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How Norton Simon Parlayed $7,000 At The Height Of The Great Depression Into A $10 Billion Ketchup And Art Fortune

The man who converted $7,000 at the height of the Great Depression into a $10 billion fortune is Norton Simon, and if you’ve ever tried Hunt’s ketchup, you’ve given him a few pennies.

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Thanks to the Norton Simon Museum, Southern Californians may be familiar with the name “Norton Simon.” Located in Pasadena, the museum houses an extremely valuable and culturally significant collection of European paintings, Asian sculptures and more.

Norton Simon had a net worth of $10 billion at the time of his passing in 1993. That’s worth the same as $18 billion today after adjusting for inflation.

Jennifer Jones and Norton Simon (Douglas Miller/Keystone/Getty Images)

Early Life

On February 5, 1907, Norton Winfred Simon was born in Portland, Oregon. His dad ran a wholesale goods store. Norton’s mother passed away when he was 14 due to complications from Type 1 diabetes. Norton, his father, and his siblings moved to San Francisco when he was 16 years old.

Norton was able to save $7,000 because to the company’s success.

Norton utilized the $7,000 in 1929, in the height of the Great Depression, to buy a failing orange juice bottling business in Fullerton, California.

Consider the courage that was required. The Great Depression has decimated the global economy and Norton Simon takes his life savings, the equivalent of $110,000 modern dollars, and puts it all into a new venture. What assurance! and vision!

He gave the business a new name: Val Vita Food Products Company.

Success

Hunt’s Food and Val Vita amalgamated in 1943. With the deal Norton Simon wound up with a controlling interest in the new combined business which he renamed Hunt Food and Industries.

Simon then launched an aggressive marketing campaign that, in part because of aggressive and ground-breaking advertising campaigns, quickly made Hunt Foods a household name.

Believe it or not, it was unusual for a canned goods company to advertise in magazines in the mid-1940s. Simon made that alteration. He purchased full-page advertisements in publications like Vogue and Life that featured full-color images of goods like Hunt’s tomato sauce or ketchup. The advertisements included the brand’s new tagline, “Hunt’s for the best,” which became as well-known as the goods themselves.

Simon bought several businesses wholly or in major portions by using the proceeds from Hunts. Through his holding company, Norton Simon, Inc., he bought up undervalued companies including McCall’s Publishing, Canada Dry, Max Factor, Avis Car Rentals, and television production company Talent Associates.

By the late 1960s, his side investments through Norton Simon Inc. were worth $50 million. That is equivalent to almost $400 million in today’s money.

Hunt’s Foods and the Wesson Oil & Snowdrift Company joined in 1960 to form Hunt-Wesson Foods. Following a few additional mergers, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts purchased the company in 1985 for $6 billion. Norton Simon was no longer an equity owner when KKR sold it to ConAgra Foods in 1990.

Art Collection

In 1954, when he was constructing a house in Los Angeles, Simon started collecting art. He famously decorated the completed mansion with works by Gauguin, Pissarro and Bonnard.

Work by Manet, Gauguin, Renoir, van Gogh, Matisse, Raphael, and Ingres was added to Norton’s collection over time.

For many years he was a trustee of the LA County Museum of History, Science, and Art and a big supporter in the development of the LA County Museum of Art. He gave the LA County Museum permission to display his collection for most of his life. Norton received a call from the ailing Pasadena Museum of Modern Art in 1972, and that put an end to it. In the end, Norton Simon assumed complete control of the museum, changed its name to the Norton Simon Museum, and hung the majority of his collection on its walls.

Personal Life and Later Years

At the time of his death, Norton Simon’s personal net worth was $10 billion. Approximately $18 billion in modern currency.

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