How America's Wealthiest Families Struck It Rich: Retail Dynasties Take Lead

Forbes

Want to build a billion-dollar dynasty that can last for generations? Our first-ever comprehensive ranking of America’s richest families can be your starting point.

To find out how the 185 wealthiest clans made their $1.2 trillion combined fortune, Forbes has looked at the industry composition of the companies behind these powerful dynasties. Among all sectors, retailing has the largest number of the country's billion-dollar clans.

A total of 29 billion-dollar retail families have a combined fortune of $233 billion, thanks to many well-known household names from clothing lines to department stores. The Waltons, America’s richest family who controls the country’s largest retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc., have a fortune of $152 billion and represent more than half of combined wealth of all the retailing dynasties. The Fisher family, who founded Gap Inc. and still holds 41% stake, is the second wealthiest retail giant ($10.2 billion). Four families make their fortunes selling groceries from their supermarkets: the Butts ($10.1 billion), the Meijers ($8.9 billion), the Jenkins ($5.2 billion), and the Wegmans ($3 billion).

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With $156 billion of total wealth from 28 families, the food, drink & tobacco industry has the second-most richest families among all sectors. America’s third-richest family, the Marsmakes their fortunes from your favorite chocolate and candies (think M&M, Snickers, and Wrigley). The country’s best-known beer and liquor brands also generate quite a few billion-dollar clans on our list (except for the Strohs, which Forbes profiled describing how the family blew a $9 billion fortune). To name a few of the drinking crowd: the Busch family behind Budweiser ($13 billion), the Brown family behind Brown-Forman ($11.6 billion), and the Coors family behind Molson Coors. ($2.9 billion) all make the cut.

Oil & Gas, finance, real estate, and media go head-to-head in the next group. Among the 16 oil and gas tycoons, almost two-thirds of them hail from the South, most especially Texas, such as the Duncan family ($25.4 billion), the Hunt family ($15 billion), and the Bass family ($9.1 billion). While the media and finance sectors have slightly fewer families, the billion-dollar clans behind the two industries are wealthier, with combined net worth of $113 billion and $106 billion respectively. A total of 14 billion-dollar dynasties struke it rich in real estate  in some of country’s hottest real estate markets. For example, the Durst family ($4.4 billion), which Forbes profiled in our latest family issue, is winning big by managing and leasing the One World Trade Center.

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While technology is one of the leading wealth creators for young members on our Billionaire and Forbes 400 Lists, it is not yet a strong presence on our multi-generational family ranking . Only six families make their fortunes in the tech industry (including both Technology Hardware & Equipment and Software & Services under our industry categories). That’s a sharp contrast from the significant fortune created by the tech industry on our billionaire list – 63 billionaires got rich from tech this year.

Of course, there’s no one magic formula to build and preserve family wealth – you could do so from selling your company to Warren Buffett to being tax-savvy with your investment like the Kennedys. Want to know more about how these powerful dynasties build their fortunes over the years? Here are America’s richest families from the top industries on our list:

Retailing

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No. 1: The Walton Family

Net worth: $152 billion

Origin of wealth: Wal-Mart

Food, Drink & Tobacco

No. 3: The Mars family

Net worth: $60 billion

Origin of wealth: candy

Oil & Gas

No. 10: The Duncan family

Net worth: $15 billion

Origin of wealth: energy

Finance

No. 5: The Johnson family

Net worth: $39 billion

Origin of wealth: money management

Real Estate

No. 39: The Simon Family

Net Worth: $6.8 billion

Origin of Wealth: shopping malls

Media

No. 6: The Hearst Family

Net worth: $35 billion

Origin of wealth: Hearst Corp.

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