According to Forbes, there are currently 45 American families with a net worth of at least $10 billion, with the wealthiest family being worth more than Elon Musk. The heirs of Sam Walton, founder of Walmart, own approximately 45% of the retail giant and have a combined net worth of $267 billion as of January 16. This new ranking shows that their wealth exceeds Elon Musk’s net worth, which is about $202 billion.
The Mars family is the second wealthiest family on the list, with a fortune of $117 billion. Other notable families such as Koch, Lauder, Hearst, and Marriott are also included in the rankings. However, some prominent names like Carnegie, Vanderbilt, and Getty have been excluded due to various reasons such as stock-price performance, legal disputes, taxes on stock sales, and charitable giving. Even the descendants of John D. Rockefeller barely made it onto the list with a fortune of $10.3 billion.
Many of America’s wealthiest families built their fortunes by establishing some of the country’s largest private companies or maintaining ownership stakes in public companies they helped build. For example, the Cargill-MacMillan family is worth over $60 billion due to their ownership of about 88% of Cargill, a major ingredients company. Other families still maintain ownership stakes in public companies they helped build such as the Dorrance family with nearly 40% of Campbell Soup and the Brown family with about half of Brown-Forman. Some families have even sold their stakes in businesses like the Busch family who sold its stake in Anheuser-Busch to InBev in 2008 and the Haslam family who sold their stake in Pilot Travel Centers for about $13 billion to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway over several years.
The list suggests that building vast generational wealth can be achieved through creating a lasting massive business that can be kept within the family or taken private or sold without having a significant impact on its value.