A Glimpse Into the Fortunes of the Richest American Families

By Corinne Kerston

Whether we strive to be like them or just plain envy them, Americans are fascinated with the wealthy. We love learning more about how much the wealthy have, where they live and what they spend their money on.

We’re even more fascinated with families that have earned their fortune the old fashioned way; through hard work and perseverance. This list covers some of the richest families in America, but you’re not going to see a celebrity or actor on this list. This list is full of regular people who built their fortune in other ways.

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The Walton Family

If you haven’t heard of the Walton family, you’ve certainly heard of their brand. This family is the head of the Walmart empire. Founded by Samuel Moore Walton in 1962 in Arkansas, Walmart started off in rural areas in order to avoid competition with larger (at the time) retail stores like Kmart and Sears.

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Photo Courtesy: iStock

As the chain started to grow, Walton began adding other stores to his brand. These included Sam’s Club warehouses in 1983 and Walmart Supercenters in 1988 – which grew Walmart into the largest retail chain in the United States by 1990. Today, the whole Walton family’s net worth is between $151 and $174 billion.

The Walton Family Today

While Sam Walton passed away in 1992, his stores and fortune have lived on through his family. Today, you can find Walmart stores, Walmart Supercenters and Sam’s Club warehouses in just about every state in America. Walmart is also a competitive player in the online sphere.

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Photo Courtesy: JeepersMedia/flickr

The Waltons continue to maintain their status as one of the richest families in the U.S. As of 2019, heirs Alice and Jim Walton hold a net worth of a whopping $92 billion and their fortune just keeps growing.

The Koch Family

The far reaching and influential Koch family empire started in 1940 when Fred Koch founded the Wood River Oil and Refining Company. It would later be renamed Koch Industries in 1968, a year after Fred Koch passed away.

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Photo Courtesy: Fortune/Flickr

Today, Koch industries is run by his sons, Charles and Fred, and is one of the largest privately held companies in America. The estimated family fortune is between $98 and $110 billion. The Koch brothers are known for their support of the Republican party. 

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The Koch Family Today

Today, Koch Industries is one of the largest privately held companies in America (second only to another privately owned company on this list). Businesses owned by the Koch family manufacture and distribute chemicals, petroleum, paper, fertilizers, minerals and much more.

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Photo Courtesy: JeepersMedia/flickr

This powerful family has truly evolved into an empire, with many well-established brands and companies to their credit. Among the many well-known brands run by the Koch family are: Georgia-Pacific, Koch Pipeline, Koch Fertilizer, Koch Minerals, Invista and Matador Cattle Company. 

The Mars Family

The Mars family made their billions with candy. Yup, you read that right! Like a real-life Willy Wonka, the Mars family has been head of the Mars Inc. empire for over 100 years. Franklin Clarence Mars started making candy at the age of 19 when his mother taught him how to hand- dip chocolate.

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In 1911, Mars started the Mars Candy Factory with his second wife. Over the years, Mars Inc. has invented treats such as Milky Way, 3 Musketeers, Twix, Snickers, Skittles and M&Ms. Today, their fortune is estimated at a whopping $89 billion.

The Mars Family Today

Today, Mars Inc. is still a family-run business and is well-known for its secrecy when it comes to how exactly they manufacture their confectionary items. The company was passed down from Franklin Clarence Mars to son Forrest Edward Mars Sr., who passed the company down to his children.

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Photo Courtesy: @MarsGlobal/Twitter

The Mars family also added dry pet food to their repertoire in 2007, buying Doane Pet Care Company. They also opened Ethel M Chocolates in 1978. The Mars family is known for being very private — many members decline to be photographed in public, with the exception of Jacqueline Mars and Victoria B. Mars (pictured above).

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The Cargill-MacMillan Family

Founded in 1865 by William Cargill, Cargill, Incorporated is an agricultural giant. The mission of the company has remained the same since the company’s inception – to help farmers prosper and to connect consumers to the products they want.

Passed down over the generations, the MacMillan name came into play in 1909 when Cargill’s son-in-law, John MacMillan, took over the business. Whitney MacMillan was the last of the Cargill-MacMillan clan to serve as CEO of the company.

The Cargill-MacMillan Family Today

Today, Cargill, Incorporated is the largest private company in America. The family still owns about 85 percent of the company and leaves over 75 percent of the net profit to be reinvested in the business the following year, largely avoiding the need for public funding.

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Photo Courtesy: Pasa47/Flickr

Cargill’s ethos has remained remarkably consistent through the generations. Like the ownership, the mission of the company remains the same – Cargill focuses on the changing needs and nutrition of their customers. Today, Cargill has operations in more than 70 countries around the world. 

The Cox Family

This is another family who started amassing their fortune over a century ago. James M. Cox was a publisher and politician in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Cox bought the Dayton News in 1898 and went on to buy the Springfield Daily News in 1903.

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Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Although he was nominated for President in 1920, Cox was defeated in a landslide election. After his defeat, he decided to retire from politics and devote his life to his business. This pivot was successful — today the family’s estimated fortune is somewhere between $33.5 and $41 billion. 

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The Cox Family Today

The Cox family may have started off small with their publishing company back in 1898, but have grown significantly since. The family now runs Cox Enterprises, which includes Cox Media Group (TV, radio and newspapers) and Cox Communications (cable and broadband).

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Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

The Cox family has also expanded into the auto business. Through Cox Enterprises, they own Kelley Blue Book and AutoTrader.com. In 2015, they acquired DealerTrack, which manufactures the software used by car dealerships. The current chair of Cox Enterprises, James Kennedy (pictured) currently holds the distinction of being the richest resident of the state of Georgia. 

The Pritzker Family

Unlike some of the other families on this list, the Pritzkers made their fortune by making a smart investment and not by creating their own company. In 1957, Jay Pritzker tapped into his savvy entrepreneurial side when he purchased Hyatt House from Hyatt Robert von Dehn and Jack Dyer Crouch.

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Photo Courtesy: U.S. Consulate General Munich/Flickr

Pritzker realized something others hadn’t – how profitable it was to have hotels near large airports. He opened two motels situated near airports in San Francisco and Seattle and the rest is history. Today, the family has an estimated net worth of $33.5 billion.

The Pritzker Family Today

Though the Prizkers have reigned over the hotel industry for decades, members of this family have also gone into politics. Penny Pritzker was the U.S. Secretary of Commerce from 2013 to 2017 and J.B. Pritzker was the co-chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

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Photo Courtesy: iStock

By 2014, the Hyatt chain consisted of 587 properties, and since then, they have added more properties in other countries. They plan to expand even more by the year 2020 and have started to include mindfulness and wellness experiences at their hotels. Today, the Pritzker family fortune is split among the 13 members of the family. 

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The Johnson Family

The Johnson family owns Fidelity, one of the largest mutual fund companies operating today. Started in 1946 by Edward C Johnson II, Fidelity was initially known as Fidelity Management & Research. The company later created Fidelity International Limited in order to branch out to international markets.

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Photo Courtesy: Afagen/Flickr

When Edward Johnson III joined the company nearly 10 years later, Fidelity officially became an entirely family owned and operated business. In 1982, Fidelity began offering 401k products, and by 1984, they went all in on stock trading.

The Johnson Family Today

Fidelity has always been one step ahead of its competitors in the finance game. The company was an early adopter of using technology to better serve their customers. The company purchased its first computer way back in 1965, decades before computers reached the mainstream.

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Photo Courtesy: @BostonGlobe/Twitter

In 1983, Fidelity opened the first ever street-level center where customers could walk in for personal service. Today, Abigail Johnson, (pictured) daughter of Edward Johnson III, acts as Chairman and CEO of the company. Today the family’s net worth is around $30 billion.

The Hearst Family

William Randolph Hearst started the San Francisco Examiner in 1887 at the age of 24. He quickly grew his media empire by amassing several newspaper companies and eventually expanded to television and radio. Hearst also went on to become a Congressman in New York in 1902.

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Photo Courtesy: Biography.com

The Hearst family business consists of one (giant) entity – Hearst Corp. The company now owns 340 magazines, 46 newspapers and holds major stakes in TV channels like Lifetime, ESPN and A&E. The family’s estimated fortune is $24.5 billion.

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The Hearst Family Today

Today, Hearst Corp is a media giant running its formidable operations out of one of the greatest landmarks in New York City – Hearst Tower. Some of the publications owned by Hearst are Esquire, Cosmopolitan and the San Francisco Chronicle.

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Photo Courtesy: iStock

Hearst also owns about half of the TV network A&E and 20 percent of ESPN. Recently, Hearst Corp has invested in VICELAND, a new cable channel from V Headed by current President and CEO Steven Swartz, the Hearst Corp fortune is now split between 67 family members.

The Hunt Family

Back in 1930, H.L. Hunt acquired a discovery well on the East Texas oil field and founded the Hunt Oil Company four years later. The Hunt Oil Company went on to found the first commercial oil well in Alabama in 1944. In the ‘60s, the company expanded into offshore oil drilling.

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Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

If you’ve ever watched the wildly popular TV show Dallas, you may have an idea of the personality behind the Hunt family fortune. H.L. Hunt was the inspiration behind one of Dallas’ main characters J.R. Ewing. The Hunt Oil Company’s headquarters (pictured) are still located in Dallas today. 

The Hunt Family Today

Over the years, H.L. Hunt went on to father 15 children who eventually made quite a name for themselves. Today, his children oversee the different subsidiaries of the Hunt Oil fortune. Son Ray Lee Hunt (pictured below) is in charge of Hunt Oil while another son, William Herbert Hunt, oversees the oil and gas firm Petro-Hunt.

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Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Daughter Caroline Rose Hunt started, and subsequently sold, Rosewood Hotels and Resorts. And late son, Lamar Hunt, was rumored to have coined the name of the Super Bowl (yes, you read that right). The family also owns the Kansas City Chiefs. 

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The Sackler Family

If you’ve heard of the narcotic OxyContin, then you’ve heard of how this family made its mark. In 1952, brothers Arthur, Mortimer and Raymond Sackler purchased drug manufacturer, Purdue Pharma from its founders, John Purdue Gray and George Frederick Bingham.

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Photo Courtesy: iStock

The drug company sold many common products like laxatives, but hit it big in the 1990s when they started selling the OxyContin painkiller. The company has since focused primarily on pain medicine, describing itself as a "pioneer in developing medications for reducing pain, a principal cause of human suffering.”

The Sackler Family Today

OxyContin has made the Sackler family rich, but the narcotic is not without its controversies. By the early 2000s, OxyContin became one of the highest-selling pain relievers on the market, but it’s also one of the most abused medications by consumers.

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Photo Courtesy: iStock

As a result, Purdue Pharma has been in the midst of legal battles for years. Today, they are still owned solely by the Sackler family and make more than $3 billion in sales per year. Their headquarters (pictured) are located in Stamford, Connecticut.

The Mellon Family

In the mid-1800s, entrepreneur Thomas Mellon (pictured below) began setting his family up for financial abundance, later to become known as one of the most influential industrialists of his time. Although he was raised on a farm, Mellon quickly rejected this way of living in favor of an education.

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Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

He made his way through school and established himself in a law career. Later in life, Mellon bought coal fields and real estate in order to open his own bank with his sons, aptly named T. Mellon & Sons' Bank. The business quickly took off.

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The Mellon Family Today

Today, the business is known as Mellon Financial. Mellon passed his work and fortune onto his sons, all of whom took on various business ventures at young ages to become some of the wealthiest men in U.S. history.

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Photo Courtesy: daveynin/Flickr

There have been many generations of Mellons to hold the seat of U.S. Treasury Secretary, dating all the way back to 1921 when Richard B. Mellon took over the position. Today, the Mellon family owns BNY Mellon, a financial services company that has roughly $1.7 trillion in assets. Various family members manage the company today.

The Hilton Family

We're all familiar with the Hilton Hotels, but how have they grown to be so successful over the years? The family's wealth began with Conrad Hilton in 1870. Picking up on business tactics in his father's grocery store, Conrad went on to college and later became involved with politics.

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After serving time in World War I, Conrad moved to Texas and purchased his first hotel. Rooms in Conrad's hotel were in such high demand that he was forced to turn the hotel’s dining area into additional rooms to rent out to guests.

The Hilton Family Today

Over the years, Conrad bought hotels all over the world and began turning them into extravagant destinations. (One hotel in South Africa asks $8000 a night). Conrad passed away in 1979 and passed his wealth onto his children, Nicky, Barron (pictured), and Eric who continue to reign over the hotel business.

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Photo Courtesy: iStock

In 2007, a company named Blackstone purchased a portion of Hilton hotels for $26 billion, but sold its shares in 2018 at more than triple its initial investment. Today, there are more than 570 Hilton Hotel properties in operation in more than 85 countries.

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The Busch Family

Talk about resilient. The Busch family, makers of well-known adult beverages like Budweiser, Stella Artois and Beck’s, started all the way back in 1876. Adolphus Busch and his father-in-law Eberhard Anheuser co-founded what is today known as Anheuser-Busch.

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Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

The company managed to outlast prohibition, surviving the shut down by selling ice cream and soda. Through the years, Anheuser-Busch would become one of the largest producers of beer in the world. Currently, the family’s estimated fortune is $13.4 billion.

The Busch Family Today

The company has been passed down the generations, Busch to Busch, since the 19th century. Unfortunately, the Busch family has lost countless shares of the company over the years to failed marriages and not-so-airtight prenuptial agreements.

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Photo Courtesy: compujeramey/Flickr

And because the family did not control the majority of the shares of the company, it was bought out in 2008 by investors from Brazil and Belgium for $52 billion. Today, part of the Busch family is back in the beer business, managing Kraftig in Missouri and Illinois. 

The Duncan Family

Life wasn’t always full of wealth and prosperity for Dan Duncan. The founder of Enterprise Products Partners, one of the largest oil and gas companies in the U.S., came from a poor family of farmers in rural Shelby County Texas.

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Photo Courtesy: The Houston Museum of Natural Science/Flickr

He lost his mother and brother before graduating high school, then lost his father while serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. When he returned home from the war, he used his G.I. Bill to study at university, majoring in business, finance and accounting. Duncan eventually co-founded the oil company giant in 1968.

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The Duncan Family Today

Dan Duncan died in 2010 with an estimated net worth of nearly $10 billion, which was held in a trust for his wife and four children. Since then, the family’s fortune has grown tremendously (more than doubling) thanks in part to dividend payouts.

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Photo Courtesy: Alistair-Hamilton/flickr

The tremendous growth of Duncan’s fortune has made siblings Randa Duncan Williams, Milane Frantz, Dannine Duncan Avara and Scott Duncan bona fide billionaires. In fact, they were the first billionaires to benefit from the changes to the estate tax law enacted in 2010. 

The Lauder Family

Let’s take it back to 1946 when Estée Lauder first got her start. Lauder created her now famous skincare line with her husband Joseph. The line started with just four products – a cleansing oil, lotion, all-purpose cream and cream pack – with the hopes of helping women look and feel beautiful.

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Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Two short years later and she landed her first big account with major department store Saks Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. The fabulous Lauder duo went on to build the business from the ground up and it is now worth billions. 

The Lauder Family Today

Lauder passed away in 2004, but the company that she and her husband built still has multiple family members at the helm. Both the Lauders’ children and grandchildren have continued to be heavily invested in the operations of the company.

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Photo Courtesy: Bargainmoose/Flickr

The company owns several cosmetics brands, including Bobbi Brown, Clinique, M.A.C. and many others. Thanks to the hard work of the Lauders, their cosmetics empire is incredibly profitable. Current net worth of the Lauder family is $17.9 billion, as listed by Forbes.

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