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Greatest Fortunes Ever Lost
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5 Fickle Fortunes

Five Of The Greatest Fortunes Ever Lost

History is laden with stories of great families falling from grace through poor management, extravagant living, changing conditions and simple bad luck. A disintegrated dynasties many times leave its descendants impoverished and destitute – unable to carry the flag of their once prominent forefathers. 

Although certainly tragic for the remaining family members, these phoenix-like tumbles make for some incredible stories; filled with excess, glamour and skullduggery.

DDW explores 5 incredible fortunes and their tales:

John D. Rockefeller

John D. Rockefeller

Possibly the most famous name in the history of the industrial revolution to this day, John D. Rockefeller was a man to be reckoned with. He was famous for his ruthless business tactics, backhanded political dealings and his devotion to both the Church and to profit. Rockefeller built what was until recently the largest private American fortune in history – amassing almost $360 Billion adjusted for inflation in today’s dollars – topped only this year by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. 

Unfortunately for John D., the Great Depression hit – wiping out the stock market and was followed by a string of poor decisions by subsequent heirs, taxes and antitrust laws being put into place and forcing Rockefeller’s Standard Oil to sell off parts of the monopolistic oil and gas businesses that had made the family so wealthy.

Wisely, Rockefeller made a point to brand his family’s name to some of the most significant institutions in the US, cementing their place in history as a golden age dynasty. Today – the family is still considered both affluent and powerful but their wealth pales in comparison to what it was at its height. 


Masayoshi Son

Masayoshi Son

Son is a rogue Japanese entrepreneur who has lost a vast fortune and made it back. He started his business life by leasing Pac Man and Space Invaders games to university students at Berkeley in California. Son then went on to ride the 90’s tech bubble with a company which supplied software distribution for mobile networks – amassing a whopping $78 Billion in personal wealth in a short amount of time. 

Of course, the software tech bubble popped and he lost it all. Nevertheless, his bravado, fame and exceptional international connections led him to start a huge forward-thinking venture fund called SoftBank with some high-flying investors like the Saudi Royal Family. Luckily for them, Son made some very wise investments – most notably in China’s Alibaba Group which turned their $20M investment into a cool $100Bn. 

Today, Son is once again in hot water as his SoftBank fund is reeling from its other $Bn+ investments in troubled companies like WeWork (a co-working space company) and Wag (a dog-walking app). 


Eike Batista

Eike Batista

Batista was once the wealthiest man in Brazil, with a staggering fortune of $34.5 Billion built from oil and gas. Fancying himself a ‘new Rockefeller’ he often publicly proclaimed he would one day be the wealthiest man in the world. Unfortunately for Batista his inability to pick productive oil fields led him to continuously over-leverage his company; OGX, and lie to investors. In 2013 – the house of cards came down, bringing with it net company assets of over $1.3Trillion and leaving him with a negative net worth of $1Bn.


Cornelius Vanderbilt

Cornelius Vanderbilt

In 1810, Cornelius Vanderbilt borrowed $100 from his mother and built a $100M fortune. Known as the ‘Commodore’ he controlled many of the steamships and railways that were essential to the growing American industrial economy. Leaving behind immense wealth and a thriving business empire to his children – it would have seemed impossible that their fortune would not live on forever. 

Nevertheless, the Vanderbilt heirs did their best at spending the inheritance, buying and building palatial homes filled with priceless art and enjoying life to the fullest with grand balls, parties, gambling and luxuries. In the end – the family was broke and current descendents of this sprawling dynasty have been left with nothing but a name etched in history (proving it is possible to spend it all in a generation!). 

As with the Rockefellers – many buildings across America bear the family name and their influence can still be felt across the country. 


Joseph Pulitzer
Joseph Pulitzer, the late publisher of the New York World and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, was considered one of America’s outstanding journalists at the time of his death in 1911. He left $2,500,000 for the founding of the Pulitzer School of Journalism at Columbia University and the annual Pulitzer prizes for outstanding work in journalism and letters. This is an undated file photo. (AP Photo/files)

Joseph Pulitzer

Another prominent American family that built a business from the ground up to extraordinary heights – only to be dragged to near poverty by the second generation. Joseph Pulitzer was a hard working man that arrived in the US as a poor immigrant. He started a publishing company that would become an empire – founding the Columbia School of Journalism and Pulitzer prize along the way. Sadly for the family, the heir to the majority of the fortune was Peter Pulitzer who made terrible investments on behalf of the family trust and squandered the rest. Today – the family remains part of the NY society scene but no longer feature in the list of NYs wealthiest.


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