Country of origin: Northern Ireland
Year came to U.S.: 1818
Education: Western University of Pennsylvania
(now University of Pittsburgh)
Business: BNY Mellon (1870)
Headquarters: New York, NY
2018 revenue: $19.2 billion
Worldwide employment: 51,300
Ranked 163 in the 2019 Fortune 500
Mellon rejected a life on the farm in favor of law and business.
His sons, Richard and Andrew, became two of the richest Americans in history.
Thomas Alexander Mellon made a life-altering decision at age 17. He ran 10 miles from his family’s farm to stop his father from buying a neighboring farm.
Why? Mellon did not wish to spend his life behind a plow.
Instead, Mellon would go on to be ranked among the wealthiest and most prominent industrialists in the United States by the time he died on his 95th birthday.
Born to farmers in Northern Ireland, things were little different for Mellon after his family settled on a farm in the aptly named Poverty Point, Pennsylvania. Mellon’s fate appeared to be sealed. As his autobiography states, he was distracted by the “wealth and magnificence” of the mansions of Pittsburgh.
At age 14 he read Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography and was inspired by his rags-to-riches story. Mellon made a life-changing move at age 17. He quit the farm for the classroom, then for his own law firm and finally a decade-long judicial career. It was shrewd investments, however, that led to an early retirement from the judge’s chambers. He bought up coal fields and Pittsburgh real estate so he could open T. Mellon and Sons’ Bank in 1870.
Above the cast iron door of the original bank building, he erected a near life-size statue of Benjamin Franklin.
Mellon passed on his business acumen to his sons. By age 21, his son Tom had raised some $100,000 operating a nursery, lumber yard and construction supply business. His son Andrew was managing a theater at age 17. Andrew and his brother Richard went on to rank among the wealthiest in U.S. history, together amassing $96 billion in 2008 dollars.
Today, the renamed BNY Mellon is a global financial services company with $1.7 trillion in assets under management.