Who Were The Richest Americans Between 1937 and 1982?

I’m trying to write a list of the richest Americans of the 20th century, year-by-year.

However, I can’t seem to find information on whom the richest Americans were between 1937 (when John D. Rockefeller died) and 1982 (when the first Forbes 400 list was published).

Can anyone help?

I think Jean Paul Getty was discovered to be the richest in the late 1950s. But who knows how long he was before someone found out.

After he died in the 1970s, the crown went to Daniel K. Ludwig. Don’t know how long he had it.

This won’t answer your question, either, but here’s a list of the 40 richest americans of all time, adjusted for inflation, and taking some other things into consideration:


Ludwig topped the 1982 Forbes 400 list. However, it is difficult to determine when, exactly, he reached the top, because, around 1976-1977, 3 of the wealthiest men in the U.S. (Getty, Howard Hughes, and insurance baron John D MacArthur) all died in a year’s time.

If I recall correctly, the richest American of the early 1950’s was Sid Richardson, another Texas oil baron.

Speaking of which, where would H.L. Hunt have ranked? In the early Forbes 400 lists, his heirs fill out many of the top spots.

One last thing: When did the authors of that piece on the 40 richest Americans of all time calculate the top wealth of their selections? Death? Their economic peak? Both?

Henry Ford was still alive during that period, and Ford Motor Company (I think) was still privately owned, so that would be one right there.

I’m pretty sure Howard Hughes would be on that list, along with Getty.

Real estate would be a good place to look. Maybe William Levitt.

William Randolph Hearst was pretty damn rich, although he might have lost the bulk of his fortune by then.

And while all the Rockefeller grandchildren got a substantial trust fund, I’m sure there had to be at least one who built on it.

[ul]:cool: [sup]Sprinkle in a DuPont or two.[/sup][/ul]

I really thought Joe Kennedy would be on that list.

Not really. They’re a very rich family, to be sure, but that wealth is divided among 1,200 or so members during the period in question, so it is highly doubtable that any member of the family to be the richest American of all, although they’d be the richest American family.

On a “Forbes 400” list of the 1930’s , 1940’s, and 1950’s, he’d almost certainly be, but I highly he doubt that he was the richest American in any one year.

I opened this thread in search of long lost relatives…

Charlie Chaplin would have to be up there from 1937 until his death in 1977.

Charlie Chaplin wasn’t that rich and he wasn’t American, and he wasn’t allowed into the country from the start of the fifties until the early seventies.

Rockefeller was the world’s first billionaire, followed very quickly by Henry Ford and Andrew Mellon. I’m guessing the latter would have placed on any list for the ten years after his death. (Ford once gave the continually plagued Hearst the advice “get yourself about $200 million, put it aside, and just forget it’s there…”- I tried that advice and it really does work.) His grandson Henry II, who ousted him as CEO of Ford (according to some biographers he blamed Grandpa on the death of his dad, Edsel), multiplied the family fortune, so he should be there as well.
Haroldson Lafayette Hunt was a billionaire by the 1950s. He was amazingly low profile (though he did write a godawful novel, Alpaca) and had many many children (at least 14, not all of them legitimate) so his wealth was divided many ways, but at least two of his sons (Nelson B. and William Herbert) became billionaires when he died (though their attempt to corner the silver market changed that for a few minutes).
T. Boone Pickens was constantly rising and falling in his net worth, but upon occasion would definitely have been one of the short-list richest Americans. Joseph Kennedy was worth an estimated $70-100 million when he died, which even for the 60s wouldn’t have put him anywhere near the top 10 (top 100, maybe). His was split among so many heirs that they’re all loaded but none of them billionaires or anywhere near.
The only entertainers who might conceivably be on the list would be Bob Hope, Gene Autry, and Yoko Ono (if you count her as American- she’s not a citizen but she’s lived here for thirty years), all of whom have or had private fortunes estimated in the billion dollar range. Elvis, like Hearst, was constantly on the brink of financial disaster while he was alive due to overspending and poor management.
If your local library has a long run of Guinness Book of World Records, it should be in there if you go year by year.

There’s a list here of the richest Americans of all time with their fortunes translated into modern $ values. By their estimates, Rockefeller’s 1930s fortune would be estimated at $189 billion today.

Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks was a billionaire during the Depression, though I think he later lost it all by investing in a flopped movie and flopped Broadway sequels. The Duke Brothers, Randolph & Mortimer, were also up there, but they lost it all in Orange Juice Futures, though they made a lot of it back after being bankrolled by an eccentric African prince.

Mort Sahl, in a Playboy interview, recounted a conversation he had with JFK. Sahl was mouthing off about what a wealthy plutocrat Joseph Kennedy was, and JFK cut him off:

“How much money do you think my father is worth?”

Sahl guessed about 20 million.

“The Rockerfellers are worth $200 million. Now that’s real power!”

David Rockefeller has to be in there somewhere.

Yes, but not until his father’s death in (I believe) 1960, and, at that point, the Rockefeller wealth was split 5 ways.