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 11 / April 30, 2003 

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Content :
1 - What’s in a name : Brown
2 - New historical list : “The wealthy citizens of New York - 1845” by Moses Yale Beach


What’s in a name : Brown

In the study of America’s wealthiest and socially most prominent families, one inevitably expects to encounter prestigious and well sounding names, such as Roosevelt, Van Rensselaer, Livingston, Crowninshield or others Saltonstall, Lorillard and Lispenard. Little notice is thereby given to such common mundane signatures as Smith, Brown or Miller. Yet there were at least two exceptionally rich an prominent dynasties in America who shared the name of Brown. In addition many cities had at least one millionaire by that name as early as 1875.

The eldest and most prominent Brown family in America is from Rhode Island. There the descendents of ‘Reverend’ Chad Brown engaged in the shipping trade during the first half of the 18th century and grew rich. ‘Captain’ James Brown, whom we will consider the founder of the wealthy branch of Rhode Island Browns had five sons, all associated in business. The youngest, Moses Brown may be considered the godfather of the US textile industry, through his sponsorship of Samuel Slater’s factory at Pawtucket. His elder brother Nicholas Brown took over the family business, later known as Brown & Ives, which enriched his descendents for generations. Under the guidance of his son Nicholas Brown jr, his son-in-law Thomas Poynton Ives and his two grandsons John Carter Brown and Robert Hale Ives, Brown & Ives converted from shipping to textiles, in which it became one of the largest operators in New England. Two more generations later, John Nicholas Brown jr inherited the combined fortunes of his father and uncle, who both died in 1900, leaving him the richest baby in the world (he was born in the same year). His son, John Carter Brown II, became the youngest and most charismatic director of the National Gallery of Art in 1869.

Take a look at the Brown-Ives family profile or other profiles of wealthy American families of the past at “Encyclopedia of American Wealth

The other prominent Brown dynasty in American economic history was founded by an Irish immigrant in the 19th century. Alexander Brown settled at Baltimore in 1800 and rapidly became a prosperous linen importer. He then converted to banking and founded what is recorded as the eldest private banking house in the United States. He took his four able sons into the business, who founded branches in Liverpool, Philadelphia and New York. After the demise of the Second Bank of the United States in 1836, Brown Brothers & Company became the nation’s largest foreign exchange traders and second only to the Barings (London) as financiers of Anglo-American commerce. As bankers the Browns were also involved in the setup of transportation companies on both sides of the Atlantic, notably the Cunard and the Collins lines of steam packets, as well as the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Personal tragedies affected the succession and weakened the dynasty in the decade before Civil War. Brown Brothers & Company survived and remained a prominent private banking house in both the US and England, but it was quickly overtaken by the aggressive John Pierpont Morgan. It was reorganized again in ..., when the sons of Morgan’s foe Edward Henry Harriman brought in some much needed capital.

Read more about the Brown Brothers, America’s wealthiest private bankers in the first half of the 19th century, in our updated Chapter 5 of “A Classification of American Wealth” : Bankers of the Early Republic

Aside the Brown-Ives dynasty of Rhode Island and the banking Brown Brothers of Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and England, many large city in America had at least a Brown millionaire in 1875. In Boston, that was realtor John Brown, the “West End” millionaire. Philadelphia had his T. Wistar Brown in addition to the descendants of the banking clan. New York had several Browns in various activities, and even Pittsburgh had its Brown millionaire, engaged in coal and iron of course. This was William Huey Brown, whose social ascendance was as spectacular as his rise to wealth. During the 20th century there were multi-millionaires Donaldson Brown from Du Pont and General Motors as well as another set of Brown Brothers (George Rufus and Henry), of the engineering and contracting firm Brown & Root.


Another historical list : The wealthy citizens of New York 1845
(inspired by Moses Yale Beach)

In our Encyclopedia of American Wealth we have the pleasure to publish yet another historical list of wealthy American in the past. This is the 1845 edition of Moses Yale Beach ‘s “Wealthy Citizens of New York”. Beach was the owner and editor of the New York Sun newspaper and an authority in the classification of wealthy New Yorkers of the Mid 19th century. As may be expected from a successful newspaper publisher, he himself made his list, although he was not at the top of it. As with our other historical lists, the 1845 list entitled “The wealthy citizens of New York” uses our common database and thus contains information that may differ or not be included in Mr Beach’s original. Also, for the time being we have limited this list to individuals residing in New York (City) with fortunes of $250’000 or more, instead of Mr Beach’s $100’000 cut off figure.

Browse through the 1845 list inspired by Moses Yale Beach or through our other updated lists of wealthy American individuals or families to analyze the financial tissue of America’s elite at “Encyclopedia of American Wealth”.



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