Even during the worst economic downturn in modern American history, some people still managed to make money – lots of dollars, actually. Here are 9 people who made a fortune during the Great Depression.
1. Babe Ruth
The Sultan of Swat was never afraid of conspicuous consumption. While baseball player salaries were nowhere near as high as they are today in the 1930s, Ruth was at the top of the pile. While Ruth may have been apocryphal during the salary negotiations that his $ 80,000 a year salary (more than $ 1 million today) was $ 5000 higher than that of President Hoover, he is said to have said, “I have had a better year than he has.”
2. John Dillinger
The robbery of banks enabled Dillinger and his compatriots to acquire around $ 500,000 (about $ 7 million in today’s dollars). They are not methods that we would support, but the brazen, charming, and bold figure became exactly the kind of antihero that the scruffy, unemployed masses loved. FBI agents shot him in Chicago in 1934.
3. Michael J. Cullen
Cullen was a man that most did not know and whose modern ideas revolutionized American life. He changed our retail landscape by creating the modern supermarket. Cullen, a former executive at Kroger Grocery & Bakery Co., went into business in 1930 after higher companies rejected his ideas for less central, larger self-service grocery stores with space for car parking and selling hundreds of items at or just over the cost . Within two years, Cullen’s stores (known as King Kullen Grocery) had sales of more than $ 6 million (now more than $ 100 million).
4. James Cagney
The former variety star soared through Hollywood in the 1930s. He switched from a $ 500 a week contract player to one of the film industry’s top ten earners in 1935 in 1930. In the mid-1930s, Cagney earned $ 4,500 a week. (almost $ 60,000 in today’s dollars). His rise was so quick that he offered to make a few films for free to get out of a five-year contract with Warner Brothers.
5. Charles Darrow
When Darrow became unemployed after the ’29 crash, he spent a few years perfecting a little parlor game that eventually became known as monopoly. Within a year of registering the patent, Parker Brothers sold 20,000 units a week, and Darrow became the world’s first millionaire game designer.
6. Howard Hughes
Sure, we mostly remember that later in his life, legends told that Hughes had extremely long fingernails, wore Kleenex boxing hats, and kept his own urine in jar of mayonnaise. Before that, he also had an outstanding career. After the crash of ’29, apparently unimpressed, he released Hells Angels– then the most expensive movie ever – at a cost of $ 3.8 million. In 1932, at the height of the nation’s economic problems, the businessman founded the Hughes Aircraft Company. He developed the company into an important defense supplier and when he died in 1976 his fortune was estimated at $ 2.5 billion.
7. J. Paul Getty
As an astonishing beneficiary of good timing and business acumen, Getty created an oil empire from a $ 500,000 inheritance he received in 1930. Since the oil reserves were massively depressed, he grabbed them at bargain prices and founded an oil conglomerate that could take on Rockefeller. In the course of the 20th century, he became a billionaire.
8. Gene Autry
The Great Depression was Autry’s golden era. After signing a record deal with the precursor to Columbia Records in 1929, he rose from a local radio yodel to a hit machine in the 1930s. Autry later appeared in over 90 films and became the top western draw at the box office. The “Singing Cowboy”, who was not satisfied with being just a yodel, later founded a television and radio empire in the western United States and owned the California Angels.
9. Joseph Kennedy, Sr.
Kennedy, patriarch of the Camelot clan, built up a decent sum in the 1920s with a lot of speculation, peppered with insider trading and market manipulation. Unlike many others of his kind, which helped create the unstable markets that caused the financial disasters of the 1930s – and ultimately lost their wealth – Kennedy knew when he would get out before the 1929 crash and sell most of his stock had to. Outside of the stock market, Old Joe invested his money in real estate and liquor (though rumors that he is pirated are unlikely to make big profits) and consolidate his family’s place in the highest financial tier of American society.