- According to a Business Insider analysis of The Land Report’s ranking of the top 100 private landowners in the US, over half have held the bulk of their property for at least two generations.
- Many of the 62 families that inherited their land have been massive land owners for over a century.
- Several third-, fourth-, and fifth-generation lumber and ranching families show up on The Land Report’s list.
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A relatively small number of American families own a surprisingly large amount of the nation’s land, and most of those families have enjoyed their holdings for generations.
The Land Report publishes an annual list of the 100 biggest private landowners in the United States. Business Insider analysed the list, and based on The Land Report’s list and other publicly available sources, we found that 62 of the 100 biggest landowners were second-generation-or-later heirs to at least a good portion of their land.
Based on The Land Report’s figures, the top 100 landowners in the US collectively own about 41.3 million acres, an area larger than that of the state of Georgia. The 62 multi-generation families owned 21.6 million of those acres, or about 52% of the total.
The 20 biggest landowners in America
Many of the long-time landowning families come out of the forest products and lumber industry, with much of their holdings in timberlands. The Reed family, number 4 on The Land Report’s list, owns a total of 1,729,232 acres, including “timberland in eight states spread out across the Pacific Northwest and the South,” according to the list. The Green Diamond Resource Company has been owned by the family for five generations, according to the company’s website.
Another old lumber family are The Land Report’s sixth-biggest landowner in the US, the Irving family. The Irvings are a Canadian lumber family that owns 1.2 million acres in the US, largely timberlands in Maine, and an additional 1.9 million acres in Canada, according to The Land Report. The family traces their business history to 1882, according to the J.D. Irving company website.
The 11th biggest private landowner in the US, holding 830,000 acres, are the heirs of 19th-century merchant David Pingree. The family manages their land, largely in Maine but also with some scattered holdings elsewhere, through their Seven Islands Land Company, according to The Land Report.
Other families come from a tradition of ranching and cattle raising. The heirs of the King Ranch, number 10 on The Land Report’s ranking, collectively own 911,215 acres, largely in south Texas and central Florida. The ranch was founded by family patriarch Richard King in the mid 19th century, according to the ranch’s website. The property subsequently stayed in the family through generations, with the history documented in a Texas Monthly article from 1980.
The Briscoe heirs, the 13th biggest landowners on The Land Report’s list with 640,000 acres, are descended from former Texas governor Dolph Briscoe, Jr. At one point, Briscoe was the biggest landowner in Texas, according to The Land Report, and was governor of Texas from 1973 to 1979. As with the King Ranch heirs, Briscoe and his heirs dedicated most of their land to cattle ranching.
Of course, some of the biggest land owners on The Land Report’s list are more self-made and bought their land using wealth earned from other business ventures. The two biggest landowners in the ranking, John Malone and Ted Turner, made their fortunes in the telecommunications industry and then went on to purchase giant ranches. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is the 28th biggest landowner on the list, with his fortune coming from the ecommerce giant.
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