Daniel Ludwig: The Secretive Shipping Magnate

On this day, June 24 in the year 1897, the richest American in the Forbes 400 first list was born in Michigan, United States. His name is Daniel Keith Ludwig, the man called the Invisible Billionaire by one author.

Daniel Ludwig
Daniel Ludwig (Credit: wiki commons)

Daniel’s father was engaged in the real estate business in Michigan. At 9 years old, he already showed his entrepreneurial skill when he sold popcorn to his friends and shined shoes for a small fee. His love affair with ships started when he bought a sunken boat, repaired it and had it rented for more than what he paid for it. He was 15 years old when his parents separated and he was brought to Texas to live with his uncle. He stopped going to school after 8th grade.

In Texas, he took various shipping related jobs and when he returned to Michigan, he worked as an engine mechanic that allowed him to travel to such places as the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.

At 19, Daniel established his shipping business around the Great Lakes. Through hard work and creative financing, he built the National Bulk Carriers into one of the country’s largest transportation companies. When World War II broke out, his company grew enormously transporting oil around the world. After the war, he purchased a shipbuilding plant in Japan and became the first to own a supertanker. In the succeeding decades, he diversified into other businesses such as banking and insurance, hotel and property development, cattle ranching, mining and forestry with operations in many countries in 6 continents.

In 1976, Fortune magazine reported that Daniel Ludwig and John MacArthur were the billionaires in the US. In 1982, Forbes magazine published its first list of 400 richest Americans and named Daniel Ludwig as #1. He donated a lot of money to establish the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research in Switzerland.

Daniel married twice but with no children. He stopped talking to the press since the 1950s. After his death, most of his estates were sold and the proceeds went to his foundations.

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