Buying land and kicking out the native or poor people who inhabit it is an American tradition, like the Fourth of July. The Land Report 100, a magazine that tracks land ownership, recently put out its annual list of the country’s biggest real estate barons. Some names are familiar, others not so much (and none of them start with a D and end with an ump.) But what they do all have in common is one thing: a political system that allows them to live the oligarchic lifestyle only Roman emperors could dream of.
Here’s a look at some of the biggest land hogs around.
1. John Malone
Malone is not only the largest landowner in the U.S., with 2.2 million acres of land, he’s also perhaps the most powerful man in cable. Malone’s Charter Communications just became the second-largest cable company after taking over Time Warner Cable for a cool $55 billion. He’s been able to amass great wealth and gobble up so much land (all we need is more golf courses) by minimizing taxes over three decades of making shady deals.
2. Ted Turner
Known as the man once married to Jane Fonda and the founder of CNN, Ted Turner has more money than he knows what to do with. On other the hand, buying land seems to be his chosen method of unloading his vast fortune. The 77-year-old media mogul owns around 2 million acres of land across seven states, which (pardon the Morgan Freeman in Shawshank Redemption reference) is just shy of three Rhode Islands. But what separates Turner from many oligarchs—aside from the ’80s mustache—is his commitment to bettering the lives of the less-well-off. In 1997, Turner pledged a whopping $1 billion to the U.N. Still, it must sting that his baby, CNN, has become such a joke.
3. The Emmersons
Perhaps an unfamiliar name, Curly Emmerson and his son, Archie, own up to 1.9 million acres of land. Curly, who began life as a mostly poor man with meager resources and who worked in sawmills, eventually went on to create Sierra Pacific, a billion-dollar timber corporation. Anyone who’s driven to the Sierra has seen the logging company’s holdings: swaths of trees that stretch for miles.
But Emmerson agrees with much of what Bernie Sanders says, that billionaires have it too good and don’t do much for the common good. So Sierra Pacific Industries has shown some commitment to conservation efforts, partnering with several environmental, academic and governmental organizations to better understand and protect fish and wildlife habitat and protect threatened species. They seem to be walking that fine line of being obscenely wealthy, cutting down lots of trees and still doing what they can to stop a dying planet from having a speedier death.
4. Brad Kelley
A reclusive hermit (a popular pose for some filthy rich people), Brad Kelley owns over 1.7 million acres of land, which is about 1,600 square miles (yeah, bigger than the state of Rhode Island). One must assume he has a really large family or just really hates pesky neighbors. Hailing from Kentucky, Kelley is not your garden-variety billionaire: he makes his own bourbon, drives a Ford pickup, and flies in a private plane, according to a WSJ profile.
So how did this seemingly uninteresting and humble farmboy become so freaking rich? Well, by hawking discount cigarettes to low-income people. I mean, somebody’s got to get hooked so it might as well be them… and at a reduced rate. Kelley rescued the struggling travel guide Lonely Planet when he purchased it from the BBC for $80 million in 2013. You know, couch cushion change.
5. The Reeds
Listed as the 149th richest family in the country, the Reed family is the fifth biggest landowner in the U.S. They own 1.3 million acres of land, and currently run and operate Green Diamond Resource Company, a fifth-generation, family-owned forest products company. Green Diamond Resource Company, along with Humboldt Redwood Company, are the two largest timberland owners.
Truthout points out that Green Diamond owns “425,000 acres of predominately redwood forest, and has a stated plan of clear-cutting all of their holdigs in a 45-year rotation.” If this plan comes to fruition, Truthout says it would be “devastating to both the biosphere and the economy here in Northern California, undermining future generation’s ability to have a sustainable working forest.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Green Diamond disagrees. According to their website, they “own and manage working forest land in California, Oregon, and Washington in an environmentally responsible manner.” Gee, that almost sounds like clean coal.
6. The Irvings
The Irvings are another one of America’s wealthiest families, amassing 1.2 million acres of land. Since their dynasty’s founding in 1881, their fortune is now estimated to be worth $4 billion. This oligarchic wealth comes via investments that range from tissue manufacturing to oil and gas. Yes, people getting obnoxiously wealthy off oil is just ever-so-original and humanitarian.
The Irvings, who refine 320,000 barrels of oil a day, supply the U.S. with a fifth of its oil imports from their refineries in Canada. But unlike certain billionaires, whose entire raison d’etre is about flaunting his inherited (and swindled on his own) wealth, the Irving Family eschew flash and material possessions. It’s got to be a Canadian thing.
7. The Singletons
Not exactly a household name, Henry Singleton amassed 1.1 million acres of land before his death in 1999. In a span of 14 years, he purchased 28 ranches. Upon his death in 1999, his five children maintain his many ranches. Singleton may have been a political conservative who served as a co-trustee to the blind trust of Ronald Reagan, but unlike most of the oligarchs on this list, he had something else going for him. He was also a brilliant mathematician and scientist who’s famed for creating Teledyne, a company that revolutionized semiconductor device fabrication.
Singleton’s company, however, eventually morphed into another bloated contractor that cares more about its bottom line than ethics. For example, Teledyne settled a $2.2-million fraud settlement against a group of whistle-blowers in 1995.
8. The Kings/Klebergs
Famous for covering more land than the state of Rhode Island, Texas’ legendary King Ranch has placed the King family at No. 8 on the Land Report. Stretching over six Texas counties, you can’t go anywhere in Texas without stepping on land owned by the Kings. Captain Richard King founded the Corpus Christi-area ranch in 1853, on a long stretch of land along Santa Gertrudis Creek. The massive ranch is now a huge corporation run and operated by the Kleberg family.
Once famous for being the ranch where the cattle drives began, the late King’s profitable ranch seems to now serve as a place for the sugar industry to send Florida’s GOP on hunting trips. The Tampa Bay Times pointed out that the King Ranch is a major player in Florida’s sugar industry, which bought a 30,000-acre lease at the King ranch and built a hunting lodge. Florida politicians say that the hunting trips are fundraisers for the Republican Party in Florida, but no actual Republican Party official attended them and King Ranch doesn’t appear in fundraiser documents. So in essence, oligarchs are helping even bigger oligarchs by allowing them to buy the infinite amount of sleazy politicians in Florida, all to benefit themselves and the industry with whom they are in bed.
9. Stan Kroenke
If you’re a fan of the NFL Rams (my sympathies), this name is about as odious to you as the current coach of the professional football team. If you thought you were pissed at Kroenke for his much-maligned act of moving the St. Louis Rams back to Los Angeles, here’s something to piss you off even more: Kroenke now owns more than 865,000 acres of land in the U.S.—an area four and a half times the size of New York. Kroenke, who is worth more than $7 billion, also owns farms in Arizona, Montana, Wyoming, and British Columbia.
And just in case you didn’t think he could be any greedier, Stan Kroenke completed a deal to buy a 520,000-acre ranch in Texas, leaving the city of St. Louis on the hook to pay the $36 million remaining on a loan it took out to finance a new stadium for Kroenke. Kroenke is married to Ann Walton, the daughter of Walmart co-founder James Walton. She likes gobbling up land, too. However, she prefers that the wildlife shop in her stores.
10. The Pingrees
Completing the list of the 10 biggest landowners in the United States is the Pingree family. David Pingree (nicknamed the Merchant Prince of Salem), left his heirs an impressive 830,000 acres of land. Most people just inherit their parent’s debt. Not these guys.
Here’s how they amassed their land via BaretNewswire:
Maine was just being released from Massachusetts at the time; land was being divided into six-mile square townships and sold at auction to the highest bidder. David Pingree knew that the dense, heavily forested land would be needed in order to expand business and industry in the U.S.; therefore, seeing the huge advantages, he began accumulating the land and establishing a dynasty. Seven generations later, the Pingree heirs now own approximately 830,000 acres of Maine. The Pingree family always maintained a conservative approach when it came to forest management, which eventually did not jive with the corporations’ objective to cut the timberland in order for them to grow more successful. Utilizing the wiles that David Pingree certainly owned in spades when it came to business, the Pingree heirs proved that the dynasty would go on by forming Seven Islands Land Company in 1964.
So while the rest of us peons struggle to afford a small box that sits near many other small boxes, these oligarchs are buying up every corner of the country in our 21st-century gilded era.
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