Sunday, December 15, 2013

The richest man in the world

I’m a Minnesota native, and have somehow managed to retain a bit of my Minnesota “accent” more than 30 years after I’ve moved out of the “North Star State”.

If you’re not familiar with the Minnesota accent, the clip below will give you an idea what it sounds like:

let’s watch Fargo again

As I’ve done research on my native state over the years, I learned that the early fortunes in Minnesota were made from three industries - lumbering, mining, and farming.

Later, fortunes were created in the new industries of grain milling and railroads. The fortune that James J. Hill amassed from his railroad business (estimated to be $2.5 billion in today’s dollars) eventually was used for numerous charitable causes, and he was a major contributor to the St. Paul Seminary, Macalester College, Hamline University, the University of St. Thomas, Carleton College, and the high school that I graduated from, Mary T. Hill High School, which was named after his wife.

Most people would consider Mr. Hill to be the richest person from Minnesota (he was born in Ontario, but died in St. Paul) but the richest Minnesota native is a man who was born on this date in Minneapolis in 1892, and he looked like this:

If you think that he looks like Ebeneezer Scrooge, you’re right, because the picture that you see above IS a picture of a man who portrayed Ebeneezer Scrooge in a movie long ago.

However, the man in question looks like the picture below, and I think that you’ll agree that he bears a striking resemblance to Ebeneezer Scrooge. In addition, his charitable instincts were on a par with the miser featured in the Dickens tale, “A Christmas Carol”, so he probably wasn’t much fun to be around.

Young Jean Paul followed his father into the fledgling oil business, and he made his first million in the summer of 1916, when he was 24 years old. Due to his reputation as a playboy (he was married and divorced five times) his father left him only a small portion of his sizable estate, but the young oil man eventually buckled down, and became VERY successful. In 1949, he bought land near the border of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, where oil had never been discovered, and spent 4 years and $30,000,000 exploring the site. Ultimately, his gamble paid off. He was the first person in the world to achieve a net worth of $1 billion, and the Guinness Book of Records named him the richest man in the world in 1966. At the time of his death, in 1976, he was worth approximately $2 billion ($8.2 billion in 2012 dollars).

His reputation as a miser was cemented by the fact that he installed a coin box telephone in his London mansion (pictured below),

and was further confirmed when he initially refused to pay any ransom when his grandson was kidnapped in Rome in 1973. Although he eventually DID pay a ransom, it was less than his grandson’s captors wanted, and he only gave them $2.2 million - the maximum amount that would be tax deductible.

In spite of his reputation as a miser, his vast fortune eventually came to benefit the rest of us, which includes me.

He became a collector of art and antiquities, which became the basis for the museum that was named after him. At the time of his death, the museum received $661,000 from his estate ($2.7 billion in 2012 dollars). The museum is governed by a trust that he established in 1953, and it is now the richest art institution in the world. The trust also governs his research institute and his conservation institute.

It’s now been more than a year since my family and I visited his museum in California, but until yesterday, I was totally unaware of the fact that J. Paul Getty and I were born in the same state.

And that’s the rest of the story.

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