What was William Randolph Hearst’s Net Worth?
William Randolph Hearst was an American newspaper publisher who had a net worth equal to $200 million at the time of his death in 1951. That’s the same as around $2.2 billion in today’s dollars (after adjusting for inflation). William was famously one of the most profligate people in US history. At one point in the 1920s it was estimated that he was spending $15 million per year on his lifestyle. That’s the same as spending around $250 million per year today.
After inheriting one of the largest fortunes in American history from his father George Hearst, William Randolph Hearst spent his life building Hearst Communications, which at one point was the largest newspaper chain and media company in the United States. George Hearst was born on a farm in Missouri in 1820 and inherited nothing but debt from his father, who ran local goods store. George parlayed this bad luck into an enormous fortune thanks at first to Nevada silver mines, then more importantly the gold mines in South Dakota which produced hundreds of millions of dollars worth of dividends. With an inflation-adjusted net worth equal to tens of billions of dollars at the time of his death, George Hearst is considered one of the richest Americans of all time.
After being expelled from Harvard, William found himself in search of a career. In 1887 he took over the San Francisco Examiner, which his father acquired in 1880 as payment for a gambling debt. William proceeded to hire some of the best reporters in the country to work at his paper, including Ambrose Bierce, Mark Twain, Jack London, and political cartoonist Homer Davenport. While running the San Francisco Examiner, Hearst acquired the New York Morning Journal, as he knew a presence in New York was needed to create a nation-spanning, multi-paper news operation. To aid his political ambitions and build his empire, Hearst eventually opened newspapers in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Boston. He also diversified his interests into book publishing and magazines including Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Town and Country, and Harper’s Bazaar. In 1924, he also opened the New York Daily Mirror, a racy tabloid that is still in print today. The Hearst news empire reached a circulation and revenue peak in 1928, but the economic collapse of the Great Depression and vast over-extension of his empire cost him control of his holdings. William became notorious for his yellow journalism focused on stories of licentious behavior and crime, and served as the inspiration for Orson Welles’ classic 1941 film “Citizen Kane.” Hearst was also involved in politics, having been twice elected to the US House of Representatives and unsuccessfully running for president, New York City mayor, and New York governor.
William Randolph Hearst married Millicent Veronica Wilson in 1903. They had five sons. He famously became involved in an affair with popular film actress, Marion Davis, at the end of his political career and lived openly with her in California in 1919 as he was beginning construction on what became the Hearst Castle. He stayed with Davis until the time of his death in 1951 but remained legally married to his wife, Millicent, until the day of his death.
Hearst left his extremely valuable estate in the hands of professional managers and trusts. He also established two charitable trusts. None of his children or grandchildren were allowed to be involved in his various businesses. The trusts were set up to expire upon the death of his youngest living grandchild. That’s expected to happen sometime in around 2035. Any heir who challenged his will would be automatically disinherited. One of William’s grandchildren is Patty Hearst, the infamous bank robber. A number of his great-grandchildren have became famous models, for example Lydia Hearst and Amanda Hearst. Lydia, one of Patty’s two children, is married to television host Chris Hardwick.
To this day Hearst is one of the largest media publishers in the world. It’s properties include:
- Car and Driver
- Country Living
- Good Housekeeping
- Food Network magazine
- HGTV magazine
- Harper’s Bazar
- House Beautiful
- Men’s Health
- The Pioneer Woman
- Town & Country
Early Life and Education
William Randolph Hearst was born on April 29, 1863 in San Francisco, California to millionaire mining engineer George Hearst and his much younger wife Phoebe. As a youth, Hearst went to St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire. He went on to attend Harvard College, although he was eventually expelled due to misbehavior, including putting on massive beer parties in Harvard Square.
San Francisco Examiner
Hearst first got into publishing in 1887 when he took over his father’s newspaper, the San Francisco Examiner. He quickly brought on board the most advanced equipment and the most high-profile writers of the era, and began publishing provocative stories about municipal and financial malfeasance. Within just a few years, the paper dominated the market in San Francisco
New York Journal
After moving to New York City, Hearst purchased the floundering New York Morning Journal with the financial help of his widowed mother in 1895. This put him in direct competition with Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World, launching an acrimonious circulation war between the two men and their papers. To stand out, Hearst emphatically embraced yellow journalism, selling papers that featured huge sensationalistic headlines over sordid stories about corruption, sex, and violence. Additionally, he kept his paper mostly loyal to the Democratic Party. Hearst attracted major controversy in the late 1890s due to his inflammatory stories about the Spanish-American War, in which he sensationalized Spanish atrocities in Cuba.
Expansion of Empire
With aims of running for public office, Hearst started to expand his publishing empire at the turn of the 20th century. He opened newspapers in such cities as Chicago, Boston, and Los Angeles, and in 1915 founded International Film Service, an animation studio designed to bolster the popularity of the comic strips he published. By the mid-20s, Hearst had a nationwide collection of 28 newspapers, including the Los Angeles Examiner, the Chicago Examiner, the Detroit Times, and the Washington Herald. Moreover, he diversified his portfolio by venturing into book and magazine publishing, taking control of periodicals such as Harper’s Bazaar and Cosmopolitan. Hearst’s publishing empire hit its revenue peak in 1928, just before the Great Depression obliterated his holdings. After a court-mandated company restructuring in 1937, Hearst was reduced to the role of an employee. His company later returned to profitability during World War II.
As a Democrat, Hearst was twice elected to the US House of Representatives, in 1902 and 1904. In the latter year, he unsuccessfully ran for president. Hearst also twice unsuccessfully ran for mayor of New York City, in 1905 and 1909, and had a failed bid for governor of New York in 1906. In terms of his political views, he proclaimed himself a progressive who spoke for the working class. Hearst opposed American involvement in World War I and denounced the formation of the League of Nations. Although he supported Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1932 presidential election, he became more and more conservative throughout the decade and eventually became Roosevelt’s enemy.
Hearst married 21-year-old chorus girl Millicent Willson in 1903. Together, they had five sons: George, William Jr., John, and twins Randolph and David. Hearst eventually got into an extramarital affair with film actress Marion Davies, with whom he lived openly in California starting around 1918; meanwhile, he still remained legally married to Willson. With Davies, Hearst had a daughter named Patricia. The pair stayed together until Hearst’s passing.
Hearst lived large and owned several major properties, including land inherited from his father along California’s Central Coast. He added to this in the 20s by purchasing various Mexican land grants, bringing his total land ownership to around 250,000 acres. On the ranch he had acquired near San Simeon, he built his famed Hearst Castle, a mansion that was never finished. There, he amassed a massive art and antiques collection.
The castle also featured a sprawling zoo with dozens of exotic animals. Hearst was forced to dismantle the zoo in 1937 at a time of financial difficulty. It took twenty years to re-home all of the animals, but some were allowed to continue living wildly on the grounds surrounding the castle. To this day wild zebras, goats, llamas and white fallow deer can be seen roaming the areas around San Simeon.
Beverly Hills “Godfather” Mansion
In 1947 William paid $120,000 for a mansion in Beverly Hills located at 1011 N. Beverly Drive. Spanning 4+ acres, the primary mansion has 29,000 square feet of living space, eight bedrooms and 15 bathrooms. Hearst lived there until his death in 1951, at which point actress Marion Davies became the owner.
JFK and Jackie Kennedy honeymooned at the house in 1953. Beyonce filmed a music video for her song “Black is King” around the property. Perhaps most famous of all, in the 1972 film “The Godfather,” the home belonged to the character Jack Woltz, the film producer who initially rebuffed the Robert Duvall’s requests to include Johnny Fontane in an upcoming movie. It was at this house where Woltz famously wakes up to find the severed head of his favorite horse, Khartoum, lying next to him in bed.
In 2016, the then-owner of the home, who had run into a mountain of financial problems, attempted to sell the mansion off in dozens of minority stakes at an overall value of $165 million. In October 2018, the owner attempted to offload it for $135 million. In 2020 the price was lowered to $120 million. In April 2021 the price was lowered to a bit under $90 million. The estate finally sold in August 2021 for “just” $47 million.
He also purchased some properties abroad during his life, notably St. Donat’s Castle in Wales, which he renovated as a gift to Marion Davies.
Death and Legacy
Hearst left his estate in San Simeon in 1947 to seek medical care. He passed away in Beverly Hills in 1951 at the age of 88. Hearst’s will established two charitable trusts.
Hearst created a lasting legacy, particularly in the world of media. Most notably, he served as the inspiration for Orson Welles’s 1941 film “Citizen Kane,” which is loosely based on his life. Despite not having seen it, Hearst was so upset about the film showing him in an unflattering light that he used his influence to limit screenings of the film in theaters. Hearst has been depicted in a myriad of other films over the years, including “RKO 281,” “The Cat’s Meow,” “Mr Jones,” and “Mank.”