties spanning different industries. In one way or another, those original businesses that made them rich still exist today. But some of the richest families in America are also the most secretive. While we’ve all heard of the Kardashians and the Hiltons, many of America’s most influential family empires keep a low profile and keep their money a secret.
Sometimes they just prefer to stay out of the spotlight. Other times they want to skim over some past controversy. But make no mistake: their massive wealth makes them some of the country’s most influential families in American history.
The Wynn Family
Net Worth: $3.4B
Family Business: Wynn Resorts
Prominent Member: Steve Wynn
Few families have shot to fortune – or crashed from it – quite so spectacularly as the Wynns. The patriarch, Steve Wynn, became a billionaire in Las Vegas. He is credited with constructing some of the Strip’s most famous hotels and casinos, including the Bellagio and The Mirage.
From this success he created his flagship empire, Wynn Resorts. This powerful company erected countless luxury hotels across the globe. His wife, Elaine, headed the board for over a decade.
But Steve and Elain Wynn had a rocky relationship consisting of multiple marriage-divorces. When they finally split for good in 2010, their legal squabbling nearly tanked the company. Many allegations of misconduct eventually caused Wynn to leave his own company as well.
The Bezos Family
Net Worth: $137B
Family Business: Amazon
Prominent Member: Jeff Bezos
Jeff Bezos is one of the most famous CEOs today. As a result, he and his family have soared to the top of the world’s richest elite. Bezos is the CEO and founder of e-commerce and streaming giant Amazon.
But he was born into humble beginnings: his mother was a teenager when he was born, and his father only owned a small bike shop. His parents divorced when he was four. His mother then married Mark Bezos, an immigrant from Cuba.
Bezos attended Princeton, and when he graduated, he got job offers from many major tech companies. He worked on Wall Street as a hedge fund manager in the 1980s. But it wasn’t until 1994 that he founded Amazon. It originally started off as a simple online bookstore. Now, it sells pretty much everything imaginable. Amazon recently acquired the grocery chain Whole Foods.
The Riney Family
Net worth: $3.5B
Family Business: Scottrade
Prominent Member: Rodger Riney
The Riney family commands the Scottrade empire. Founder Rodger O. Riney originally developed the company (which would later be bought by TD Ameritrade). Riney was born in the 1940s. His first encounter with the stock market was when his grandparents gave him ten shares of stock. He received his education from the University of Missouri.
The brokerage industry was deregulated in the 1970s, and Riney made his move them, starting Scottsdale Securities. Scottsdale provided trades at a lower-commission. He opened another branch in St. Louis a decade later. The company started its own internet trading platform in 1996.
It was, at some point, renamed to Scottrade. Riney is known for a tightly conservative management style. Scottrade is reputed as a great company to work for.
The Mellon Family
Net Worth: $11.5B
Family Business: Mellon Bank
Prominent Member: Matthew Mellon
The Mellon family can be traced back to its original roots in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where a university and several museums bear their name to this day. Back in 1869, the family founded Mellon Bank. Their wealth started there, but skyrocketed when they invested in Gulf Oil – which would later become Chevron-Texaco.
Further investments include Alcoa, New York Shipbuilding, Carborundum Corporation, and The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, a news publication. The Mellons are well-known for their philanthropic ventures. They founded Washington D.C.’s National Gallery of Art.
The family came a long way from their patriarch Thomas Mellon, a judge. He was the son of two Scottish-Irish farmers. The family immigrated from Ireland in the late 1800s. Now, they own what effectively has become an empire. Their wealth continues to increase year after year.
The Lauder Family
Net Worth: $24.3B
Family Business: Estée Lauder
Prominent Member: Leonard Lauder
The Lauder family gained its wealth from their eponymous cosmetics company Estée Lauder. The empire began shortly after World War II when husband-wife founders Estée and Joseph Lauder created it.
At the time they operated only in New York City, and offered four basic products: cleansing oil, a crème pack, all-purpose crème, and skin lotion. The products were a smash hit. Within two years they’d saved up enough money to open their first department store on Saks Fifth Avenue.
The product range expanded over the next fifteen years, and the brand introduced new labels such as Aramis and Clinique. In the 1990’s, Estée Lauder began topping international sales. But the powerful Lauder family has managed to control leadership of the country throughout the generations.
The Spielberg Family
Net Worth: $3.7B
Family Business: Amblin, DreamWorks
Prominent Member: Steven Spielberg
Oscar-winning director Steven Spielberg is the highest-grossing director of all time. The maker of such hits as Jaws, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List has made more unforgettable Blockbusters than we deserve.
Spielberg, his wife (former actress Kate Capshaw), and their many children and grandchildren all together control an estate worth roughly $3.7 billion. Much of this comes from various real estate investments and obviously Spielberg’s film work.
This includes his role as a producer as well as a director. In fact, Spielberg owns the DreamWorks studio outright. The mini-studio has churned out major hits including the Transformers franchise and the Shrek films. A big chunk of those profits go directly into Spielberg’s pocket.
The Ziff Family
Net Worth: $14.4B
Family Business: Ziff Davis, Inc.
Industry: Investing, Publishing
Prominent Member: Dirk Ziff
A few years ago, the ultra-powerful Ziff family closed their hedge funds and shut down both their American and London-based branches. But it doesn’t really matter: the Ziff Brothers Investments firm will forever go down in history for its massive impact on Wall Street.
Even if the Ziff brothers themselves, Dirk and Robert, have each gone their separate ways to pursue different businesses. The family’s fortune goes back nearly a century, back to William Ziff Sr.’s publishing company.
That firm, Ziff Davis, continued to grow after William’s son (William Jr.) took over. PC Magazine and Car and Driver are two of Ziff’s best-known publications. Its wealth mainly derives from investments now. Dirk now owns his own capital company in New York.
The Butt Family
Net Worth: $11B
Family Business: H.E. Butt
Prominent Member: Charles Butt
The Butt family is based in Texas. They own the popular grocery store chain H.E.B. Grocery. The business was actually opened under somewhat tragic circumstances back in 1905.
The original founder, Florence Butt, opened the store in hopes of offsetting the costs for her husband’s tuberculosis diagnosis – meaning he also couldn’t work. To their surprise, the company immediately took off. Howard Butt, her son, continued to grow the company throughout Texas.
Howard’s son Charles eventually took over for him. Charles Butt is now the head of this multi-billion-dollar enterprise, having been the CEO since 1971 (he started off as a bag boy at age 8). Today the empire is worth $22 billion with 329 Texan stores and 54 Mexican locations.
The Lucas Family
Net Worth: $5.5B
Family Business: LucasFilm
Prominent Member: George Lucas
Often cited as the richest celebrity figure of all time, George Lucas made a small fortune following the surprise success of his American Graffiti follow-up, Star Wars. But his stroke of financial genius was in pionering the film’s special effects – thus owning the technology for all time.
The success of Star Wars – coupled with a very smart contract which granted Lucas total franchise rights from 20th Century Fox – led him to start a string of successful film companies. There was THX, which revolutionized sound technology. Then LucasFilm, which produced his many hit films.
But there was also LucasArts, which made video games; Skywalker Sound, which revolutionized recording and mixing audio; and Industrial Light & Magic, which literally wrote the book on modern special effects since the 1970s.
The Jordan Family
Net Worth: $1.9B
Family Business: The Charlotte Hornets
Industry: Sports, Entertainment
Prominent Member: Michael Jordan
They just don’t get bigger than MJ. Michael Jordan, Number 23, shot to worldwide fame as the star of the Chicago Bulls NBA team. His success on the court transitioned into many successful ventures off the court.
This includes a brief acting career (yes, we’re talking about Space Jam, people), major endorsements for Nike and Hanes, and of course, his signature Air Jordan line of sports shoes. He and his family are standing on a nearly $2 billion fortune.
This is largely due to Jordan’s investment in buying a sizeable stake in the Charlotte Hornets. While the team hasn’t exactly had the same success on the court as Jordan, the ownership is still worth millions for the former All Star.
The Hunt Family
Net Worth: $13.7B
Family Business: Hunt Oil Company
Prominent Member: Caroline Rose Hunt
The Hunt family has been memorialized not just in business but in television as well. The Hunt patriarch, H.L. Hunt, was the inspiration for the character of J.R. Ewing on the hit series Dallas. H.L. was a wildcatter who struck it rich in the oil business.
He founded a company based in American oil, but it has since grown to encompass investments in other industries. H.L.’s son oversees the oil company part of the Hunt family businesses. His other son owns another part of the oil and gas sector. His daughter founded her own business, Rosewood Hotels & Resorts, but she sold Rosewood after a few years.
H.L.’s other heir, Lamar, came up with the name for the Super Bowl (he famously co-founded both Major League Soccer and the American Football League). Quite an impressive family history!
The Cannon Family
Net worth: $50 million
Family Business: TeenNick
Prominent Member: Nick Cannon
Award-winning rapper, actor and producer Nick Cannon is not only one of the country’s youngest elites – but also among the richest. He owes much of his wealth to his best-selling music. His earliest effort was through a rap group called Da G4 Dope Bomb Squad.
Cannon’s popularity soon exploded thanks to hit singles like “Nick’s Story,” “Can I Live?” and “Teach Me How to Dougie.” Cannon eventually started his own rap label, and then, a small record company.
Cannon famously married iconic pop star Mariah Carey, with whom he had three children. The couple eventually divorced, but were one of the biggest power couples of their time. Cannon currently chairs TeenNick for the Nickelodeon TV network, and has an exclusive deal with NBC.
The Murdoch Family
Net Worth: $19.8B
Family Business: News Corp.
Prominent Member: Rupert Murdoch
The Murdoch family is one of media’s biggest titans. Rupert Murdoch himself was born in Australia, but he became an American citizen in 1985. The family has been in the media business before Rupert, but Rupert is the one who can be credited with the expansion of the business.
Murdoch created News Corporation after his father, a reporter, died. Murdoch declined to join or carry on his father’s business, preferring to take his own path.
News Corp. started building an empire in Australia and New Zealand, producing print and television news. Murdoch expanded the business into the UK, Asia, and America. In America, Murdoch bought Fox, Harper Collins, and the Wall Street Journal. The Murdoch Family Trust now owns Fox.
The Kraft Family
Net worth: $6.6 billion
Family Business: Kraft Group, New England Patriots
Prominent Member: Robert Kraft
Industry: Holdings, Sports
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is one of the richest sports owners of all time – and his entire family tree is insanely rich as a result. The Massachusetts-born businessman originally started off in packaging at his father-in-law’s company. This soon led to a career in paper products.
Kraft’s earliest success was the immensely popular International Forest Products company. The firm provided paper packaging products to the biggest brands in the world – Kodak, Quaker Oats and Avon to name a few.
Kraft quickly began buying up sports teams with his millions. This includes several soccer teams and even an e-sport team. But his ownership of the New England Patriots is undoubtedly his crowned jewel. Even Kraft’s current legal woes surrounding allegations of soliciting human trafficking victims seems unlikely to put a dent in his massive net worth.
The Nicholson Family
Net Worth: $400M
Family Business: Acting Career
Prominent Member: Jack Nicholson
Arguably one of the greatest actors of all time, three time Oscar winner (and twelve time nominee) Jack Nicholson commands quite an incredible fortune. His many lucrative film projects aside, Nicholson capitalized early on through many investments. Some were smart; others were totally bizarre.
For example, he once purchased Marlon Brandon’s former Hollywood home for over $6 million – only to burn it to the ground shortly thereafter. Nicholson said it was in order to honor his late friend, whose home had since become infected with asbestos.
Nicholson’s five children stand to inherit quite a fortune – over $400 million, most believe. Much of it comes from percentages Nicholson makes from Batman spin-offs and merchandise from the 1989 film.
The Koch Family Copy
Net Worth: $98.7B
Family Business: Koch Industries
Prominent Member: David Koch
This might empire is handled today by David and Charles Koch, commonly referred to simply as the Koch Brothers. They’re well-known not only for heading one of the richest family empires in America, but also for their support of the Republican party through donations as well.
Despite pressures throughout the generations to publicly trade the company, the Kochs have fiercely fought to keep every last share within family hands.
The family’s original patriarch, Fred Koch, was a chemical engineer. He founded an oil refinery firm that would eventually become Koch Industries. The company is headquartered in Wichita, Kansas today, though it employs over 120,000 workers spanning nearly every continent.
The Kardashian-Jenner Family
Net Worth: $2B
Family Business: Keeping Up With the Kardashians
Industry: Media, Cosmetics
Prominent Member: Kylie Jenner
With the recent announcement of Kylie Jenner’s billionaire status, a list of the richest American families would be sorely missing a shout-out to the Kardashians. The Armenian-American family is best known for their reality show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
The show is one of the longest-running reality series in television. It documents the day-to-day life and many dramas of the Kardashian-Jenner household. The Kardashian-Jenner clan has side businesses in the cosmetic and fashion industries. They are also product promoters, making money from advertising products on their social media accounts, which have millions and millions of followers.
Taken together, the net worth of the family is at least two billion dollars. Kylie Jenner alone, at age 21, is one of the youngest billionaires in America thanks to her Kylie Cosmetics company.
The Jolie Family
Net Worth: $160M
Family Business: Jolie Pas
Industry: Film & TV
Prominent Member: Angelina Jolie
The story of the Jolie family is a complex one. While of course we can all figure out why superstar Angelina Jolie is personally wealthy – her family’s lineage also has roots to great fortune. After all, she is the offspring of Oscar-winning actor Jon Voight.
Jolie burst into the annals of Hollywood royalty not only as a famous daughter, but as an acclaimed performer in her own right. For anyone questioning her talent, rewatch her Oscar-winning performance in Girl, Interrupted. It holds up.
Jolie has since transitioned to directing and producing her own films. This gives her an even bigger slice of the box office pie on top of her huge salaries and many sponsorship deals.
The Hearst Family
Net Worth: $24.5B
Family Business: Hearst Corporation
Prominent Member: Patty Hearst
The Hearst family traces its wealth back to its patriarch, publishing kingpin William Randolph Hearst. Hearst was the son of a wealth miner in San Francisco. He used his father’s money to purchase The San Francisco Examinerat age 24.
He soon expanded it into a massive newspaper, radio, and TV empire. Hearst was reportedly the inspiration for the titular character in Orson Welles’ classic Citizen Kane. Hearst’s son, William II, went on to become a Pulitzer-winning journalist.
William II’s son now controls the media empire, currently known as the Hearst Corporation. The family’s deep roots and influence throughout American wealth, PR and publishing is unmatched.
The Cuban Family
Net Worth: $3.9B
Family Business: 2929 Entertainment, the Dallas Mavericks
Industry: Film Production, Sports
Prominent Member: Mark Cuban
There are few names in Hollywood bigger than Mark Cuban. The entertainment mogul owns everything from film companies to an NBA team. His working class family roots makes his fantastic business success even more admirable.
Early ventures in software and systems gave Cuban a taste for success. But he soon took his talents to Hollywood where he founded a film company, 2929 Entertainment. One of the company’s first projects was the George Clooney film Good Night, and Good Luck. The film was an indie success and received six Oscar nominations.
Further film projects, documentaries, and a majority purchase of the Dallas Mavericks transformed Cuban’s wealth beyond belief. He frequently offers words of investment wisdom on the television series Shark Tank.
The Dorrance Family
Net Worth: $17.1B
Family Business: Campbell’s Soup
Prominent Member: John Dorrance, Jr.
We know it sounds crazy, but the Dorrance family literally invented soup. Way back in 1897, John Dorrance invented a formula for condensing soup that would soon make him an industry legend. If you’ve ever been sick at home and warmed up a can of Campbell’s, then Dorrance is the family to thank: today, they own Campbell’s Soup.
The business has passed through the family for generations, with eleven Dorrances currently controlling Campbell’s day-to-day affairs. Prego, Pepperidge Farms and V8 are also subsidiaries of Campbell’s.
Dorrance’s grandchildren and great-grandson are the major board members now. His granddaughter, Charlotte, retired in 2014. Another grandchild, Ippy, renounced his American citizenship to become a citizen of Ireland. He sold his shares in the company (around ten percent) and left Campbell’s. Guess he’s more of a sandwich guy than a soup guy.
The Duncan Family
Net Worth: $26B
Family Business: Enterprise Products Partner
Industry: Oil and Gas
Prominent Member: Randa Williams
The Duncan family embodies the very essence of the American Dream. Dan Duncan was raised by his grandmother from the age of seven after both his mother and brother died. At the time, they lived in abject poverty in rural Texas.
Dan decided to try his luck in the oil fields. He managed to hit it big by striking oil, and quickly founded Enterprise Products Partners. The company surged during America’s formative oil years. Oil and gas pipelines remain the main source of the family’s wealth today.
The company pulls in billions each year. Dan Duncan passed away in 2010 at age 77. He left his $10 billion estate to his children, Randa, Milane, Dannine, and Scott. Since 2010, the family’s wealth has doubled. A rise in stock prices for oil and some wisely-timed payouts have helped the wealth rise significantly.
The Marshall Family
Net Worth: $12B
Family Business: Koch Industries
Prominent Member: J. Howard II
The Marshall family is another prime example of wealthy American lineage forged from oil. Howard Marshall II was the founding patriarch of this empire. He owned shares in the Great Northern Oil Company, but then traded them for what would become a 15% stake in Koch Industries, one of America’s most profitable investment companies.
Howard ended up bequeathing his shares of stock to only one of his sons, J. Howard II, who became infamous for giving his family a myriad of legal headaches.
He famously marries former Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith, who was decades younger than her husband. When Smith ended up inheriting most of his empire, the other Marshalls sued her in an effort to reclaim that capital.
The Getty Family
Net Worth: $5B
Family Business: Getty Oil
Prominent Member: August Getty
The Getty family claimed most of their wealth in the twentieth century through the petroleum industry. The patriarchs are George Franklin and his son, Jean Paul. The family originally came to America from Ireland, and they are of Scottish and Irish ancestry.
Their roots can actually be traced back to Cullavmor, which would later become County Londonderry in Ireland. George Franklin was a lawyer-turned-oilman. After hitting it big in the industry, he passed along the company’s proceeds to his sons, instructing him to invest in oil and gas.
This is exactly what they did, and it paid off big time. In 1916, the duo incorporated Getty Oil. This might oil empire continues to pass through the family, gathering net worth with each new generation.
The Stryker Family
Net Worth: $35B
Family Business: Stryker Corp.
Prominent Member: John Brown
The Stryker family has been around since 1941, and have dominated America’s medtech (medical technology) sector for nearly half a century. Homer Stryker, an inventor, invented new types of medical equipment, the most well-known of which was the mobile hospital bed.
Homer’s son Lee took over the company Homer founded, but he died shortly after in a plane crash. Lee had three children, Patricia, Jon, and Ronda. The children took over the business from their father after he died.
The Strykers are well-known for their support of Democratic and socially liberal causes. The family also founded the Arcus Foundation, which helps promote LGBTQ rights and the Bohemian Foundation, which is dedicated to arts and culture.
The Glaser-Kochavi Family
Net Worth: $3.1B
Family Business: Max Factor & Company
Prominent Member: Jonathan Glaser
The Glaser-Kochavi family is Israeli-American, with roots in both Israel and the U.S. Their enormous wealth originally starts with Max Factor, Sr. Factor developed Max Factor & Company, a huge cosmetics empire.
Factor himself was a brilliant inventor who was responsible for the development of the American cosmetics industry. He personally did the hair and makeup of a number of famous starlets in his day.
He was of Polish and Jewish descent. His father was a millworker, and Factor’s first job was as a dental assistant. He then moved to Moscow and worked with a wig and hair technician. After traveling to St. Louis, Missouri, he sold rouge and cream at the World’s Fair. His products took off, and his business empire began to grow.
The Simmons Family
Family Business: Contran Corporation
Prominent Member: Dee Simmons
The Simmons family was able to make its wealth through what essentially was corporate raiding. The family has new wealth, starting with Harold Simmons, Sr. Harold worked at a drug store and as a bank examiner before forming his own capital company.
The company started doing corporate takeovers, with one publication callings Simmons a “feared raider.” When a corporation would go under, Harold would buy it out. He would strip the company, turn it around, and then take the money that he earned and repeat the process.
He tended to go after smaller companies, which were better targets than attempting to take over a huge conglomerate. Simmons was also a philanthropist. He donated $200 million to the University of Texas’ Southwest Medical Center.
The Newhouse Family
Net Worth: $18.5B
Family Business: Advance Publications
Prominent Member: Donald Newhouse
The Newhouse family is one of America’s oldest and most powerful publishing and media families. Sam Newhouse originally founded the family business, Advance Publications. He passed away in 1979, leaving his sons, Si and Donald, to inherit the empire.
The two brothers have since made quite a splash in the world of global media, and are frequently cited as the leading moguls of the biz. Advance Publications now is one of the biggest magazine businesses on the globe. The company owns Conde Nast Publications, which publishes heavy-hitters like Vogue, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker.
All in all, the company publishes print newspapers in 25 of America’s biggest cities. As if this weren’t enough, the Newhouses are also the investors behind Reddit, and they own a huge stake in Discovery Communications.
The Mars Family
Family Business: Mars Inc.
Prominent Member: Jacqueline Mars
Almost a century ago, Franklin Clarence Mars invented something that would change the course of America: the Milky Way chocolate bar. The success of the Milky Way – followed by Skittles, Snickers, Twix, Big Red gum and M&M’s candies – would cement the record-shattering wealth of the Mars family and the candy-making company that shares their name.
Today, Mars Incorporated also makes pet care products, drinks, symbioscience, and life science. Franklin Clarence Mars started the company back in 1911, over a decade before hitting it big with the Milky Way. He learned how to hand-dip candy from his mother.
The business was originally called The Mars Candy Factory. At the time, the company sold wholesale candy, but this proved to be unsustainable. Mars started over from scratch in Minnesota, eventually growing it into the king of candy.
Frontpage February 25, 2020