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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General comments to the Wealth Classification lists  ( List of Individuals 2008 )

Persons and families listed in these lists :
A
merican citizens or descendants of American nationals who were alive and had a fortune of $ 100000000 or more in the year 2008 and Americans or descendants of Americans who died less than 5 years before 2008 and left an estate of $ 100000000 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.

Legend:

 
dec: deceased
E: Estate
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 colonial proprieties

Minimum fortune for qualification:

Year

Minimum fortune $

  CPI NYSE
1900 1'000'000   100 100
1925 2'000'000   240 221
1950 3'000'000   336 358
1975 10'000'000   745 1297

The 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 fortunes :
E
stimating 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.
 
A
djustments 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.
 
F
ortunes 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.
 
P
hilanthropic (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 wealth :
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).
 
T
he 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 statistics).

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.

 

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