Richest People in History John D. MacArthur

About John D. MacArthur, history, biography and worth of one of the richest men in history.



The son of an evangelist, John D. MacArthur was born on Mar. 6, 1897, in Pittston, Pa. After completing the eighth grade he dropped out of school, and at age 18 he joined his brother Alfred's insurance company. Later, he and his brother Charles got jobs with the Chicago Herald Examiner. He left the publishing business for a stint in the Royal Canadian Flying Corps, while Charles went on to gain fame as coauthor of the popular play The Front Page.

MacArthur's big break came in 1935, when he invested $2,500 in a bankrupt insurance company, Bankers Life, and discovered the profitable practice of mail-order sales. He began investing in other shaky companies and, through his phenomenal business sense, realized enormous profits. By the mid-1950s, he had become one of the wealthiest men in the U.S. In 1965 he captured public attention by spending $25,000 to ransom the De Long ruby, stolen from the American Museum of Natural History. He dismissed the importance of the incident with the comment "I've played poker for more than that."

Never concerned with outward appearances, MacArthur lived modestly in the Colonnades, an aging hotel he owned in West Palm Beach, Fla. Because of his penchant for greeting guests and helping them with their luggage, he was dubbed the "billionaire bellboy." His business affairs were conducted from the hotel coffee shop, where he would spend each day drinking endless cups of coffee and chain-smoking cigarettes.

When he died from cancer on Jan. 6, 1978, his body was donated to science and the bulk of his fortune was used to endow the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Retirement Research Foundation. Approximately $2 million was allotted to his wife and two children.

How Much?

MacArthur's wealth has been conservatively placed at $1 billion, though some sources have estimated his fortune to have been closer to $5 billion. His assets included Citizens Bank and Trust Company (worth $365 million), Union Bankers Life Insurance Company of Dallas, and Certified Life Insurance Company of Sherman Oaks, Calif. He also invested in oil and textiles and held vast tracts of real estate throughout the country. In Florida alone he owned 100,000 acres.

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