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Famous Misers and How They Lived

Updated November 6, 2017 12.3k views11 items

Most people have met at least one miser in their lifetime. You know the type: no matter how rich they may be, they hoard their money and spend as little of it as possible, delighting in their savings. Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol is perhaps the most famous miser (albeit a fictional one). Some other famous scrooges came from relatively modest means, like ol' Ebenezer, but the vast majority of them were insanely wealthy - and wanted to stay that way.

Some famous misers blackmailed their friends for free meals, ate rotten garbage, scammed free clinics, and even forced their house guests to use pay phones (that they installed in their mansions) - anything they could do to not spend one cent more than absolutely necessary. Read on for some of the wildest examples of miserly behavior throughout history.

  • Thomas Cooke Starved His Wife to Death to Save Money

    Who: Englishman Thomas Cooke (1726-1811) was known as "the most contemptible miser who ever lived"... and that's it. Seriously, this guy basically made being a miser into a career. His 1814 biography said his life "was chequered with as few good actions as ever fell to the share of any person who lived to so advanced an age." 

    Miser Cred: Cooke was a world-class bastard: he tricked his wife (a wealthy brewer's widow) into marrying him and then ended up inadvertently starving her to death because he was so stingy. As a widower, Cooke ate for free by visiting his friends at dinner time and reminding them that his will was a work-in-progress. When Cooke was sick or injured, he would dress himself in rags in hopes that the doctor would take pity on him. He basically didn't work a day in his life but was still worth $700,000 when he died.

  • John Elwes Ate Rotten Food and Squatted in His Own Properties

    Photo: Internet Archive Book Images / flickr / No known copyright restrictions

    Who: John Elwes (1714-1789) was a Member of Parliament in Great Britain and is widely considered to be an inspiration for the character of Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens's A Christmas Carol.

    Miser Cred: Thanks to an inheritance, Elwes was fabulously wealthy but acted like - well, Ebenezer Scrooge. He went to bed at sundown to avoid buying candles. Because he dressed in filthy rags instead of buying new clothes, people confused him for a beggar and gave him coins in the street (he must have loved that). Most disgustingly, Elwes ate food so maggot-ridden "it walked about his plate."

    Perhaps his most impressive cheapskate move was choosing to live in vacant rental properties he owned when his tenants moved out. With his elderly housekeeper in tow, Elwes would live in whichever empty property he could, moving two beds and two chairs each time, staying there until the property was rented out.

  • Daniel Dancer Knocked His Dog's Teeth Out to Avoid Being Sued

    Who: Daniel Dancer (1716-1794) was an Englishman whose "sole occupation was hoarding his wealth."

    Miser Cred: Dancer inherited his father's estate in 1736 at the age of 20 and basically just became a professional miser. The kid was good at it, too: Dancer made his sister his housekeeper, forcing her to cook partially decomposed (but totally free!) animals he found in the wild (she later died because he wouldn't pay the doctor). He never bathed or washed his clothes. He was an especially paranoid and cruel miser: to avoid the possibility of getting sued by his neighbors, he knocked his beloved pet dog's teeth out so it wouldn't eat their livestock.

  • Daniel K. Ludwig Fired an Employee for Wasting a Paper Clip

    Who: Daniel K. Ludwig (1897-1992) was a reclusive American billionaire shipping magnate.

    Miser Cred: Ludwig was so reclusive that he was known as "The Invisible Billionaire," but quite a few stories about his miserly ways emerged toward the end of his life. Most notoriously, he fired a tanker captain because he wasted a paper clip on a two-page letter. As an octogenarian, Ludwig walked to work instead of hiring a driver, wore the same plastic raincoat year after year, drove an "aged car," and flew coach.