THE FOUNDING FORTUNES: A New Anatomy of the Corporate-Rich Families in America by Michael Patrick Allen

THE FOUNDING FORTUNES: A New Anatomy of the Corporate-Rich Families in America

Email this review


An aimless inquiry into the sociology and economics of affluence, lacking the courage of any substantive convictions. Allen (Sociology/Washington State Univ.) focuses on families whose riches are mainly attributable to equity stakes in major corporations. At or near the top of his list are household names like Busch, Du Pont, Ford, Gallo, Hearst, Heinz, Mellon, Rockefeller (Standard Oil), Upjohn, and Wrigley. Covered as well are a wealth of less familiar clans, including the Dorrances (Campbell Soup), Houghtons (Corning Glass), Pitcairns (PPG), Stranahans (Champion Spark Plug), and Woodruffs (Coca-Cola). Although Allen strongly suggests there is something reprehensible in the resourceful and invariably legal means moneyed families have employed to pass their fortunes on to blood relatives or worthy causes, he fails to make a solid case against ""hereditary plutocracy."" In fact, he is forced to concede many egregious loopholes have been plugged in recent years. And, as the text also makes clear, more than a few founding families (the Woolworths, for example) fail to develop into dynasties. Heirs may tinker with the voting power of the shares they hold in major corporations to ensure themselves long-term control. As of this writing, however, securities with unequal voting rights are barred from trading on the NYSE. Moreover, Allen is beyond his depth when it comes to explaining superstock ploys, which have been adopted by, among other enterprises, Dow Jones in aid of Clarence Barron's descendants. Nor does he offer a particularly damning indictment of the life styles and philanthropies of the corporate rich. A hit-or-miss census with at best modest appeal for fiscal voyeurs who lack access to Forbes magazine's annual tally of the 400 wealthiest Americans. Otherwise, a largely pointless exercise.

Pub Date: Jan. 6th, 1987
Publisher: Dutton