MarketInsight | When EF Hutton talks, people listen
The Hutton brothers, Edward Francis Hutton and Franklyn Laws Hutton made their money the truly old-fashioned way: they married it.
Franklyn, the younger of the two, married Edna Woolworth, the daughter of Frank Winfield Woolworth of F.W. Woolworth fame, America’s first giant retailer. At its peak, Woolworths was the biggest retailer in the country — so prosperous that they built the world’s tallest building in downtown Manhattan. The Woolworth building remained the tallest building until it was surpassed by the Chrysler building in 1930. They had one daughter, Barbara Woolworth Hutton.
Edward, the older brother, divorced his first wife and married Marjorie Merriweather Post, the daughter of C.W. Post, heiress to the Post Cereal fortune. Post was founded in 1895 in Battle Creek, Michigan and the company was an early leader in the burgeoning cereal business. Their big competitor was cross town rival Kellogg’s. They had one daughter, Nedenia Hutton. Before they divorced in 1935, Edward Francis Hutton and Marjorie Merriweather Post built an opulent vacation home and club in Palm Beach called Mar-A-Lago.
Neither Edward nor Franklyn Hutton were particularly good husbands or fathers, but they both did an exceptional job of managing the assets of their new brides. Franklyn managed his daughter’s trusts. At the time of her $60,000 coming out party in 1930, Barbara Woolworth Hutton was one of the richest women in the world, worth $50 million.
Edward Francis Hutton began an aggressive campaign of acquisitions at Post. He bought Jell-O, Minute Rice, Log Cabin Syrup, Hellmann’s Mayonnaise, Sanka and finally Birdseye. He renamed the whole thing General Foods. In 1985, Philip Morris bought General Foods for almost $6 billion.
The press was scathing towards Barbara Woolworth Hutton following her lavish coming out party at the height of the Great Depression. They called Babs “Poor Little Rich Girl” for the rest of her tumultuous life. She was married seven times to three princes, a count, a baron, a race car driver and the actor Cary Grant. By all accounts, Cary was the only one who did not take her money. Over the course of her life, Barbara Hutton squandered one of the great fortunes of the 20th Century. She died nearly penniless in 1979.
Nedenia Hutton was a pretty girl. She modeled. She wanted to become an actress on Broadway. Her father, EF Hutton, forbade it. According to the legend he told her she was not allowed to besmirch the family name. Nedenia was headstrong and seemingly a bit spiteful; she took the stage name Dina Merrill. Charlie Merrill of Merrill Lynch was her father’s biggest competitor. She went on to appear in more than 30 feature films.
When Marjorie Merriweather Post died in 1973, she gave Mar-A-Lago to the US government in her will, hoping it would be used as a Winter White House. The property was expensive to maintain and in 1981, the government gave it back. The property fell further into disrepair. Dina and her two half-sisters eventually sold it to Donald Trump in 1985 where it ironically serves as the summer White House again.
Scott A. Grant is a local author, historian, columnist, and speaker. He is president of Standfast Asset Management in Ponte Vedra Beach. He welcomes your comments or questions at email@example.com.