The Vanderbilts, Astors, and Rockefellers are often cited as America’s richest families. What’s forgotten is how well off their neighbors, the Roosevelts, were. Theodore Roosevelt is the fourth wealthiest President in history, behind Trump, Washington, and Jefferson. Franklin D. Roosevelt placed just behind Clinton in 10th place.
So, how did the Roosevelts make their money?
Theodore is the uncle of Franklin’s wife Eleanor Roosevelt (his fifth cousin once removed), so you know the connection. Each hails from a different branch of the family, with the Oyster Bay Roosevelts siding with Republicans as the Hyde Park Roosevelts associated with Democrats.
But long before they were the most powerful and prominent family in American politics, the Roosevelts owned a 50-acre farm in what’s now known as Midtown Manhattan. It included everything between Lexington and Fifth Avenues between 29th and 35th street, including the Empire State Building.
How did the familiy rise to prominence and forever changed the course of American politics?
How The Roosevelts Got Started
Claes Martenszen van Rosenvelt emigrated to New York from Amsterdam in the 1640s when it was called New Amsterdam. The family owned a farm in prime real estate during the time, and made money buying and selling dry goods, sugar imports, and real estate.
His son Nicholas Roosevelt was the first in the family to hold elected office, as an alderman of the American colonies. He was also a fur trader and freeman who remained friendly with the land’s native tribes while ruling over the family’s slaves with ruthless aggression.
Nicholas is the last common ancestor of the Oyster Bay Roosevelts and Hyde Park Roosevelts, which were founded by his sons Johannes and Jacobus.
Although divided between the two regions of New York (and in political ideation), each Roosevelt faction continued to add to the family fortune. This makes them a model of how to create generational wealth, versus the Vanderbilt’s story of how to squander it. Here’s what they did to maintain it.
How Did the Roosevelts Make Their Money?
While the Roosevelt name is more commonly associated with FDR’s World War II speeches, the family was around since the birth of the nation.
Johannes continued in his father’s footsteps from Oyster Bay, becoming a linseed oil manufacturer and alderman. He was a successful farmer and businessman said to be one of the first to import art and luxury furniture from the Netherlands to the Americas.
Isaac was a second-generation Hyde Park Roosevelt who made a fortune as one of the city’s first large-scale sugar refiners. This was a valuable European commodity easily farmed by slaves in the Caribbean.
He became one of the first members of NYC’s Chamber of Commerce, co-founder of the Bank of New York, and part of the Poughkeepsie NY State Convention that adopted the U.S. Constitution.
His son Jacobus continued the sugar refinery business and became a banker, adding much more wealth to his inheritance from his father. Grandson Isaac inherited the fortune from both men and built the historic Isaac Roosevelt House that FDR was raised in.
FDR’s father was a coal and transportation magnate who grew the family fortune and left it to his wife Sara upon death. She held the money over for her son Franklin and his wife, whose total personal estate totaled only $12,000 until Sara’s death in 1941.
Theodore’s grandfather Cornelius inherited the Oyster Bay fortune from his father and grew it by becoming the first director of the Chemical Bank of New York, which you know today as JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:JPM).
His father founded the Metropolitan Museum of Art, American Museum of Natural History, and several children’s health businesses.
How Much Are the Roosevelts Worth Today?
Although their heritage dates further back in North America than the United States, there are still Roosevelts involved in politics today. Descendant Mark Roosevelt served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, and his rival Governor William Weld is married to his second cousin, Susan Roosevelt Weld.
These days, the family is more known for its political prowess than wealth, which was eclipsed by nearby families named above.
Tycoons from Andrew Carnegie to Henry Ford became more engrained in the culture as the names of wealthy Americans.
But the Roosevelts are one of the first American dynasties, stretching through every phase of American history.
What Was FDRs Net Worth?
Because they predate records, tracking the exact Roosevelt net worth through time is difficult. But we can measure each branch from the presidents who held them.
Theodore Roosevelt inherited the remnants of the Oyster Bay Roosevelt fortune from his father and was uninterested in business. His peak net worth is estimated at $141.4 million, and he lost much of his money in bad investments.
He’s remembered in history as a popular social influencer who changed the course of American politics. He set the stage for modern regulatory agencies and government assistance through his Square Deal.
FDR served an astounding four terms as President before dying in office during World War II. He received his peak net worth of $67.6 million in today’s dollars only four years before he died in office. The subsequent opening of his library and museum set a precedent for all future presidents.
His legacy is the New Deal, which established the modern welfare system through Civilian Conservation Corps, the Social Security Administration, and other agencies in the face of the Great Depression.
Were the Roosevelts the Richest Family in the World?
Although the Roosevelts were always wealthy, their fortune never reached the levels of other contemporaries like the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers.
Instead, the family focused more on power over money. Still, it has a long-lasted legacy in New York business that includes the foundations for much of what you know of New York culture.
From Madison Square Garden to Midtown Manhattan, the Met, Chase Bank and Bank of New York, and even social security, the value of the Roosevelts can’t be measured in money nor words. They were involved in American business and politics since before there was an America.
The author has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Financhill has a disclosure policy. This post may contain affiliate links or links from our sponsors.