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 80.44, Howard Hughes is the most famous American Businessperson. His biography has been translated into 62 different languages on wikipedia.
Howard Robard Hughes Jr. (December 24, 1905 – April 5, 1976) was an American business magnate, record-setting pilot, engineer, film producer, and philanthropist, known during his lifetime as one of the most influential and richest people 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 acquired 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 his final years, 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. His legacy is maintained through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Howard Hughes Corporation.
With an HPI of 80.36, Bill Gates is the 2nd most famous American Businessperson. His biography has been translated into 158 different languages.
William Henry Gates III (born October 28, 1955) is an American business magnate, author, investor, and philanthropist. He is a co-founder of Microsoft, 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 was a major entrepreneur of the microcomputer revolution of the 1970s and 1980s. Gates was born and raised in Seattle. 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 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 on 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 January 2023, Gates has an estimated net worth of US$108.3 billion, making him the sixth-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 that 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 77.60, John D. Rockefeller is the 3rd most famous American Businessperson. His biography has been translated into 70 different languages.
John Davison Rockefeller Sr. (July 8, 1839 – May 23, 1937) was an American business magnate and philanthropist. He has been widely considered the wealthiest American of all time and the richest person in modern history. Rockefeller was born into a large family in Upstate New York that moved several times before eventually settling in Cleveland. 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$24.7 billion (in 2021 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 77.27, Warren Buffett is the 4th most famous American Businessperson. His biography has been translated into 95 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 one of the most successful investors in the world and has a net worth of over $110 billion as of January 2023, making him the world's fourth-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.Buffett is a 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 2010 with Bill Gates, whereby billionaires pledge to give away at least half of their fortunes.
With an HPI of 76.68, Jeff Bezos is the 5th most famous American Businessperson. His biography has been translated into 86 different languages.
Jeffrey Preston Bezos ( BAY-zohss; né Jorgensen; born January 12, 1964) is an American entrepreneur, media proprietor, investor, and commercial astronaut. He is the founder, executive chairman, and former president and CEO of Amazon. With a net worth of US$109.3 billion as of January 2023, Bezos is the fifth-wealthiest person in the world and was the wealthiest from 2017 to 2021 according to both Bloomberg's Billionaires Index and Forbes.Born in Albuquerque and raised in Houston and Miami, Bezos graduated from Princeton University in 1986. He holds a degree in electrical engineering and computer science. He worked on Wall Street in a variety of related fields from 1986 to early 1994. Bezos founded Amazon in late 1994 on a road trip from New York City to Seattle. The company began as an online bookstore and has since expanded to a variety of other e-commerce products and services, including video and audio streaming, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence. It is the world's largest online sales company, the largest Internet company by revenue, and the largest provider of virtual assistants and cloud infrastructure services through its Amazon Web Services branch. Bezos founded the aerospace manufacturer and sub-orbital spaceflight services company Blue Origin in 2000. Blue Origin's New Shepard vehicle reached space in 2015 and afterwards successfully landed back on Earth. He also purchased the major American newspaper The Washington Post in 2013 for $250 million and manages many other investments through his venture capital firm, Bezos Expeditions. In September 2021, Bezos co-founded biotechnology company Altos Labs with Mail.ru founder Yuri Milner.The first centibillionaire on the Forbes wealth index, Bezos was named the "richest man in modern history" after his net worth increased to $150 billion in July 2018. In August 2020, according to Forbes, he had a net worth exceeding $200 billion. In 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, his wealth grew by approximately $24 billion. On July 5, 2021, Bezos stepped down as the CEO and President of Amazon and transferred to the role of executive chairman; Andy Jassy, the chief of Amazon's cloud computing division, succeeded Bezos as the CEO and President of Amazon. On July 20, 2021, he flew to space alongside his half-brother, Mark. The suborbital flight lasted over 10 minutes, reaching a peak altitude of 66.5 miles (107.0 km). In September 2022, he was ranked second on the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans with a net worth of $151 billion.
With an HPI of 74.11, Vince McMahon is the 6th most famous American Businessperson. His biography has been translated into 49 different languages.
Vincent Kennedy McMahon (; born August 24, 1945) is an American business executive, media proprietor, and professional wrestling promoter. He is the majority owner and executive chairman of WWE, the world's largest professional wrestling company, having previously served as chairman and chief executive officer (CEO) for 40 years. He is also the founder and owner of Alpha Entertainment. Born in Pinehurst, North Carolina, McMahon graduated from East Carolina University with a degree in business in 1968 and began his tenure in professional wrestling as a commentator for the then-World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) for most of the 1970s; McMahon bought the company from his father, Vincent J. McMahon, in 1982 and almost monopolized the industry, which previously operated as separate entities across the United States. This led to the development of the annual WrestleMania, which became one of the most successful professional wrestling events. 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 multimedia subsidiaries and a professional wrestling training facility. 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 has appeared on-screen for WWE since 1969, initially as a personable, play-by-play commentator. From 1997, McMahon adopted the gimmick of Mr. McMahon, playing an irascible, villainous, swaggering tyrant who obsessed over maintaining control of his company, growling the catch phrase "You'rrre firrred!!!" Under the Mr. McMahon gimmick (one that is considered by many to be WWE's greatest heel character), he competed in some professional wrestling matches and became a one time WWE Champion, a one time ECW Champion, a Royal Rumble match winner, and a multi-time pay-per-view headliner. Following claims of hush-money agreements McMahon paid over alleged affairs with former WWE employees, McMahon stepped down as CEO and chairman of WWE on June 17, 2022, pending the conclusion of an internal investigation and was replaced by his daughter, Stephanie McMahon. On July 22, 2022, McMahon announced his retirement from WWE; his return to WWE as executive chairman was confirmed in January 2023.
With an HPI of 71.43, David Rockefeller is the 7th most famous American Businessperson. His biography has been translated into 45 different languages.
David Rockefeller (June 12, 1915 – March 20, 2017) was an American investment 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 July 2004 until his death in March 2017. Rockefeller was the fifth son and 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 70.98, Tim Cook is the 8th most famous American Businessperson. His biography has been translated into 60 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; he is a trustee of Duke University, his alma mater. Outside of Apple, Cook engages in philanthropy, and in March 2015, he said he planned to donate his fortune to charity.
With an HPI of 70.87, Colonel Sanders is the 9th most famous American Businessperson. His biography has been translated into 45 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. 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. 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 70.05, Ray Kroc is the 10th most famous American Businessperson. His biography has been translated into 40 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 was 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.
Pantheon has 259 people classified as businesspeople born between 1738 and 1990. Of these 259, 140 (54.05%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living businesspeople include Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Jeff Bezos. The most famous deceased businesspeople include Howard Hughes, John D. Rockefeller, and David Rockefeller. As of April 2022, 34 new businesspeople have been added to Pantheon including Stan Kroenke, Maxwell Perkins, and John Paul Getty 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.