Throughout history, the richest personalities in the world were also the most famous, since a great deal of wealth usually attracts a great deal of attention. The term “businessperson” has plenty of connotations since it can very well be used to describe an oil industrialist as well as a successful retailer, for example. Whatever you want to call them, these highly successful individuals were also the ones that paved the way towards modernism in their respective fields, and most of them were known to be quite generous in their charitable endeavors. Here is our list of the 20 most famous business people in the world:
- Andrew Carnegie
- George Stephen
- Henry Ford
- Conrad Hilton
- Cecil John Rhodes
- John D. Rockefeller
- Samuel Colt
- Alexander Stewart
- Charles M. Schwab
- Haroldson Lafayette Hunt Jr.
- James J. Hill
- Jay Gould
- Walt Disney
- J. P. Morgan
- Cornelius Vanderbilt
- P. T. Barnum
- Thomas Edison
- Rebecca Lukens
- Charles E. Merrill
- Taikichiro Mori
- Raymond Albert Kroc
- Annie Turnbo Malone
- Harland David Sanders
- Madam C. J. Walker
Scottish-American businessman, industrialist, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie was born on November 25, 1835, and died on August 11, 1919. His major accomplishments include the founding of the Carnegie Steel Company that later merged with U.S. Steel, as well as the founding of the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Corporation of New York.
Due to his immense success, Andrew Carnegie is widely considered the second wealthiest man of all time after John D. Rockefeller. The legendary industrialist died of bronchial pneumonia and was buried at the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in North Tarrytown, New York.
George Stephen was a Canadian/British banker and railway executive who became the very first president of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1880. Since building a railway was a very difficult and costly project at the time, Stephen was a perfect candidate to lead the project, especially due to his extensive financial expertise.
An exceptionally generous individual, George Stephen donated about $1 million throughout his life, and he specifically preferred to give his money away to hospitals. He became the first knighted Canadian when he received the title of Baronet of Montreal in the Province of Quebec in the Dominion of Canada.
As the founder of the Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford left behind a very important legacy. His company paved the way for many other establishments in the automotive industry since it brought forward new and modern concepts that would guarantee cheap and high-quality products for the consumers as well as generous salaries for the workers.
This concept was called “Fordism” and it transformed into a highly efficient system that was widely adopted around the world during the 1920s. As far as Henry Ford himself is concerned, his anti-Semitic views limited his overall popularity. Nonetheless, he is still known as one of the most successful American industrialists of all time.
Conrad Hilton is the founder of the renowned Hilton Hotels chain, and he was born on December 25, 1887. Conrad was a great philanthropist and an accomplished businessman, but most of his generosity stemmed from his deep catholic roots. He believed that in order to become a successful hotelier, one must always be “digging for gold” and maintain the all-important “spirit de corps”, which signifies a group’s ability to display good morale in the face of hardship.
Conrad Hilton published his autobiography in 1957, and he fittingly named it “Be My Guest”. A copy of the book can now be found in each and every room at Hilton Hotels.
Cecil John Rhodes
Born on July 5, 1853, Cecil Rhodes was a highly acclaimed politician and successful businessman of British descent that founded the De Beers diamond company. Due to his immense wealth, Rhodes could afford to formulate some very impressive plans that involved the founding of a secret society that would bring the entire world under British rule. He spent most of his life in South Africa and even became Prime minister of the Cape Colony.
Cecil strongly believed that the Anglo-Saxon race was the greatest and most powerful in the world, but aside from his somewhat racist and eccentric behavior, he was also a keen philanthropist, as he donated a big part of his fortune towards the creation of the Oxford University.
John D. Rockefeller
John D. Rockefeller was an American oil magnate born in Richford, New York on July 8, 1839. John had a business-orientated mentality ever since he was a young boy, and as he grew older, he gradually became the wealthiest and most respected businessman in the world. As a devoted Baptist and philanthropist, Rockefeller donated a great deal of money during his life, money that helped eradicate diseases and found universities.
He retired 4 decades before his death and kept on funding numerous church-based institutions.
Samuel Colt was passionate about weapons and technology at a young age when he would dismantle ordinary gadgets found around his childhood home in order to figure out how they worked. However, despite his immense vision and industrial knowledge, Colt’s first business endeavors failed miserably, even though his “Revolver” handgun was clearly ahead of its time. Colt was inspired to create this iconic weapon by the steering wheel of a ship, but it wasn’t until the American war with Texas that he actually managed to sell his gun in the thousands.
Alexander Stewart was an Irish entrepreneur who eventually became one of the 20 wealthiest people in history. The reason behind Alexander’s success was his ingenuity and business-orientated thinking, which allowed him to create a dry goods empire that would make him famous and rich at the same time.
He started off humbly in 1823 with a small New York store that retailed linens and laces, but by 1848, he already had a marble-fronted store on Broadway. Accounting for inflation, his total wealth would sum up to about $90 billion in today’s money.
Charles M. Schwab
Charles M. Schwab was the president of a large steel manufacturing company named Bethlehem Steel. His revolutionary ideas encouraged the development of the wide flange steel beam, which allowed Bethlehem Steel to become a giant in the steel business during World War I. As far as his personality is concerned, Charles enjoyed living a luxurious and sometimes extravagant lifestyle, and he was also known to be quite manipulative. Nonetheless, he was a brilliant businessman with outstanding management skills, while his modern ideas definitely put him ahead of his time.
Haroldson Lafayette Hunt Jr.
As the founder of the Hunt Oil Company, Haroldson Lafayette Hunt became the largest independent oil producer in America. Due to his incredibly creative and innovative business techniques, Hunt became one of the wealthiest individuals in the country. The key to his success was branching out into several industries, including cosmetics, canned goods, and health products. As one of the fiercest opponents of John F. Kennedy, H. L. Hunt was surrounded by controversy almost his adult entire life. However, his incredible success as a businessman is clearly unquestionable.
James J. Hill
James J. Hill is a perfect example of how a well-managed company can avoid even the most impending disasters. His Great Northern Railway spanned 1,700 miles from Saint Paul, Minnesota, to Seattle, Washington, and while other similar companies were dying out slowly under the weight of the 1893 Panic, his own firm survived and thrived.
Due to his great success and incredible leadership skills, James J. Hill was known as “The Empire Builder”.
Yet another filthy rich railroad developer was Jay Gould. However, he was well known for building his vast fortunes using unorthodox methods, which is why he was also known as one of the most dishonest “robber barons” in Capitalist America during the 19th century. By controlling the price of stocks, Gould managed to become the ninth richest American in history. His somewhat dishonest means of conducting business earned him other titles as well, including the one of “The eighth-worst CEO of America of all time” and the “One of the shrewdest businessmen in American industry”.
Walt Disney was a master in the art of show business and a true pioneer in the field of animation. He co-founded the Walt Disney Production company with his brother and created some of the most beloved animated characters in the world: Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Pluto and Donald Duck. He also had a great say in the designing and construction process of Disneyland, which became one of the most popular theme parks in the world.
J. P. Morgan
Very few personalities actually contributed to the modernization of the American business sector as much as J. P. Morgan did. The American banker, financier, and philanthropist was heavily involved in the management and mergers of several important steel manufacturers and electricity provides. He financed the creation of the Federal Steel Company before merging it in 1901 with the Carnegie Steel Company.
His incredible skills as a financer allowed him to successfully direct a banking coalition that put an end to the Panic of 1907.
Cornelius Vanderbilt became one of the richest individuals in American history through his railroad and shipping-related enterprises. Also an acknowledged philanthropist, Vanderbilt provided the first funds towards the creation of Vanderbilt University. He first decided to go into the railroad business during the 1850s, when he was already on the board of directors of several railroad companies such as the New York and Harlem and the Erie Railway. His railroad-related businesses proved to be so successful that he retired out of the shipping industry in 1864 when he sold all of his vessels.
P. T. Barnum
Also known as the “Shakespeare of advertising” or the “Great American Showman”, P. T. Barnum was a very successful businessman that built his fortunes on a circus empire. As an accomplished showman, Barnum knew exactly how to spark the imagination and intrigue of the crowd, and he is also known as the inventor of the three-ring circus.
His most extraordinary performances included all-time classic tricks and pranks such as the “Tom Thumb’s Baby”, “The Feejee Mermaid” and the “Cardiff Giant”. He is remembered for his charitable endeavors and for his many books, including “The Life of P.T. Barnum” and the “Art of Money-Getting”.
Born in Milan, a small town in the state of Ohio, Thomas Edison was an American technological pioneer and businessman who was often described as America’s greatest inventor. As a child, Thomas was curious and loved to learn and discover new things, so he spent a lot of time reading books on mechanics and chemistry. By the age of 22, he had already made his first invention for which he received $ 40,000 for the rights. Edison worked in a wide range of other fields, such as telegraphs, films, battery technology, and mining, accumulating a record of 1093 patents. He invented and developed many devices, including the incandescent light bulb, the phonograph, and the motion picture camera.
Rebecca Lukens was a female entrepreneur that broke all stereotypes and became a businesswoman. Born in 1794, Rebecca was the daughter of Quaker Isaac Pennock who established the Federal Slitting Mill in 1793. As a child, she worked closely with her father on the mill, where the iron was processed and transformed into barrel hoops and nails.
At the age of 31, Rebecca became a widow and the new owner of the mill which in the meantime had been named Brandywine Iron Works and Nail Factory. Lukens took control and continued to manufacture rolled iron plates for steam engines and eventually Brandywine became the main manufacturer of boilerplates. She was a woman determined to triumph regardless of the obstacle, so in 1837 in the midst of the financial crisis of the Great Panic, she paid her employees with food instead of money. That’s how he managed to keep the company alive while many other businesses were closing.
In 1994, she was named by Fortuna magazine as “America’s first female CEO of an industrial company.”
Charles E. Merrill
Charles E. Merrill was a remarkable American investment banker and philanthropist. Born on 19 October 1885 in Florida, USA, Charles was famously known for being the world’s largest brokerage firm which he founded in 1914 in partnership with Edmund C. Lynch.
The company name was “Merrill Lynch” and it was for a time the brokerage firm for some of the largest chain stores, including JC Penney CO. and First National Stores. Merril served as director of the firm his entire life and by the time of his death in 1956, the firm had 106 offices in Noth America. Since then, the company has continued to evolve worldwide and it is now called “Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Incorporated”.
He was definitely one of the most innovative leaders in the field of financial services and one of his biggest contributions was the introduction of equities and bonds as an investment option for raising America’s middle class.
Born on March 1, 1904, in Tokyo, Taikichiro Mori was a man who chose to successfully change his career after turning 50. Mori was an economics professor and he decided to abandon this career after the death of his father. At the age of 55, he started to manage the buildings inherited from his father, but also to invest more in the real estate market. During 1991-92, he was the richest man in the world with a net worth of $15 billion in 1991 (approximately equivalent to $25.6 billion in today’s value).
Inherited by his two sons, Mori Building Company built some of Tokyo’s famous buildings like Roppongi Hills Complex and the 101-story Shanghai World Financial Center.
Raymond Albert Kroc
Born on October 5, 1902, in Oak Park, Illinois from Czech-American parents, Raymond Alber Kroc was an extraordinary American businessman. The name may or may not tell you much, but you’ve probably heard of the company he ran: McDonald’s- which is still a global sensation. Raymond was not the founder of Mcdonald’s but was the one responsible for the global expansion of this well-known chain.
In 1954, he was so amazed by the operation of a small restaurant run by brothers Dick and Mac McDonald that he proposed to the McDonald brothers to expand their business nationwide. The McDonald brothers were not interested or impressed with his vision, so in 1961 Raymond bought McDonald’s for $2.7 million.
He revolutionized the American restaurant industry with his innovations in the foodservice industry, one of them being that he offered single-store franchises instead of territorial franchises. In 2020 McDonald’s had 39,198 restaurants across the world.
Annie Turnbo Malone
Annie Turnbo Malone was the first African American businesswoman to become a millionaire. Born in Metropolis Illinois, she had knowledge in both chemistry and hair care, which helped her to develop her own hair-care products. Her line included special oils and hair-stimulant products for African-American women that she sold in bottles door-to-door.
She managed to expand her company extremely quickly by investing in advertising and traveling to hold various demonstrations and by 1902 the demand for her products was high that she opened her first store in St. Louis. By 1920 her company was worth millions and during her lifetime she donated to colleges and organizations around the country.
Harland David Sanders
Harland David Sanders, popularly known as Colonel Sanders, was an American businessman, who founded the fast-food chicken restaurant chain Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). The franchise was highly successful and expanded rapidly internationally but that does not mean that this success came easily for Colonel Sanders and his company.
Before KFC, he had numerous jobs in life as a butcher, steam engine stoker, insurance salesman, and cook in his roadside restaurant in North Corbin, Kentucky where he also developed his “secret recipe” of fried chicken. Because he wanted to franchise his chicken concept, he started traveling across the US to look for suitable restaurants and he did a remarkable job so that by 1964 there were more than 600 franchised outlets.
At the age of 73 years old, he decided to sell the Kentucky Fried Chicken corporation for $2 million but he continued to remain the company’s symbol.
Madam C. J. Walker
Madam C.J. Walker was one of the first African American woman millionaires in the United States. Born on December 23, 1867, on a cotton plantation where her parents had been enslaved before the American Civil War, Madam Walker is notoriously known for her cosmetics and hair care products line for black women.
Madam Walker suffered from a scalp condition that led to hair loss and so she began experimenting with her own formula to cure scalp infections that caused baldness. Furthermore, one of her jobs as a cook in a pharmacist’s house helped her learn the basics of chemistry and perfect her formula. In order to promote her products, she and her husband embarked on a trip to America and in 1919 she already had 25,000 active Walker sales agents.
At the same time, Walker was a philanthropist, donating money to various associations, one of the best known being the African American Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA).