Five Famous Philanthropists (Who Built Their Fortunes Unethically)

  • May 16, 2010
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Henry Ford

Business: Automobiles Foundation/Value: Ford Foundation - $11 billion

Henry Ford took automobiles from play toys of the rich to the average home and in the process restructured how Americans live and do business. His innovative use of an assembly line made cars faster, cheaper and more reliable. In turn, this created a large market of jobs in production, sales and all the other businesses catering to the driving public.

He would use some his money to try and fix the problems of the world. The Ford Foundation’s stated purpose was to promote peace, eradicate disease and better society.

henry ford

Nothing says peace like a Nazi medal.

Why He’s Unethical:

Ford’s bettering of society did not, of course, necessarily extend to his own workers. While Ford had instituted the $5 a day wage that was high for its time, other areas of work like safety and health were ignored. Workers had to work long shifts, were prohibited from speaking to one another and were given endlessly repetitive tasks that would be soulcrushing for a Chinese assembly arm robot. Production was often increased and workers that couldn’t keep up were quickly shown the door.

In 1937 his sadistic muscle Harry Bennett assaulted several men and women handing out union leaflets at a pedestrian overpass leading into one of the factories. After the Detroit News published photos that showed up worldwide, Ford’s reputation was stained and within three years he signed a contract with the UAW.

Ford was also horribly anti-Semitic. He published the Dearborn Weekly, which was filled with article condemning Jews, including the infamous and fraudulent Protocols of the Elders of Zion. For his writing he was awarded the Grand Cross of the German Eagle, a Nazi honor to foreigners, and given the medal on his 75th birthday.


John D. MacArthur

Business: Insurance Foundation/Value: The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation - $5.2 billion

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation supports the media, public affairs and the arts. Well known for its support of PBS, NPR, and it’s “Genius” grants, the foundation has a long history of supporting innovative thinkers and public television programming. The foundation began thanks to insurance businessman John. D MacArthur, who willed it 92% of the over $1 billion dollar fortune he had when he died.

john d macarthur

And in the sub-basement, we keep a number of mole people!

Why He’s Unethical:

You may think of MacArthur as the enlightened businessman preaching the Gospel of Wealth. You’d be wrong.

As a person, he was a shady character. He would often deny claims, figuring if people really wanted their money they’d try again. He scammed customers and vendors from money they were owed. Even when he got good press for hiring 650 disabled workers, it turned out it was only because his basement space had a low ceiling that precluded using regular people, but worked well for dwarves.

Only his second wife (whom he left his first wife and kids for) managed to handle John. Even after he groped female employees and attempted to wrest her ownership of stock in the company, she stuck with him and was likely the real champion for creating the Foundation. MacArthur only agreed to the Foundation on the advice of a lawyer that it would help him avoid estate taxes upon his death. He told his lawyer "I'm going to do what I do best; I'm going to make (money). You guys will have to figure out after I am dead what to do with it."

Written by Philip Moon – Copyrighted © Image Sources

Image sources:

  • - William Randolph Hearst :
  • - Andrew Carnegie :
  • - J. P. Morgan :
  • - Henry Ford :
  • - John D. MacArthur :