Weird History

'Self-Made' Historical Figures Who Were Actually Already Rich

If there's one thing people love, it's wildly wealthy people who started with nothing. The rags to riches story is timeless and encouraging. If they can do it, anyone can do it, right? Unfortunately, some self-made public figures aren't as self-made as some believe. Turns out, a lot of famously successful people were born into already successful families, and while these people aren't lying by telling us that they made their own way, they certainly leave out a few things.

It can be shocking to some to discover self-made men who were actually rich AF - especially when those people brag about it. Self-made people are what drive the American dream. But the truth is a lot of people that made it to the top did so with a little help from their friends (or their families). 

Check out this list of rich public figures who had a big financial boost along the way.

  • Howard Hughes
    Photo: Acme Newspictures / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Howard Hughes was one of the most successful entrepreneurs of the early 20th Century. In the late 1920s, he gained acclaim as a film producer with films like Scarface and Hell's Angels. In 1932, he founded the Hughes Aircraft Company, facilitating innovation in the field of aviation.

    Though much of his life was spent dealing with severe mental illness, he has maintained his reputation as a wildly successful and ambitious business tycoon. However, he wasn't the first in the family. Howard Hughes Sr. was quite the businessman himself. He founded the Hughes Tool Company, and invented the "Sharp-Hughes" rotary drill bit during the Texas Oil Boom.

    Upon his death, Howard Jr. seized control of the company and its assets.

    • Age: Dec. at 70 (1905-1976)
    • Birthplace: Humble, Texas
  • J. P. Morgan
    Photo: Metaweb (FB) / Public domain

    J.P. Morgan is one of the most recognizable figures of the Industrial Revolution. A giant of the banking industry, he amassed a fortune of over 80 million dollars, and the Morgan family continues to be influential to this day.

    However, success didn't actually start with J.P. His grandfather, Joseph III, was the first in the family to enter banking, though they already were successful in the farming industry. The son of Joseph, J.S. Morgan, took over his father's  business and made J.S. Morgan & Company one of the most successful and expansive banks in the Western world. J.S. Morgan then passed on an already wildly flourishing business to his son J.P., who later became one of the most well-known tycoons in America.

    • Age: Dec. at 75 (1837-1913)
    • Birthplace: Hartford, Connecticut
  • Donald Trump
    Photo: david_shankbone / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States, has been a public figure since the '80s. While Trump has built his brand on being a general business tycoon, he was mainly a real estate developer. His casinos, buildings, and resorts have been built around the globe. He also had a successful career in media, hosting The Apprentice on NBC for 12 years.

    Trump has consistently claimed he is a self-made man, but also admits that his father gave him "a small loan of a $1 million," and he doesn't seem to think that these things contradict each other. His father actually created the real estate company that eventually became the cornerstone of Trump's empire, and some originally estimated that he actually loaned his son closer to $14 million dollars.

    On October 2, 2018, The New York Times released a special investigation piece concerning Trump's tax schemes. During their investigation, they discovered Trump's loan from his father was $413 million in 2018's dollars. Much of the money gifted to Trump also came through tax dodges. 

    • Age: 76
    • Birthplace: New York City, New York
  • During a 2012 fundraiser, Republican presidential nominee and ex-governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney said: "I inherited nothing." A classic American bootstraps success story is appealing in a US presidential candidate, but in the case of Mitt Romney, it's not exactly true.

    While he donated a great deal of his inheritance to charity, his father was a corporate CEO and governor whose fortune was enough that Romney didn't have to worry about much growing up. He went to Stanford University with a hefty allowance, and once he got married, neither he nor his wife had a job until he found success in his own company.

    • Age: 75
    • Birthplace: Detroit, Michigan