How Did Joseph Kennedy Make His Money?

Few people have shaped American industry and politics as much as Joseph Kennedy.

Kennedy came from a wealthy family, but he managed to grow their influence significantly. His keen business instincts built an empire that continues to fuel the Kennedy family’s involvement in public life.

How did Joseph Kennedy manage to make so much money that his influence long outlasted his life? Let’s take a closer look at his family, investment decisions, and scandals to learn more about this fascinating American.

Who Was John F. Kennedy’s Dad?

John F. Kennedy’s dad was Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Sr., a businessman and politician who managed to thrive throughout some of the most tumultuous periods of history in the United States.

Joseph P. Kennedy had many jobs during his life. He earned money as a:

  • Commodity and stock investor
  • Bank examiner
  • Real estate investor
  • Liquor importer
  • Entertainment investor

Kennedy also served the U.S. government in several ways. He was:

He also used his political connections to help launch the careers of his sons, John, Robert, and Ted Kennedy.

What Did Joe Kennedy Do For a Living?

Joe Kennedy did many things for a living, although he primarily worked as an investor. He had a keen eye for spotting untapped opportunities in any economic climate.

After graduating from Harvard University, Kennedy became a bank examiner for Massachusetts. This opportunity exposed him to the inner workings of banks and other financial institutions.

Kennedy’s first major investment took place in 1913, when he borrowed $45,000 (about $1.3 million in today’s money) to purchase control of the Columbia Trust Bank. He was only 25 years old when he became the bank’s president.

Joe Kennedy used the money from his initial investment to build an empire that took advantage of emerging opportunities. For example, he got involved in producing warships when he realized the U.S. would likely enter World War I.

During the Great Depression, Kennedy focused on his real estate portfolio to avoid the risk of buying stock. He likely became a multi-millionaire (today’s equivalent of someone with about $3 billion) during the depression. While most Americans struggled, he found ways to thrive.

Joe Kennedy knew how to separate his personal beliefs from his business interests. He didn’t approve of the U.S. involvement in WWI but profited from it. Similarly, he invested in liquor importing even though he had a negative view of the substance.

Who Made Money From Prohibition?

Criminals willing to risk their lives and freedom made money from Prohibition. People didn’t stop wanting to drink alcohol when the government banned it in 1920. Not surprisingly, criminal gangs stepped in to meet consumer demand.

There are, however, rumors that Joseph Kennedy made millions from bootlegging. Most historians say there isn’t any evidence to support this. A few of the era’s biggest mob bosses said they worked with Kennedy, but those testimonies don’t stand up to scrutiny. More likely than not, they just wanted to associate themselves with one of the era’s richest people.

Kennedy did make a lot of money from importing alcohol after Prohibition ended. He co-founded the business Somerset Importers with the son of Franklin D. Roosevelt and established exclusive deals importing brands like Dewar’s Scotch and Gordon’s Dry Gin.

How Did Joseph Kennedy Make His Money?

Joseph Kennedy made his money by understanding how the economy was changing during his lifetime. After graduating from college, he took a job that gave him unfettered access to the banking industry, giving him a chance to learn about finance from the inside.

Kennedy’s upper-middle-class family gave him a financial and social head start. He was able to borrow money from his parents and use the funds to purchase a controlling stake in the bank his father worked for. He became the bank’s CEO at just 25.

Joseph Kennedy wasn’t satisfied with the riches an executive job could offer. He poured his money into smart investment opportunities to grow his wealth. He invested heavily in the stock market but wisely withdrew from the market before the Great Depression ruined many American families.

Other ventures that helped Kennedy build a financial empire included interests in:

  • Metal
  • Producing materials for the military (a lucrative move during World War I)
  • Real estate
  • Importing liquor when Prohibition ended

Kennedy’s wealth ensured that future generations had the stability needed to pursue interests in government, entertainment, and philanthropy.

Joseph Kennedy Scandals

Kennedy had some strong opinions about the role the U.S. should play in world politics. Although he was a well-connected politician and friend of Franklin D. Roosevelt, many tried to distance themselves from him during the World Wars.

For the most part, Kennedy believed the U.S. shouldn’t intervene in WWI or WWII. Still, he thought it made sense to meet with Adolf Hitler and try to reach an agreement with him.

Kennedy even tried to secure a personal meeting with Hitler without contacting the U.S. Department of State. The majority of newspapers wrote scathing articles when they learned about this.

Kennedy also drew ire for his antisemitic remarks. He frequently used ethnic slurs when speaking about Jewish people. He also believed in conspiracy theories about Jewish people running banks and the media. Kennedy didn’t try to hide these beliefs. He spoke openly to reporters about them. When the White House learned about his interviews, Roosevelt’s administration recalled him from his post as Ambassador to England.

Although Kennedy identified as a Democrat, he sided with Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist crusade. He and McCarthy had been friends for years and shared a hatred for anything they didn’t perceive as pro-America and pro-capitalist. This pitted a large number of Democrats against McCarthy.

The ties between McCarthy and the Kennedy family were so strong that John F. Kennedy wouldn’t speak against the Republican when running for a Senate seat.

What Was Joe Kennedy’s Net Worth?

Joe Kennedy never released documents showing his wealth to the public.

Despite that, The New York Times confidently estimated his net worth as $500 million (roughly $4.2 billion in 2024 dollars) at his time of death.

Joe Kennedy Kids

Joe Kennedy had nine children with his wife Rose Fitzgerald:

  • Joseph Jr. Kennedy, a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy who died in action at 29 years old
  • John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States who was assassinated in Dallas before the end of his first term
  • Rosemary Kennedy, who spent most of her life in an institution after receiving a lobotomy in an attempt to control seizures and mood swings
  • Kathleen Kennedy, a socialite who spent much of her life in Europe
  • Eunice Kennedy, an activist who founded the Special Olympics and was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
  • Patricia Kennedy, a socialite who pursued a career in film production
  • Robert Kennedy, a journalist, lawyer, politician, and the 64th U.S. Attorney General
  • Jean Kennedy, an author, activist, and U.S. Ambassador to Ireland
  • Edward Kennedy, a lawyer and U.S. senator who chaired the Senate Health Committee from 2007 until his death in 2009

How Old Was Joe Kennedy When He Died?

Joe Kennedy was born on September 6, 1888, and died on November 18, 1969, making him 81 years old.

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