The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary American Businesspeople of all time. This list of famous American Businesspeople is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of American Businesspeople.
With an HPI of 85.58, Bill Gates is the most famous American Businessperson. His biography has been translated into 155 different languages on wikipedia.
William Henry Gates III (born October 28, 1955) is an American business magnate, software developer, investor, author, and philanthropist. He is a co-founder of Microsoft Corporation, along with his late childhood friend Paul Allen. During his career at Microsoft, Gates held the positions of chairman, chief executive officer (CEO), president and chief software architect, while also being the largest individual shareholder until May 2014. He is considered one of the best known entrepreneurs of the microcomputer revolution of the 1970s and 1980s. Gates was born and raised in Seattle, Washington. In 1975, he and Allen founded Microsoft in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It became the world's largest personal computer software company. Gates led the company as chairman and CEO until stepping down as CEO in January 2000, succeeded by Steve Ballmer, but he remained chairman of the board of directors and became chief software architect. During the late 1990s, he was criticized for his business tactics, which have been considered anti-competitive. This opinion has been upheld by numerous court rulings. In June 2008, Gates transitioned to a part-time role at Microsoft and full-time work at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the private charitable foundation he and his then-wife, Melinda Gates, established in 2000. He stepped down as chairman of the board of Microsoft in February 2014 and assumed a new post as technology adviser to support the newly appointed CEO Satya Nadella. In March 2020, Gates left his board positions at Microsoft and Berkshire Hathaway to focus on his philanthropic efforts including climate change, global health and development, and education.Since 1987, Gates has been included in the Forbes list of the world's wealthiest people. From 1995 to 2017, he held the Forbes title of the richest person in the world every year except from 2010 to 2013. In October 2017, he was surpassed by Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, who had an estimated net worth of US$90.6 billion compared to Gates's net worth of US$89.9 billion at the time. As of May 2021, Gates had an estimated net worth of US$144 billion, making him the fourth-richest person in the world.Later in his career and since leaving day-to-day operations at Microsoft in 2008, Gates has pursued many business and philanthropic endeavors. He is the founder and chairman of several companies, including BEN, Cascade Investment, bgC3, and TerraPower. He has given sizable amounts of money to various charitable organizations and scientific research programs through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, reported to be the world's largest private charity. Through the foundation, he led an early 21st century vaccination campaign which significantly contributed to the eradication of the wild poliovirus in Africa. In 2010, Gates and Warren Buffett founded The Giving Pledge, whereby they and other billionaires pledge to give at least half of their wealth to philanthropy.
With an HPI of 85.21, Howard Hughes is the 2nd most famous American Businessperson. His biography has been translated into 63 different languages.
Howard Robard Hughes Jr. (December 24, 1905 – April 5, 1976) was an American business magnate, investor, record-setting pilot, engineer, film director, and philanthropist, known during his lifetime as one of the most influential and financially successful individuals in the world. He first became prominent as a film producer, and then as an important figure in the aviation industry. Later in life, he became known for his eccentric behavior and reclusive lifestyle—oddities that were caused in part by his worsening obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), chronic pain from a near-fatal plane crash, and increasing deafness. As a film tycoon, Hughes gained fame in Hollywood beginning in the late 1920s, when he produced big-budget and often controversial films such as The Racket (1928), Hell's Angels (1930), and Scarface (1932). He later took over the RKO Pictures film studio in 1948, recognized then as one of the Big Five studios of Hollywood's Golden Age, although the production company struggled under his control and ultimately ceased operations in 1957. Through his interest in aviation and aerospace travel, Hughes formed the Hughes Aircraft Company in 1932, hiring numerous engineers, designers, and defense contractors.: 163, 259 He spent the rest of the 1930s and much of the 1940s setting multiple world air speed records and building the Hughes H-1 Racer (1935) and H-4 Hercules (the Spruce Goose, 1947), the latter being the largest flying boat in history and having the longest wingspan of any aircraft from the time it was built until 2019. He acquired and expanded Trans World Airlines and later acquired Air West, renaming it Hughes Airwest. Hughes won the Harmon Trophy on two occasions (1936 and 1938), the Collier Trophy (1938), and the Congressional Gold Medal (1939) all for his achievements in aviation throughout the 1930s. He was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1973 and was included in Flying magazine's 2013 list of the 51 Heroes of Aviation, ranked at No. 25.During the 1960s and early 1970s, Hughes extended his financial empire to include several major businesses in Las Vegas, such as real estate, hotels, casinos, and media outlets. Known at the time as one of the most powerful men in the state of Nevada, he is largely credited with transforming Vegas into a more refined cosmopolitan city. After years of mental and physical decline, Hughes died of kidney failure in 1976, at the age of 70. Today, his legacy is maintained through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Howard Hughes Corporation.
With an HPI of 83.89, Warren Buffett is the 3rd most famous American Businessperson. His biography has been translated into 90 different languages.
Warren Edward Buffett ( BUFF-itt; born August 30, 1930) is an American business magnate, investor, and philanthropist. He is currently the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway. He is considered one of the most successful investors in the world and has a net worth of over $100.9 billion as of September 2021, making him the world's tenth-wealthiest person.Buffett was born in Omaha, Nebraska. He developed an interest in business and investing in his youth, eventually entering the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1947 before transferring to and graduating from the University of Nebraska at 19. He went on to graduate from Columbia Business School, where he molded his investment philosophy around the concept of value investing pioneered by Benjamin Graham. He attended New York Institute of Finance to focus his economics background and soon after began various business partnerships, including one with Graham. He created Buffett Partnership, Ltd in 1956 and his firm eventually acquired a textile manufacturing firm called Berkshire Hathaway, assuming its name to create a diversified holding company. In 1978, Charlie Munger joined Buffett as vice-chairman.Buffett has been the chairman and largest shareholder of Berkshire Hathaway since 1970. He has been referred to as the "Oracle" or "Sage" of Omaha by global media. He is noted for his adherence to value investing, and his personal frugality despite his immense wealth. Research published at the University of Oxford characterizes Buffett's investment methodology as falling within "founder centrism", defined by a deference to managers with a founder's mindset, an ethical disposition towards the shareholder collective, and an intense focus on exponential value creation. Essentially, Buffett's concentrated investments shelter managers from the short-term pressures of the market.Buffett is a notable philanthropist, having pledged to give away 99 percent of his fortune to philanthropic causes, primarily via the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He founded The Giving Pledge in 2009 with Bill Gates, whereby billionaires pledge to give away at least half of their fortunes.Buffett was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 2009.
With an HPI of 83.49, John D. Rockefeller is the 4th most famous American Businessperson. His biography has been translated into 68 different languages.
John Davison Rockefeller Sr. (July 8, 1839 – May 23, 1937) was an American business magnate and philanthropist. He is widely considered the wealthiest American of all time and the richest person in modern history.Rockefeller was born into a large and poor family in upstate New York that moved several times before eventually settling in Cleveland, Ohio. He became an assistant bookkeeper at age 16 and went into several business partnerships beginning at age 20, concentrating his business on oil refining. Rockefeller founded the Standard Oil Company in 1870. He ran it until 1897, and remained its largest shareholder. Rockefeller's wealth soared as kerosene and gasoline grew in importance, and he became the richest person in the country, controlling 90% of all oil in the United States at his peak. Oil was used throughout the country as a light source until the introduction of electricity, and as a fuel after the invention of the automobile. Furthermore, Rockefeller gained enormous influence over the railroad industry which transported his oil around the country. Standard Oil was the first great business trust in the United States. Rockefeller revolutionized the petroleum industry and, through corporate and technological innovations, was instrumental in both widely disseminating and drastically reducing the production cost of oil. His company and business practices came under criticism, particularly in the writings of author Ida Tarbell. The Supreme Court ruled in 1911 that Standard Oil must be dismantled for violation of federal antitrust laws. It was broken up into 34 separate entities, which included companies that became ExxonMobil, Chevron Corporation, and others—some of which still have the highest level of revenue in the world. In the end it turned out that the individual segments of the company were worth more than the entire company was when it was one entity—the sum of the parts were worth more than the whole—as shares of these doubled and tripled in value in their early years. Consequently, Rockefeller became the country's first billionaire, with a fortune worth nearly 2% of the national economy. His personal wealth was estimated in 1913 at $900 million, which was almost 3% of the US GDP of $39.1 billion that year. That was his peak net worth, and amounts to US$423 billion (in 2020 dollars; inflation-adjusted).Rockefeller spent much of the last 40 years of his life in retirement at Kykuit, his estate in Westchester County, New York, defining the structure of modern philanthropy, along with other key industrialists such as steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. His fortune was mainly used to create the modern systematic approach of targeted philanthropy through the creation of foundations that had a major effect on medicine, education, and scientific research. His foundations pioneered developments in medical research and were instrumental in the near-eradication of hookworm and yellow fever in the United States. He and Carnegie gave form and impetus through their charities to the work of Abraham Flexner, who in his essay "Medical Education in America" emphatically endowed empiricism as the basis for the US medical system of the 20th century.Rockefeller was also the founder of the University of Chicago and Rockefeller University and funded the establishment of Central Philippine University in the Philippines. He was a devout Northern Baptist and supported many church-based institutions. He adhered to total abstinence from alcohol and tobacco throughout his life. For advice, he relied closely on his wife Laura Spelman Rockefeller with whom he had five children. He was a faithful congregant of the Erie Street Baptist Mission Church, taught Sunday school, and served as a trustee, clerk, and occasional janitor. Religion was a guiding force throughout his life and he believed it to be the source of his success. Rockefeller was also considered a supporter of capitalism based on a perspective of social Darwinism, and he was quoted often as saying, "The growth of a large business is merely a survival of the fittest".
With an HPI of 81.05, David Rockefeller is the 5th most famous American Businessperson. His biography has been translated into 44 different languages.
David Rockefeller (June 12, 1915 – March 20, 2017) was an American banker who served as chairman and chief executive of Chase Manhattan Corporation. He was the oldest living member of the third generation of the Rockefeller family, and family patriarch from August 2004 until his death in March 2017. Rockefeller was the youngest child of John D. Rockefeller Jr. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, and a grandson of John D. Rockefeller and Laura Spelman Rockefeller. He was noted for his wide-ranging political connections and foreign travel, in which he met with many foreign leaders. His fortune was estimated at $3.3 billion at the time of his death in March 2017.
With an HPI of 79.97, Vince McMahon is the 6th most famous American Businessperson. His biography has been translated into 48 different languages.
Vincent Kennedy McMahon (; born August 24, 1945) is an American professional wrestling promoter and executive, businessman, entrepreneur, and media proprietor. He is currently serving as the chairman and chief executive officer of WWE, the largest professional wrestling promotion in the world. He is also the founder and owner of Alpha Entertainment. McMahon was born in Pinehurst, North Carolina, and graduated from East Carolina University with a degree in business in 1968. He commentated for his father Vincent J. McMahon's then-WWWF for most of the 1970s, bought it in 1982 and almost monopolized the industry, which previously operated as separate fiefdoms across the United States. This led to the development of the annual WrestleMania, which has since become the most successful professional wrestling event ever. WWE faced industry competition from World Championship Wrestling (WCW) in the 1990s, before purchasing the competing company in 2001. WWE also purchased the assets of the defunct Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) in 2003. McMahon has embarked on a number of WWE-related ventures; in 2014, he launched the WWE Network, a subscription video on-demand over-the-top streaming service. McMahon also owns other WWE subsidiaries related to multimedia, such as film, music, and magazines, as well as a professional wrestling school system. Outside of wrestling, McMahon joint-owned and operated the XFL, a football league, twice; both iterations folded after a single season with the second due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He also headed the short-lived World Bodybuilding Federation, and co-owns the clothing brand Tapout. McMahon was a professional wrestler and authority figure known by the ring name Mr. McMahon, using a gimmick based on his real-life persona. He was the color commentator and chief broadcaster until 1997, a two-time world champion, a Royal Rumble match winner and multi-time pay-per-view headliner. Vince is the eldest living member of the McMahon family, and is a third-generation wrestling promoter, following his grandfather Jess and father Vincent. He married Linda in 1966, is the father of Stephanie and Shane and father-in-law of Triple H.
With an HPI of 79.80, Ray Kroc is the 7th most famous American Businessperson. His biography has been translated into 39 different languages.
Raymond Albert Kroc (October 5, 1902 – January 14, 1984) was an American businessman. He purchased the fast food company McDonald's in 1961 and served as its CEO from 1967 to 1973. Kroc is credited with the global expansion of McDonald's, turning it into the most successful fast food corporation in the world. Due to the company's growth under Kroc, he has also been referred to as the "founder" of the McDonald's Corporation. After retiring from McDonald's, he owned the San Diego Padres of Major League Baseball (MLB) from 1974 until his death in 1984.
With an HPI of 77.11, Colonel Sanders is the 8th most famous American Businessperson. His biography has been translated into 43 different languages.
Colonel Harland David Sanders (September 9, 1890 – December 16, 1980) was an American businessman, best known for founding fast food chicken restaurant chain Kentucky Fried Chicken (also known as KFC) and later acting as the company's brand ambassador and symbol. His name and image are still symbols of the company. The title "colonel" is an honorific title, the highest awarded by the Commonwealth of Kentucky, the Kentucky Colonel, and is not a military rank. The Governor of Kentucky bestows the honor of a colonel's commission, by issuance of letters patent. Sanders held a number of jobs in his early life, such as steam engine stoker, insurance salesman, and filling station operator. He began selling fried chicken from his roadside restaurant in North Corbin, Kentucky, during the Great Depression. During that time, Sanders developed his "secret recipe" and his patented method of cooking chicken in a pressure fryer. Sanders recognized the potential of the restaurant franchising concept, and the first KFC franchise opened in South Salt Lake, Utah, in 1952. When his original restaurant closed, he devoted himself full-time to franchising his fried chicken throughout the country. The company's rapid expansion across the United States and overseas became overwhelming for Sanders. In 1964, then 73 years old, he sold the company to a group of investors led by John Y. Brown Jr. and Jack C. Massey for $2 million ($16.7 million today). However, he retained control of operations in Canada, and he became a salaried brand ambassador for Kentucky Fried Chicken. In his later years, he became highly critical of the food served by KFC restaurants, as he believed they had cut costs and allowed quality to deteriorate.
With an HPI of 76.94, Hugh Hefner is the 9th most famous American Businessperson. His biography has been translated into 64 different languages.
Hugh Marston Hefner (April 9, 1926 – September 27, 2017) was an American magazine publisher. He was the founder and editor-in-chief of Playboy magazine, a publication with revealing photographs and articles which provoked charges of obscenity. The first issue of Playboy was published in 1953 featuring Marilyn Monroe in a nude calendar shoot; it sold over 50,000 copies. Hefner extended the Playboy brand into a world network of Playboy Clubs. He also resided in luxury mansions where Playboy "playmates" shared his wild partying life, fueling keen media interest. He was an advocate of "sexual liberation" and "freedom of expression", and he was a political activist in the Democratic Party and for the causes of First Amendment rights, animal rescue, and the restoration of the Hollywood Sign.
With an HPI of 76.78, Tim Cook is the 10th most famous American Businessperson. His biography has been translated into 55 different languages.
Timothy Donald Cook (born November 1, 1960) is an American business executive who has been the chief executive officer of Apple Inc. since 2011. Cook previously served as the company's chief operating officer under its co-founder Steve Jobs.Cook joined Apple in March 1998 as a senior vice president for worldwide operations, and then served as the executive vice president for worldwide sales and operations. He was made the chief executive on August 24, 2011, prior to Jobs' death in October of that year. During his tenure as the chief executive, he has advocated for the political reformation of international and domestic surveillance, cybersecurity, American manufacturing, and environmental preservation. Since 2011 when he took over Apple, to 2020, Cook doubled the company's revenue and profit, and the company's market value increased from $348 billion to $1.9 trillion.In 2014, Cook became the first chief executive of a Fortune 500 company to publicly come out as gay. Cook also serves on the boards of directors of Nike, Inc. and the National Football Foundation, and is a trustee of Duke University. Outside of Apple, Cook engages in philanthropy, and in March 2015, he said he planned to donate his fortune to charity.
Pantheon has 224 people classified as businesspeople born between 1738 and 1990. Of these 224, 117 (52.23%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living businesspeople include Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Vince McMahon. The most famous deceased businesspeople include Howard Hughes, John D. Rockefeller, and David Rockefeller. As of October 2020, 44 new businesspeople have been added to Pantheon including Roger Ailes, Hetty Green, and John D. Rockefeller III.
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Which Businesspeople were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 25 most globally memorable Businesspeople since 1700.