Richest People in History Hetty Green

About Hetty Green one of the richest people in history, biography and worth of the woman.



Born Henrietta Howland Robinson in 1835, she was the eldest daughter of a devout Quaker couple in New Bedford, Mass., who left her an inheritance of approximately $10 million. The Howlands had made millions in shipping and whaling, and Robinson (Hetty's father) had increased the fortune after he married into the family.

Hetty Green could have lived a life of luxury, but she chose instead to dedicate her energies to increasing the family fortune. And she succeeded. Through shrewd investment and miserliness of a truly incredible degree, Hetty Green made herself into the wealthiest woman in the U.S.--and perhaps the world. In 1867 she married Edward H. Green, a millionaire in his own right and executor of her father's will, but not before making the groom sign a contract stipulating that her fortune would remain solely her possession. They separated a few years later, and Green eventually went bankrupt.

Hetty made money by making loans to capital-hungry entrepreneurs during the age of great industrial development in the U.S. Despite her great wealth, however, she lived as though penniless. Her home was a ramshackle flat in Hoboken, N.J., from which she left every business day dressed in worn clothing to travel by ferry to her office in New York City. But the best example of her pathological miserliness occurred when her son's knee became badly infected. At first she tried treating the knee herself, but when it failed to respond, she dressed the boy in rags similar to her own and took him to Bellevue as a charity patient. The doctors quickly discovered her identity and demanded payment for her son's treatment. Hetty refused, took the boy home, and never sought medical assistance for him again until several years later, when his leg had to be amputated.

How Much?

To critics of capitalism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Hetty Green's fortune stood as a symbol of an unjust and corrupt economic system. She created nothing; her income was totally unearned in terms of productive labor or entrepreneurial genius. She simply lent money to businessmen who needed capital and who agreed to pay handsome rates of interest for the use of part of her accumulated wealth. Although she exercised great secrecy as to the extent of her fortune (she lived in constant terror that she would be killed for her money), she was worth more than $100 million at the time of her death in 1916.

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