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


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Comments to the historical list : "The wealthiest US families (1920)"

“Dynastic America and Those Who Own It”
by Henry H. Klein (1921)

In his "Dynastic America and Those Who Own It", published in 1921, Henry H. Klein analyzes the, in his eyes unacceptable, economic influence of the top American wealth holders and their families. Unlike Ferdinand Lundberg, who quickly derives on the interference of wealth and politics (in "America's Sixty Families"), Klein essentially focuses on his analysis of the estates left by some 240 individuals who died (mostly) in the twenty years before his book and on the pecuniary interest the leading American capitalists and their families had in 1920. His work thus contains valuable details which helped us complete and correct our own wealth classification lists, both of 1900 and 1925.

H. H. Klein also lists (but does not explicitly cover) some 500 American families with fortunes of more than $20 million in 1920 ($200 million if expressed in dollars of 2004). Led by the [John D.] Rockefeller family ($2.5 billion) and four families with some $500 million accumulations (Astor, DuPont, Guggenheim and Vanderbilt), Henry Klein's summarized list helps us identify the wealthiest families of the period, which corresponds roughly to the end of the Gilded Age, an era known for unprecedented wealth creation and concentration. We have now analyzed Henry Klein's list top down to the level of family fortunes of $50 million or more (ie $500 million plus expressed in nowadays money), leaving the $20 million fortunes for a later update.

The resulting new historical list "The Wealthiest US Families (1920)" is based on Klein's summarized listing and our more explicit American Wealth database, in which we indicate the founders of the families' wealth, their (main) activities and major properties. As a comparison, we also indicate our own [AW] estimates of the family fortunes in 1925. More details, notably genealogical information and the identities of the wealthy individuals aggregated in our [AW] family wealth classification lists, can now be found in this list [AW Family Fortunes 1925], which at the occasion has been thoroughly updated.
 

Mr Klein’s original lists does not contain any specific information other than family name and fortune (expressed in categories of $20 million, $50 million, $75 million, $100 million, etc.) but in his work  (Dynastic America and Those Who Own It) delivers detailed information on the most important fortune founders (estates) and some of the families. Our data [AW family fortune list 1925] is an aggregation of the individual fortunes pertaining to the richest families and takes into account all knowledge we have on the subject (including Mr Klein's work).

Like all our lists, “The wealthiest US families (1920)” draws on the data of the American Wealth database. This forced us to make certain adaptations, which are documented in the footnotes of Mr Klein's original list.

When comparing the 1920 list with our list of family fortunes in 1925, you should bear in mind that :

-  Certain rather new fortunes grew very fast during the 1920's, explaining a higher figure in our 1925 list, as compared to Mr Klein's list (1920). Examples are Ford and Mellon.
- From 1920 to 1925 the DJIA (Dow Jones Industrial Average) Index rose some 54%, also explaining the rather higher family fortunes in our 1925 list. On the other hand Mr Klein apparently disregarded estate taxation completely, whereas we took into account a 25% maximum inheritance tax for estates left between 1918-1923 and 40% for estates left between 1923-1925. 
- Mr Klein seems quite in awe of the huge [John D.] Rockefeller accumulation (which he estimates at $2.5 billion). He rightly assessed the value of the Rockefellers' Standard Oil (off-springs) shares at $1 billion or so. But he overestimates the impact of generated dividends and their investment in (other than oil) securities. After 1920, John Davison Rockefeller had given away half of his fortune to his philanthropic foundations, which generously dispensed the income (and even some of the principal) of its assets to numerous charitable works. Mr John D Rockefeller jr, who received most of the remaining Rockefeller fortune from his father, was equally generous with his revenues. We can thus assume that our lower estimate (of $1,4 billion) for the entire Rockefeller family, is just reasonably conservative. (Note that in today's money,  $1.4 billion of that era is about $140 billion). He also overstated in my opinion some of the Jewish banking fortunes of his days (eg Kahn, which is aggregated in our Kuhn-Loeb family).
-  In some cases our combined family fortunes exceed the scope of Mr Klein's, although we have taken care of aggregating his figures along our family groups. Examples include the Haggin-Tevis family, we consider as one, because the two founders were brother-in-law and throughout their careers, permanently associated in most of their ventures. Mr Klein has completely disregarded the Tevis family, for which we did not so far find a reasonable justification.
- Our 1925 family list has presently 131 entries. As a result of a reconciliation prior publication on the web site, it contains all entries of the “The wealthiest [100] US families (1920)” list

Find out who were “The [100] wealthiest US Families (1920)” inspired by Henry H. Klein,
including the 400+ listed families worth $20 million or more in 1920
(in The original list of Henry H. Klein entitled "Estimated Wealth of Richest Familes")
Compare this significant historical list with the American Wealth [AW] lists of wealthy families 1925 or 1900 and seek more details in the AW lists of wealthy individuals 1925 and 1900.
Or browse through “Encyclopedia of American Wealth” for additional information (lists or profiles) on wealthy Americans or wealthy American families of the past.

Books by Henry H. Klein :
Note : Mr Klein was First Deputy Commissioner of Accounts of the City of New York, at the time he wrote that book. In 1933 he was an unsuccessful candidate to the office of Mayor of New York City.

 
Dynastic America and Those Who Own It
 (1921)

 Standard Oil Or the People: the End of Corporate Control in America

 Frankfurter Over the White House; Baruch Over Congress; Rockefeller Over the World  (reprint 1976)      

 My Last Fifty Years An Autobiographical History Of "inside" New York  (1935)      

 A Jew Exposes The Jewish World Conspiracy                                           Search at BN : Out of Print, Used & Rare 

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