The largest landowner in the U.S. is probably not someone you've heard of. He is a cable TV mogul who currently owns the $24 billion company, Liberty Media. John C. Malone has been in the cable TV industry since the early 1970s. He is also part owner of the Atlanta Braves, Formula 1 racing, Discovery Communications, and Lionsgate/Starz. He is a billionaire and owns 2.2 million acres of land in the United States. Of course the media mogul wasn't born with his billions, he made them.
John C. Malone was born on March 7, 1941 in Milford, Connecticut to parents of Irish descent. He attended Hopkins School, one of the most prestigious in the country, founded in 1660. He graduated with a National Merit Scholarship in 1959.
Malone attended Yale University where he graduated with a degree in electrical engineering and economics in 1963. He then headed off to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore to get his master's degree in industrial management in 1964.
Malone was then off to New York to work for Bell Labs. Named for the inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell, the company is credited with inventing many things including the programming language C, the laser beam, calculators, and radio transmission.
In 1967, Malone returned to Baltimore and Johns Hopkins to get a PhD in operations research. Once he completed his doctorate, he went to work for the venerable consulting firm McKinsey & Co. in New York City. He spent three years there consulting for companies including General Electric and IBM. In that time, he learned that Wall Street was not fond of cable companies.
Malone tired of the life of consulting and took a job at General Instrument in 1973. He had to take a big paycut from his days at McKinsey. At GI, Malone was in charge of a division called Jerrold, which made minicomputers for the growing cable TV industry. While at Jerrold, Malone met Bob Magness. In 1973 Magness offered Malone the CEO job at his nearly bankrupt cable company Tele-Communications Inc.
Malone and his wife packed their bags and moved to Colorado to try and save the company. GI had only 400,000 subscribers and $12 million in annual sales. That wouldn't even be that bad, except the company was also $132 million in debt to its creditors.
By 1990 Malone had turned the bankrupt TCI into the biggest cable company in the U.S. with 8.5 million subscribers. AT&T bought TCI in 1998 for $32 billion. Adjusted for inflation that deal would be worth $48.5 billion today and was a major step for AT&T. It gave the phone giant a way to offer not just local phone, but also high speed internet service to its customers.
After the sale of TCI, Malone retained control of Liberty Media, a subsidiary of TCI that was a separate publicly traded company. Under Malone, Liberty has gone from providing cable TV service to owning the networks broadcast. He has acquired the Discovery Channel, Virgin Media, QVC, Lionsgate (which owns Starz), Game Show Network, and more over the years.
In 2007, Liberty Media acquired the Atlanta Braves and Malone turned it into the separately traded Liberty-Braves Group. He personally owns 8% of the MLB team. Malone also acquired Formula One racing for Liberty in 2016 for $4.4 billion and turned that into another separately traded company, Liberty Media Formula One Group, of which he owns 2%. Liberty plans to expand Formula One's audience.
But how did this cable TV mogul become the United States' largest landowner? It's pretty simple, really. He was inspired by an idyllic summer spent on a family farm in Pennsylvania so he decided to put his money in land.
One of his first purchases was New Mexico's Bell Ranch. He bought the 290,100 acre, 453 square mile ranch in 2010. The purchase price was not disclosed, but the property had been listed for $83 million. He went on to acquire land in Colorado, Florida, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, and Wyoming, He owns a bit over one million acres of woodlands in Maine and New Hampshire. He has a home in Boothbay, Maine and keeps his sailing yachts there. In 2013, Malone bought the 800 acre Bridlewood Farms in Florida for $14 million. One of the horses kept there and owned by Malone, Tapwrit, won the Belmont Stakes in 2017.
He has earned the nickname "Cable Cowboy" for his land purchases and his horse farm.
Malone has also bought some high profile properties in Ireland including Humewood Castle in County Wicklow. The 32,668 square foot castle sits on 427 acres which he bought it for $11 million.
Malone is also a big philanthropist who, among other things, has supported the schools he attended. Malone donated $25 million to fund the Hopkins School's science center. Naturally, it was named after him. He has also donated $50 million to Yale's engineering school. In 2011, he donated $30 million to Johns Hopkins University for the construction of a 56,000 square foot research building for the engineering school.
At 76, Malone shows no signs of slowing down. In fact it's just the opposite. In July, Discovery announced it was acquiring Scripps Networks Interactive for $14.6 billion. This adds HGTV, the Food Network, and the Travel Channel to Malone's portfolio of networks.
John C. Malone has a net worth of $9 billion.