Wealthiest Americans (1957)
In 1957 Fortune magazine developed a list of the seventy-six wealthiest Americans; the list was republished in many American newspapers. The primary source of wealth was indicated as being inherited or stemming from a particular business or industry. For fortunes derived from oil, the list used “bankers valuation” of what a person might pay for assets rather than the valuation of proven oil reserves.
The New York Times cited an earlier article published in its Magazine section that listed the wealthiest men in the world as King Saud (Saudi Arabia), the Sheik of Kuwait, the Sheik of Qatar, the Nizam of Hyderabad, and American H. L. Hunt; at odds with the Fortune list's description of J. Paul Getty as the richest American.
Getty, asked his reaction and whether he was really worth a billion dollars, said "You know, if you can count your money, you don't have a billion dollars" and then famously added, "But remember, a billion dollars isn't worth what it used to be."
Some felt that the list was incorrect by virtue of their omission; among those that were included, some felt the amount of their fortune had been misstated. An article the next year in The New York Times by Cleveland Amory mentioned that after publication of the list, one hitherto anonymous oil man, Tulsa's James A. Chapman, was particularly indignant. "I don't like my name in print at all, but when I do, I like it accurate. Why I could buy and sell that Paul Getty." Arthur Vining Davis, who was then 91 and had the ambition to become a billionaire, contacted the Fortune editor directly. "Young man, if I had $20 and owed $18, would you estimate that I was worth $20 or $2?"
Composition and sources of wealth
The person with the greatest impact on the list was arguably Andrew W. Mellon, who had been dead for 20 years: the second category, covering the second to eighth richest individuals, included his son, daughter, niece and nephew. The list also included seven members of the Rockefeller family, five members of the Ford family, four members of the Du Pont family (and a non-family DuPont executive), and four General Motors executives.
Five separate categories divided the list based on the amount of the fortune: $75,000,000–$100,000,000; $100,000,000–$200,000,000; $200,000,000–$400,000,000; $400,000,000–$700,000,000; and $700,000,000–$1,000,000,000. Fortunes smaller than $75,000,000 were not considered worthy of inclusion in the list. For comparison, equivalent amounts in 2005 US dollars are given below each subheading; the presumed source of the wealth is enclosed in parentheses.
$400,000,000 to $700,000,000
(worth $3,370,142,180 to $5,897,748,815 today)
$200,000,000 to $400,000,000
(worth $1,685,071,090 to $3,370,142,180 today)
$100,000,000 to $200,000,000
(worth $842,535,545 to $1,685,071,090 today)
$75,000,000 to $100,000,000
(worth $631,901,659 to $842,535,545 today)
- Smith, Richard Austin. "The Fifty-Million-Dollar Man". (sidebar: "America's Biggest Fortunes"), Fortune, November 1957.
- "List of 76 Said to Hold Above 75 Millions". The New York Times, 1957-10-28, p. 20.
- "Lists of Richest Men Are Many and Varied". The New York Times, 1957-10-28, p. 20.
- "The Billions Are Smaller These Days, Getty Says". The New York Times, 1957-10-28, p. 20.
- Amory, Cleveland. "About Millionaires: Past, Present, Future," The New York Times, 1959-03-22, pp. SM14ff.
- Currency equivalents obtained from Oregon State University Political Science Department inflation conversion tables. (Microsoft Excel file.) Retrieved 2006-10-09.
- "J. Paul Getty Dead at 83; Amassed Billions From Oil". Nytimes.com. 1976-06-06. Retrieved 2013-04-22.