Take a tour of the Old Mauch Chunk Historic District of Jim Thorpe and as you walk west past the Dimmick Memorial Library, your guide is more than likely to proudly explain that you are entering Millionaire's Row, and that In the 1880s, Mauch Chunk had the most millionaires per capita of any city in the United States.
Is this a fact, or an urban legend?
On their web site, the Mauch Chunk Historical Society explains: "Jim Thorpe's famous mansions and Victorian architecture support the claim that Mauch Chunk was once the home to 13 millionaires. During its golden era in the late 1800s, the town was known as the wealthiest town per capita in America." Similar statements appear on a variety of web sites and publications encouraging visitors to the town.
A survey of several of the town's historians provided little to support that claim. Historian John Gunsser suggests that it may have been a combination of the perception that the people in the big houses were millionaires-hence Millionaire's Row, and the contributions by 13 of these wealthy coal, iron and railroad investors, brokers and lawyers to the construction of the Opera House in 1881, that were listed and circulated in the dedication brochure.
Were they millionaires? Asa Packer was, and many times so. He would be a billionaire by today's standards. The others may or may not have been millionaires in their day, although they would be in today's dollars.
But did Mauch Chunk have the most millionaires per capita of any city in the United States? If it did, it was for only a brief period from about 1880 to 1900 - the period when coal was king and railroads powered America. Shortly after that, oil dethroned coal, and automobiles dethroned railroads.
If Mauch Chunk can not hold claim to the title, who can? Those claiming the honor are many-well over a dozen towns and cities claim they had the most millionaires per capita of any city in the United States.
The Williamsport-Lycoming Chamber of Commerce notes, "In the peak days of the lumber era, Williamsport had more millionaires per capita than any other city in the United States, and the surrounding forests swarmed with lumberjacks ... On Williamsport's Millionaire's Row on West Fourth Street lived the wealthiest woman in the world in the late 1800s. She was Anne Weightman Walker Penfield, the "Woman Midas," as she was called in her obituary."
Allegheny City was annexed and incorporated into the city of Pittsburgh. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "For a time in the late 1800s, Allegheny was home to more millionaires per capita than any city in the world, and many of the homes on its 'millionaire's row' remain on Ridge Avenue. Pittsburgh, three times larger, voted almost unanimously in favor, Allegheny 2-1 against."
Natchez, Miss., is on a perfect location-a center of commerce on a bluff above America's water highway, the Mississippi River, and surrounded by cotton and sugar plantations. Its early planter elite built numerous antebellum mansions and estates. Many owned plantations in Louisiana but chose to locate their homes on the higher ground in Mississippi. According to the Mississippi State Parks web site: "Prior to the Civil War, over half of the millionaires in the entire United States lived in Natchez, constructing elegant mansions unrivaled in size and elegance by any in the nation." According to Wikipedia, "Prior to the American Civil War, Natchez had the most millionaires per capita of any city in the United States."
According to the Galves ton County Historical Museum, "Being the only deep water port between New Orleans and Tampico, Mexico, Galveston supplied Texas and the western United States with essential goods that fueled development of the entire nation. Galveston functioned as the region's principal banking center due to its numerous wealthy citizens. With more millionaires per capita than any other U.S. city in the late 1800s, many of the prosperous population of about 38,000 enjoyed living in elegant homes, purchasing the finest imported goods, and dining in European-inspired restaurants."
Have you heard of Dalton, Ga? According to the Carpet Express web site, "The tufted carpet industry was founded in Dalton, Ga., in the early 1930s. During the 1960s, there were more millionaires per capita in Dalton, Ga. than anywhere else in the United States."
According to John & Sandra's Web, "Founded in 1864, Helena, Montana was a thriving mining boom town. In the late 1800s, Helena was home to more millionaires per capita than any other town in the United States, some say the world." According to Wikipedia, "By 1888, about 50 millionaires lived in Helena, more per capita than any city in the world."
According to NNY Living, "Watertown (NY) was settled during the first years of the 1800s. With a large amount of natural resources at hand, the village quickly prospered and by the mid-1800s the once isolated settlement in the backwoods of New York State was coming into its own as a manufacturing and banking hub of the Northeast. Watertown had the highest rate of millionaires per capita of any city in the United States ..."
According to the Antique Toy Collectors of America, "By the late 1800s, early 1900s, Buffalo, N.Y., was the eighth largest city in the United States. In 1900, it had more millionaires per capita than any other city in the U.S. As a major shipping, rail, lumber, steel, chemical, livestock, and grain center, thanks to its strategic location at the eastern end of Lake Erie, the western end of the Erie Canal, and "next door" to Niagara Falls, Buffalo had it all."
According to the Henderson, Ky., web site, "Henderson was ranked second only to Heidelberg, Germany in terms of per capita wealth in the mid 1800s, and shortly before World War I it was home to more millionaires than any city in the world for its size."
According to Duluth, Minnesota (Images of America), "The ideal location for shipping timber, grain, iron ore from Minnesota's iron ranges, and other bulk products brought great wealth to Duluth. It was often said Duluth had more millionaires per capita than any other city in the United States. That wealth produced the mansions in the East End and the spectacular architecture which talented Duluth and nationally known architects designed from the 1880s until 1920."
According to Wiki-pedia, "During the Coal Boom of the early part of the 20th century, Uniontown, Pa., was home to at least 13 millionaires, the most (per capita) of any city in the United States."
According to Wildflower Florist, "Conroe, Texas grew due to the oil and lumber industries, especially during the 19th century. Thanks to the oil boom, Conroe once had more millionaires per capita than any other city in the United States, although this period only lasted a short time."
And let's not forget Sikeston, Mo. According to Wikipedia, "From the early 1900s until at least around 1950, the city had more millionaires per capita than any other U.S. city of a similar population and the largest milling company in the Midwest, selling products to 23 states and seven foreign countries."
While this listing is likely to be far from complete, it appears that being the town with the most millionaires per capita of any city in the United States seems to be heralded by many.
For most of them, it is an urban legend. For one, it is true - but for which one?