If there are two things that are quintessentially American, it’s the Fourth of July and capitalism. These two great forces have thrice teamed up to mark the birth of three of the most prominent – and controversial – great American businessmen, in addition to some people of influence.
George Steinbrenner (July 4, 1930 – July 13, 2010)
George Steinbrenner, also known as “The Boss,” was owner of the New York Yankees from 1973 to 2010. Under his ownership, the New York Yankees won seven World Series titles, launched their own sports network, built a $1.5 billion stadium, and became one of the most valuable teams in all of sports. Steinbrenner, known as an outspoken and actively involved owner, will forever be remembered as one of the greatest sports businessmen of all-time.
Steinbrenner started his career in sports in his mid-20s. After serving in the Air Force, he worked as an assistant to Ohio State football head coach Woody Hayes in 1954, when the Buckeyes went undefeated and won the national championship. He later served as an assistant coach at Purdue and Northwestern.
Steinbrenner then went to work for the family business, the Kinsman Marine Transit Company, a shipping company, ultimately purchasing it from his family. Later, he became CEO of the American Shipbuilding Company. He used his wealth from these ventures to purchase the Yankees in 1973 for $8.8 million.
Steinbrenner immediately raised the Yankees’ standard of excellence after purchasing the team. He was known as a cunning businessman and an outspoken, controversial owner with ununwavering demand for greatness. He was suspended for two seasons and assessed fines after pleading guilty to illegal campaign contributions and obstructing of justice. Ronald Reagan pardoned Steinbrenner in 1989.
Steinbrenner built the Yankees into a $2.5 billion franchise, according to Forbes. He owned the Yankees until his death in 2010, when his sons Hank and Hal took over.
Leona Helmsley (July 4, 1920 – August 20, 2007)
Leona Helmsley, known as the “Queen of Mean,” made herself billions in the real estate market. Her larger than life personality, perfectionist qualities, and tyrannical rule over her business operations will always be crucial to her identity.
Helmsley launched a successful career in real estate and became a self-made millionaire. She went on to marry real estate tycoon Harry Helmsley in 1972. She joined one of his brokerage firms, but ultimately lost her real estate license after she was sued for forcing tenants in an apartment to buy condominiums.
Luckily, her marriage to Harry not only saved her career, but also allowed her to become one of New York’s most prominent businesswomen. Harry and Leona built a real estate empire in New York, starting with condo conversions and making their way into hotels and office buildings, even managing the Empire State Building (ESRT) . She became president of Helmsley Hotels in 1980 and her persona became even more polarizing.
Helmsley faced more than her fair share of legal troubles. In 1989 she was convicted of tax fraud, conspiracy to defraud the United Sates, falsifying personal tax returns, and mail fraud after she billed an $8 million personal remodeling expense to her business account. Her maid, a key witness, testified that Helmsley once said, “Only the little people pay taxes.” She served 18 months in prison.
After her release, Helmsley lived a much quieter life. Harry died in 1997, leaving behind a massive fortune of around $5 billion. After his death, she lived a much quieter, comfortable life and donated tens of millions to several causes. Controversial til the end, Helmsley left $12 million to her dog, Trouble, after she died.
Michael Milken (July 4, 1946 to present)
Michael Milken is an American businessman, financier, and philanthropist. Milken is best known for developing an enormous market for junk bonds, earning him the nickname “The Junk Bond King.”
An alumnus of UC Berkeley and The Wharton School, Milken worked for Drexel Harriman Ripley, which would later become Drexel Burnham. During the 1980s, he ran a high-yield bond-trading department, which yielded triple-digit returns for the firm.
Milken was a master at raising capital for high-risk companies at high interest rates, earning a reputation as the unquestioned king of high-yield issues during the 1980’s. His practices also facilitated a large number of leveraged buyouts. Soon, Milken had made over $1 billion and changed the entire securities industry, becoming one of the most prominent figures in all of finance.
In 1989, Milken was indicted for racketeering, insider trading, and securities fraud in one of the most scrutinized white-collar trials in American history. Milken pled guilty to securities and reporting fraud but not to the other charges. He was sentenced to 10 year prison, but was released after two years. He also paid a $660 million fine and is forever banned from the securities industry.
Some believe Milken got off easy, while others believe he legally capitalized on a grey area and faced wrongful prosecution. Many even credit his practices with fueling a significant amount economic growth during the 1980s and 1990s, supporting that his business practices represented the American values of entrepreneurship, free markets, and capitalism as a whole.
Milken now devotes much of his time to philanthropic causes. Milken is a prostate cancer survivor and founded the Prostate Cancer Foundation, which is the largest non-profit source of funds for prostate cancer research. Michael and his brother Lowell founded the Milken Foundation, which supports a number of causes in education and medical research. He is also involved in a number of other causes, primarily in education and medical research.
Calvin Coolidge (July 4, 1872 – January 5, 1933): The 30th President of the United States. Coolidge served as President during the “Roaring Twenties,” when the American economy and quality of life soared to new heights.
Geraldo Rivera (July 4 1943 – Present): Journalist and host of the newsmagazine show Geraldo At Large on Fox News.
Stephen Mather (July 4, 1867 – January 22, 1930): An American industrialist and conservationist. Mather made millions as President and owner of the Pacific Coast Borax Company in New York.
Thomas Nagel (July 4, 1937 - Present): A famous American philosopher. Nagel is an outspoken opponent of reductionism and is currently a Professor of Law and Philosophy at NYU.
Hiram Walker (July 4, 1816 – January 12, 1899): A famous entrepreneur, best known as a whiskey distiller. Walker began distilling and selling Hiram Walker’s Club Whiskey. A law required Walker to change the name to “Hiram Walker’s Canadian Club Whisky” because his distillery was in Ontario, Canada. The Whisky quickly became one of the best selling spirits in the world and is still available to this day.