Persons and families listed in these lists :
American citizens or descendants of American nationals who were alive and
had a fortune of $ 500000 or more in the year 1851 and Americans or descendants of
Americans who died less than 5 years before 1851 and left an estate of $
500000 or more. In the latter case the sign “E” for estate is indicated after the
fortune estimate and the age is indicated as “dec” for deceased.
F/+F: Foundation/including Foundation
m: pro memoria (indicates that individual is considered to qualify for
listing, without a fortune estimate being ventured)
C*: Colonial i.e. American assets for owners or absentee owners with
fortune for qualification:
Minimum fortune $
minimum fortune for wealthy individuals to qualify for a list is one million
US dollars for the turn of the Twentieth century and approximately adjusted
to the average of Consumer Price Index (CPI) and New York Stock Exchange (NYSE)
index for the lists concerning the generations thereafter.
The indicated residence (state or country) is the generally accepted place
of main residence. In case of foreign residence, the country is indicated.
The database only accepts one main residence, thus in case of people who
have changed residence over time, the indication may be wrong in the older
lists. The information is correct in the individual profile though.
Estimates of personal
Estimating fortunes of people in the past is a difficult undertaking, as
only fractional information is available. The estimates in these lists are
derived from information gathered from numerous sources, including
historical lists made by the foremost economic journalists of past days as
well as biographies and reference works. In case where underlying
information allowed it, the author has calculated own estimates based on
the companies and enterprises the subjects of our study founded or
controlled. An example are the Standard Oil families.
Adjustments over time were based on indices such as Consumer Prices
(conservative), Gross Domestic Product (median) or Stock Prices (high and
unreliable due to variation of index component). Fortunes essentially
composed of city real estate are extrapolated in relation of population growth.
Fortunes of descendants of wealthy Americans were assessed based on
existing information as to estate split-ups in the wills of their
ancestors. If no information was available to the author, a split
according general practice in a given place and time are applied. In the
19th century, larger parts of the estate and notably the strongly
appreciating controlling shares of the business, were generally left to
the eldest or most active son(s). After 1920, we considered equally shared
inheritance among siblings except were otherwise known to the author.
After 1917, (federal) estate taxes are deducted prior to the split of an estate.
Philanthropic (capital) endowments (not gifts) are added to the personal
fortunes of the people who made them, as long as they are alive. Trust
funds are considered in the fortunes of the primary beneficiaries. In many
cases, rich people left trust funds allocating the income to their
children and the principal to be divided by their grandchildren. Our rule
implies that the underlying fortune tied up in such trust is allocated to
the children during their lifetime, although they do not formally own the
principal. The resulting estimates are compared to different historic
estimates, where available, and compounded by the author and editors to an accepted figure.
Although these figures are somewhat rounded, they still take relatively
precise format. The intention is not to give a wrong impression of
accuracy but to allow the compounding (addition) of individual fortunes to
family fortunes and for other statistical purposes. Ranges would be far
more difficult to handle. The estimates are updated and corrected,
whenever additional information is discovered by the author.
Activity and source of
The activity is related to the major source of wealth of the subject. As long
as a person is active in a business, the activity of this business
corresponds to his activity. For passive heirs, the activity is set to
“Inheritance”. As with the state of residence, only one main activity is
accepted in the database, meaning that a misstatement can occur in the
older lists, for people who changed activities (eg John Jacob Astor was
primarily a fur trader in 1800, but as most of his fortune was eventually
derived from New York City real estate, only this activity is cited in our lists).
The source of wealth is the business in which the major part of the
accumulated fortune was made, not necessarily the first business of a
person. If a person derived his/her wealth from several principal sources,
these are listed but only the main activity is indicated (again to allow
Links to personal profiles :
People for whom a profile already exists in our Encyclopedia appear in the
darker red color and a link is included to their profile. New profiles are
added regularly, as the author advances in his documentary work.