A Classification of American Wealth
History and genealogy of the wealthy families of America - Sponsors

 Part 1 : Colonial and Mercantile America  Part 2 : America in the Gilded Age
 Part 3 : America in the Twentieth Century  Encyclopedia of American Wealth

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  Chronicles of American Wealth / Nr 21 / December 24, 2004

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Content :

1 New wealth classification list : Wealthy Americans of 1950
2 – New features : enhanced readability and partial release of data


New wealth classification list :  “ Wealthy Americans in 1950

The great depression which followed the stock market crash of October 1929 left deep scars in American society, notably affecting the wealth distribution at the top of the social pyramid. Although hardly suffering the privations of the poorer classes, the very rich were nevertheless seriously affected by the deep crisis and its political and social consequences.

Old wealth was virtually taxed away under the increasingly stringent provisions of the Federal Income and Estate Tax regulations. The inheritance tax on estates above $10 million was gradually raised from [Andrew William] Mellon’s l925 level of 20% to reach 77% in the war year 1942.  SEC regulations put an end or at least seriously limited the market manipulation techniques by which the rich had learned to recover from earlier setbacks.

The high lifestyle of the Gilded Age, with its Newport mansions and lavish society balls, thus gave way to a more modest and secretive way of life. And with a few notable exceptions, including movie stars and the legendary poor rich girls (Barbara Hutton and Doris Duke), the rich started to hide their wealth behind the gates of their mansions and in family trusts. New wealth was eventually created, notably in aerospace, the film industry and before all among the Western wildcatters, thanks to favorable US government oil policies.  

The list of wealthy Americans in 1950 is thus dominated by the descendents of those families who recognized best, how to shelter their fortunes from inheritance taxes by giving it away or transferring it their children or grandchildren in the years before the reintroduction of the gift tax. John D. Rockefeller jr thus transferred the bulk of his wealth to his children in 1934, when stock market values were still very low. Pierre Samuel Du Pont (II) transferred his controlling interests in Dupont and General Motors to his siblings in 1924, before the stocks had their huge rally.

As families these fortunes ranked first in 1950 but individually only the four Mellon heirs made it into the top ten, along with some Texas oilmen (H.L. Hunt and Sid Richardson), the secret Howard Hughes and Daniel Keith Ludwig, as well as Chicago’s wealthiest heir (Marshall Field III) and Arthur Vining Davis, CEO of the Mellon’s Aluminum Company of America. Jean Paul Getty, first and only billionaire on the Fortune (1957) list is down to rank 27, as his share of the Getty fortune turned out to be only 35%, the bulk being held by the Sarah C. Getty Trust for his children.

The list is partially based on the November 1957 edition of Fortune Magazine, which listed Americans worth $75 million or more and was a basis for Ferdinand Lundberg’s bestseller “The Rich and Super-Rich”, published in 1968. It otherwise extrapolates from our wealth classification list of 1925, taking into account major known intra-family wealth transfers and otherwise applying inheritance taxes to known estates. The adjustment factors used to extrapolate the wealth back from the 1957 (Fortune) list or forth from our own 1925 list are based on stock market indexes (DJIA and/or DJTA) and/or on consumer price index, depending on the nature of major assets held.

The resulting list of some  450 Americans worth $3 million or more in 1950 is by no means complete as forward extrapolation from the 1925 list focused on the 20 wealthiest families and 40 wealthiest individuals so far. Further updates will follow, completing the transition between the 1925 and 1950 lists and taking into account the seeds of large fortunes, which became notable to American media only later (ie in the 1970s or 1980s). The list of wealthy American families of 1950 will also follow soon.

Browse the list of wealthy Americans in 1950 or other years and read more about the wealthy Americans and wealthy American families of the past at  Encyclopedia of American Wealth


New or updated wealth classification lists :

Individuals 1950 NEW     Individuals 1925         Families 1925

Web site improvements

Enhanced readability and partial release of data
at A Classification of American Wealth andEncyclopaedia of American Wealth

Following numerous suggestions as well as some of our team members own remarks, the RAKEN design team has finally yielded and made the long awaited change of text and link colors in the whole American Wealth web site.

That “dreadful” orange which triggered some of these “why do you make it so hard for us” remarks was replaced with dark green and the dark red for titles/links with a matching brown. According to our graphic designers, this combination should greatly enhance readability without affecting web design and ambiance.

A maybe even more significant improvement is the newly programmed ability for a “partial release of data”. This comes with upgraded programming of our profiles, allowing the direct inclusion of relevant (external) links and book suggestions from our bibliographical section.

Partial release of data means that the author can now allow the publication of a profile even if it is not yet complete, eg if the biographical sketch is still missing. This allows us to give you rapidly access to a wealth of information stored in the AW database but so far unpublished because incomplete. The combination of this information with existing web or book resources should help you in your research.

Partial data release is so far implemented on profiles of individuals only and applied for the first time to the 1950 list (although affecting some earlier lists too). Family profiles and the partial release of additional profiles (in earlier lists) will follow soon at “Encyclopedia of American Wealth.

We wish You all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

D.C. Shouter and the RAKEN team
December 24, 2004


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