Lessons from Land Legends

To quote the legendary John D. Rockefeller: “The major fortunes in America have been made in land.” The people on this list have made their fortunes in different parts of the land industry, ranging from oil to transitional land to ranches. Let’s look into the secrets to success from America’s greatest land legends.

John D. Rockefeller

John D. Rockefeller

John D. Rockefeller might be the biggest land legend of all time. Even though some of his business practices were considered less than ethical, you still have to admit this oil tycoon’s thinking was revolutionary for the time. Rockefeller was the king of cutting costs. He bought his own tracts of white oak timber to build with, knowing the long-term value of owning timberland would be worth the short-term cost. Rockefeller was notoriously stingy, except when it came to investing in land that he knew would bring him profit for decades.

Rockefeller also believed in waste not, want not. He found ways to make a profit on the byproducts of oil, such as using the tar for paving or selling Vaseline to candle makers. He was thrifty in a time when other refiners were dumping their gasoline and other byproducts in the river. His planning for long-term value made him one of the richest men in American history.

What can we learn?

Think long term for gaining profit. Rockefeller knew buying timberland property might not be cheap in the moment but would pay for itself over time. Thinking about the big picture can lead to big profits.

John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

Most people only know of the original John D. Rockefeller, but his son is just as fascinating. While his money was made primarily through his father’s business, the younger Rockefeller had a passion for land. He donated land for multiple national parks, including Grand Teton, Acadia, and Yosemite. He used the shell company Snake River Land Company to buy up land for the Grand Teton National Park. When he reached a stalemate, he wrote a letter to Franklin D. Roosevelt saying “it will be my thought to make some other disposition of it or to sell it in the market to any satisfactory buyers.” He eventually won the land. For his dedication to land, both the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Highway and Rockefeller Memorial were named after him.

What can we learn?

The land industry is not for the meek. Rockefeller, Jr. was not afraid of opposition and fought for what he thought was right. He may not have made money in these deals, but he cemented his reputation as a land legend, which is more valuable than any paycheck. He is also a perfect example of having the kind of passion for land that it takes to make it in the industry.

Ted Turner

Ted Turner

You might know him as the founder of CNN, but did you know he also owns two million acres in ten states? The “Mouth of the South” uses much of the land to raise bison for his restaurant chain. His other ranches rake in a profit from hunting, fishing, and ecotourism.

What can we learn?

Turner uses his land to earn multiple sources of income. He also has a good sense of land use and a knack for finding a property’s highest and best use to ensure he is using certain plots of land for whatever use is most profitable. How else can you make money off your land?

J. Paul Getty

J Paul Getty

When he was just ten years old, J. Paul Getty’s father, George Getty, bought the mineral rights for 1,100 acres of land. Smart move. The land was soon producing 100,000 barrels of oil a month.

When he was twenty-one, J. Paul Getty’s father gave him ten thousand dollars to expand the Getty family’s Oklahoma oil field holdings. After careful deliberation, he bought the Nancy Taylor N. 1 Oil Well. Site. He struck oil. The 40% commission he got made him a millionaire!

What can we learn?

Mineral rights are just as valuable today. Before buying land, make sure any mineral rights you could be entitled to are included in the sale. Imagine what would have happened if George Getty had bought the land without the mineral rights?

Walt Disney

Walt Disney

The story of how was bought is crazier than Space Mountain! Disney secretly bought up 27,000 acres of land dirt cheap under shell corporations with names such as M.T. Lott. When locals found out who was buying all their land, prices shot up, in some cases to $80,000 an acre!

Even though it got expensive towards the end, the Orange County Appraisers officer estimates that the land value of all Disney World is now worth over $1.3 billion.

What can we learn?

The sky is the limit when it comes to transitional land. Figure out the highest and best use for your transitional land and profits will follow.

And One To Watch: Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezoz

According to Forbes Magazine, he’s currently the richest man on earth, with a net worth of 140.8 billion USD. So far, his money has come from his business, Amazon, but many land experts are curious about what he’ll do when it comes to the second headquarters for Amazon. He might pull a Disney and transition low-value land into some of the most expensive land real estate in America. We’ll just have to wait and see!

These land legends come from different places and periods in time, but they do have a few things in common. All these men are out-of-the-box thinkers, hard workers, and take advantage of everything land has to offer to them. We hope these stories will inspire you to become the next land legend. Interested in buying or selling land real estate? Make sure to Find A Land Consultant that is qualified to handle your transaction.

About the Author: Laura Barker is the Membership and Communications Specialist for the REALTORS® Land Institute. She graduated from Clark University in May 2017 and has been with RLI since October 2017.