According to the Economic Policy Institute, the top 1% of Americans control 85% of the country’s wealth. And there are certain families in America who’ve solidified themselves at the top of that 1%. Whether they’ve done it through politics, business, banking, the media, or even a combination of all four, these families exemplify “the American dream” – to an obscene degree. Rockefeller, Kennedy, Hearst, and DuPont are all household names. These families’ endeavors have earned them massive amounts of wealth and power, and their control is far-reaching. Such fame, power, and money don’t come without scandal, of course, though some have been better at covering it up than others. Presenting: America’s most powerful families, and a look at just how they made their fortunes.
You won’t believe the things some of these families have done to keep their wealth and power intact.
One of the most recognizable names in America, the Rockefeller family has been passing on their fortune through generations for the past 100 years. John D. Rockefeller became America’s first billionaire when he founded Standard Oil in 1870, and soon controlled most of the oil industry in the country. The Rockefellers are also known for their philanthropy, having established the University of Chicago, Rockefeller University, and Rockefeller Center. They’ve held political seats as governors, senators, and one even served as vice president. Their current $11 billion fortune is spread out among 174 heirs.
In 2016, the Rockefeller Family Fund began to pull back its fossil fuel investments, specifically Exxon Mobil, an offshoot of Standard Oil, for deceiving the public about the risks of climate change.
Next up is a political empire you’re probably pretty familiar with.
The Bushes have built their empire through banking, business, and, of course, politics. The family can boast of spawning two senators, one Supreme Court Justice, two governors, and (most notably) two presidents.They even got involved in sports when George W. Bush bought a portion of the Texas Rangers. It’s believed that Obadiah Bush (1797-1851), president of the American Anti-Slavery Society and supporter of the Underground Railroad. was the founder of the Republican ideology. It’s also believed that the Bushes were directly involved with criminal activity surrounding World War II, possibly having materially benefited from slave labor at Auschwitz.
Controversy and mystery follow this next family…
The Udalls’ role in politics dates back over 100 years and four generations and includes politicians from multiple states, with three once serving at the same time in the U.S. Senate. David King Udall, the family’s founder, was one of two brothers who were the first American-born generation of a pioneer Mormon family coming from England to find religious freedom. David was a representative in the Arizona Territorial Legislature, but was convicted of perjury involving a land dispute.
The Udalls faced later controversy when U.S. Sen. Mark Udall’s son was arrested on drug and trespassing charges, as well as when Sen. Mark Udall’s younger brother, James, went missing after hiking in Wyoming.
Australian-born Rupert Murdoch went on to control a number of successful media ventures in Australia and the U.K. before moving to America in 1974, becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1985. Murdoch’s News Corporation acquired Twentieth Century Fox, HarperCollins, and The Wall Street Journal, eventually owning 800 companies in more than 50 countries. He and his family now own 21st Century Fox and News Corp through the Murdoch Family Trust and are worth $11.9 billion. His company has faced allegations of police bribery and corruption, U.S. FBI investigations, and sexual harassment charges. Earlier this year rumors of family discord arose due to Rupert’s worry that his sons plan a major company overhaul.
A member of the next family was the inspiration for an Entourage character…
The Emanuel brothers each have top- ranking roles in America’s most high-profile professions. Their Israeli father passed secret codes for Menachem Begin’s underground, and their Jewish-American mother worked in the civil rights movement. Ezekiel, the oldest brother, is an oncologist, bioethicist, and healthcare policy expert who helped develop Obamacare. Rahm is the mayor of Chicago and a former Chief of Staff for President Obama. Ari is a Hollywood “super agent” who is the inspiration for the character Ari Gold on HBO’s Entourage. His company WME-IMG currently owns the UFC.
Rahm has had a number of disreputable stories circulating about him, such as sending a decomposing fish to a pollster who displeased him, and telling political contributors that he was embarrassed to accept their $5,000 checks because he was a “$25,000 kind of guy.”
The Kennedys are often called American royalty. They’ve held nearly every political position in America, including city councilman, congressman, senator, ambassador, mayor, state representative, and President. It all stems from Joseph P. Kennedy, who earned his wealth from insider trading only to later chair the SEC. They have made tremendous political, societal and environmental impacts throughout the country’s history, all while amassing $1 billion in wealth. They’re likewise thought to be cursed, with both JFK and RFK being assassinated, numerous family members dying in sudden accidents, and a great number of deaths from serious illnesses. They also have had a ton of sex scandals, ranging from sleeping with babysitters to JFK and RFK’s alleged affairs with Marilyn Monroe.
The Walton Family
With a net worth of $145 billion, the Waltons own more wealth than the bottom 40% of the American people. Brothers Bud and Sam Walton founded the world’s biggest retailer, Walmart, which now earns $482 billion in sales. There are currently four remaining heirs to the fortune. Despite their vast wealth, they’re known for being notoriously greedy and cheap. They pay low salaries, and were caught making employees work off the clock and give up their lunch breaks. In 2005 Alice Walton bought a painting worth $35 million, and used the Walton Foundation to lobby for a bill that exempted the foundation from paying Arkansas sales tax on the purchase of artwork for the new Walton Art Center. Though they’re not directly involved with politics, they’ve donated large sums to the Republican party.
The next family might not be such a familiar name, but you won’t believe the despicable things they’re accused of doing.
The Cargill-Macmillan Family
In 1865 W.W. Cargill founded Cargill Inc., a small grain storage company that is now the largest private company in the world, with $120 billion in revenue. Four generations later, the family still owns 88% of the company. They’ve received a great deal of criticism for their disregard for the environment. They’ve fought to build on restorable wetlands, broke a wastewater pipe in Australia, spilled 65 million gallons of acidic water into Tampa Bay, and have been accused of being responsible for the deforestation of the Amazon. They’ve allegedly been involved in the trafficking, torture, and forced labor of children. They’ve sold seed treated with mercury, resulting in death…the list goes on. Yet the Cargill-Macmillans still continue to thrive.
The Cox Family
The Cox family earned their wealth through various outlets in the media, and now have moved into the automotive industry. It all began in 1989, when James M. Cox purchased the Dayton Evening News. Cox Enterprises now owns Cox Communication and the Cox Media Group, which together cover cable, broadband, newspapers, and radio. In the automotive industry, they own AutoTrader.com, Kelley Blue Book and Manheim car auctions and DealerTracker. Their $41 billion is now spread out between five of James’ grandchildren. They have somehow managed to escape public scandal throughout the years.
You’ve probably purchased many of this next family’s products.
Robert Wood Johnson established the Johnson family legacy, having founded Johnson & Johnson in 1886. When his son Robert, known as the General, took over the company, he brought it to new heights and made their products a household name while earning billions. They’re now one of the largest pharmaceutical, consumer packaged goods, and medical device manufacturers in the world. One heir, Woody Johnson, owns the NY Jets and has secret money stashed in the Johnson Company. They’ve also faced some scandal. The General fired his own son as president of Johnson & Johnson, his niece accused her father (his brother Seward) of sexual molestation, and heir Curt Johnson was charged with sexual assault of a child.
The Hearst family’s forefather William Randolph Hearst founded Hearst Communications, which became one of the country’s largest newspaper chains and media company, now owning 46 newspapers and 340 magazines around the world, and cable channels ESPN, Lifetime, VICELAND and A&E. Hearst decided to go into to politics in 1902 and became a New York Congressman. Their $35 billion is shared between 67 heirs.
In the 1970s, Patty Hearst, William’s granddaughter, was kidnapped by a left-wing terrorist group. She was found 19 months later, accused of joining the group on her own will and charged with bank robbery, but pardoned by Bill Clinton.
The Koch Brothers
Brothers Charles and David Koch are collectively worth $40 billion. They’re known for their financial hold over politics. Koch Industries earns $115 billion a year, and a has donated millions and millions to the Republican Party. It also financed the Tea Party. Koch Industries is involved with trading, transporting, refining and processing fossil fuels. It owns four oil refineries, six ethanol plants, a natural-gas-fired power plant, and 4,000 miles of pipeline. It’s also been investigated by the Department of Justice and Congress and has been convicted in civil felony cases, including the country’s largest wrongful-death judgment. It’s one of the world’s largest polluters of American air, water and climate.
In 1936 Abram Nicholas Pritzker and his brother, Jack, left their father’s law firm and started investing in real estate and small businesses in Chicago. They soon made a massive amount of money, avoiding paying certain taxes by investing in trusts. Abram’s sons Robert, Jay, and Donald expanded the business by creating a chain of Hyatt Hotels throughout the U.S. They bought Royal Caribbean Cruises, Marmon Group, and Ticketmaster (later sold). They’re also philanthropists; Abram established the Pritzker School of Medicine at the University of Chicago, and Jay founded the Pritzker Architectural Prize. They’ve expanded to politics, with Donald’s daughter Penny having served as Obama’s Commerce Secretary. She was also connected to the scandal involving the Superior Bank, in which executives and board members were charged with fraud.
The Mars Family
Mars, the largest candy company in the world, was founded in 1911 by Frank Mars. When his three children took over, they expanded the company internationally. Aside from their vast array of candy (M&M’s, Snickers, Skittles, Wrigley and more), they own Uncle Ben’s rice, Pedigree dog food and Whiskas cat food. Their product sales generate $35 billion a year. The Mars family has not only kept the company privately held, but also keeps their personal lives private and avoids the spotlight. Employees aren’t even allowed to talk to outsiders about their work. The Mars family is known for encouraging eccentric and positive practices within the company: everyone is on a first-name basis, writing memos are against the rules, and meetings are held rarely. The company shockingly has almost no debt.
Matthew Winthrop Barzun is the descendant of John Winthrop, who founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the city of Boston. He’s also a descendant of Lucretia Mott, who was a major activist in women’s rights. He initially made his personal fortune as an executive for CNET Networks, before switching to politics. He was named the US ambassador to Sweden after raising $500,000 for the 2008 Obama election campaign, and $25,000 for Obama’s inauguration fund. He’s served as President Obama’s national finance chair, then as ambassador to Great Britain. His wife Brooke is an art curator and heiress to the Jack Daniels brand. His sister Lucy is a Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning producer.
Dan Duncan grew up poor, raised by his grandmother in a rural town in Texas. As an adult he earned $10 billion from natural gas, oil and petrochemical pipelines. Duncan died in 2010, the same year that the government issued a repeal of the estate tax law, and became the first billionaire to pay no estate tax since its enactment, causing a great deal of controversy. He left his money to his children, Randa Duncan Williams (eldest and chairman of the board of Enterprise Products Partners, his company), Milane Frantz, Dannine Duncan Avara and Scott Duncan. Their fortune has since doubled. In 2012, one of Duncan’s daughters (her name never revealed) was the subject of a multimillion-dollar extortion scandal.
A member of the next family took things to the extreme when she didn’t like her son’s girlfriend.
The DuPont Family
The DuPonts are one of the nation’s oldest billion-dollar families, currently with 3,500 members. Pierre Samuel, Sieur du Pont de Nemours was a French economist and prisoner of the French Revolutionary War who immigrated to America. His son Eleuthere Irenee du Pont, a chemist, founded the E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company, which originally manufactured gunpowder and dynamite, supplying 40% of the munitions used by allied forces. The company later invented nylon and Teflon, and played a key role in creating the first atomic bomb. Today they’re the largest producer of genetically-modified corn and soy in the world.
The husband of Lisa Moseley, the most scandalous DuPont heir, paid for the contract killing of her son’s girlfriend because she was an addict and prostitute. Mrs. Moseley was also accused of loaning a politician $2.3 million for a permit to build a clubhouse at her golf club.
The $12 billion Mellon fortune came from Judge Thomas Mellon, who founded T. Mellon & Sons in 1869. His sons Andrew and Richard expanded their wealth even further. Andrew started Union Steel which became the world’s largest steel company, and Richard invested in aluminum and coal. Andrew served as U.S. treasury secretary for three presidents from 1921-1932. The brothers also created the Mellon Institute for Industrial Research. Andrew’s nephew William Larimer got into the oil business, founding Gulf Oil. His grandson owns the Pittsburg Tribune-Review and a few Pennsylvania radio stations. Another heir started a railroad company and invested in computer programming. Matthew Mellon, another heir, is best known for his eccentric ways, like swimming the bay at St. Tropez with the crown prince of Greece, and partying his way to a cocaine and alcohol habit. He now owns a fashion label.
The next family’s vast wealth was used to fund… a candy store.
The Lauren Family
The Lauren family’s reach spans out to retail, philanthropy, and film. Ralph Lauren (born Ralph Lifschitz) founded the brand Polo, which became an iconic American line, producing everything from clothing to linens. His son David is involved with the family business and is married George W. Bush’s niece, Lauren Bush. Ralph’s son Andrew is an actor and film producer, and his daughter Dylan founded Dylan’s Candy Bar, the world’s largest “confectionery emporium and lifestyle brand.” Ralph’s net worth alone is $6.2 billion.
Ralph Lauren’s label has faced some controversy. It’s been accused of firing an ultra-skinny model because she was “too fat”, and the company was speculated to have had the U.S. Olympic Opening Ceremony uniforms made in China.
The next family has completely polarized America.
Fred Trump earned $300 million in the real east industry, and his son Donald soon followed in his footsteps. Donald battled bankruptcy in the 1990s but soon earned his fortune back. Donald has been known for being overly lavish and is a publicity hound, earning celebrity status on his television show The Apprentice. His daughter Ivanka took over the Doral Resort in Miami and launched a fragrance, jewelry, and shoe line. Her husband Jared Kushner runs the real estate company Kushner Properties, Thrive Capital and The New York Observer.
Donald won the 2016 presidential election with no political experience, through funding his own campaign. He is the country’s first billionaire president. He’s overcome scandal after scandal: sexual assault allegations, uncovered nude photos of his wife Melania, discrimination against minorities, illegal business deals, possible collusions with Russia, and many more.