Warren Buffett Family History

Overview

Warren Edward Buffett was born on August 30th 1930 to Howard and Leila Buffett in Omaka, Nebraska.  He was their middle child, between an older and a younger sister.

Warren grew up middle-class in Omaha in a family which struggled through the Depression years.  In 1942, when Warren was twelve, his father was elected a Congressman and they moved to Washington DC.  But, unlike his father, Warren’s interest was in business rather than politics as he was already making some money from his boyhood ventures.

In 1949 Warren graduated with a business degree at the University of Nebraska.  He then enrolled at Columbia Business School upon learning that Benjamin Graham was teaching there.  Benjamin Graham had become widely known as the “father of value investing,” wherein he stressed fundamental analysis, buy-and-hold investing, concentrated diversification, and minimal debt.

Warren later wrote: “The basic ideas of investing are to look at stocks as business, use the market’s fluctuations to your advantage, and seek a margin of safety.  That is what Ben Graham taught us.  A hundred years from now they will still be the cornerstones of investing.”

Warren would work for Graham before starting his own company, Buffett Partnership Ltd, in Omaha in 1956.  He acquired, six years later, the textile manufacturing company Berkshire Hathaway.  Berkshire Hathaway was to be the vehicle for his subsequent investment expansion.

Thanks to his creative yet prudent investment strategy, Warren Buffett became the richest man in the world in 2008, worth some $60 billion.  Despite his wealth he has lived modestly in Omaha.  He has long stated his intention to give away most of his fortune to charity, the principal beneficiary so far being the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

At his side during most of this time was his business partner Charlie Munger.  Charlie died in 2023 a few months short of his hundredth birthday.

Each year Warren has presided over Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholder meeting in Omaha, an event which draws over 20,000 visitors from the United States and abroad.  His investment advice is given in a folksy, Midwestern style with numerous jokes.

The Buffett Name

The Buffet or Buffett surname is probably but not necessarily of French origin.  There are some 6,000 Buffets in France today.  The name came from the Old French buffet which could mean anything from “bellows” to “cupboard” to “slap in the face.”  Maybe Buffet as a surname was a nickname for an angry or violent man.

Buffetts came to both America and Canada.

Most American Buffetts are thought to have descended from a Huguenot weaver named John Buffet who immigrated to Long Island in the late 1600’s.

The other point of entry for Buffetts was Newfoundland in present-day Canada.  Here the earliest record was Margaret Bufett, a French planter at Placentia in 1714.  However, it appears that many of the later arrivals, seamen or planters, were of English origin from the west country.

Warren Buffett and Jimmy Buffett, the rock singer/songwriter who recently died, are the two best known Buffetts today.  They wondered if they were distantly related and consequently had DNA tests done.  It turned out that they weren’t.

Jimmy grew up in Mississippi.  But his grandfather James was a steamship captain from Newfoundland.  So he could have been of either French or English origin.

Buffetts on Long Island

The Huguenot immigrant John Buffet (1670-1722) and his wife Hannah had one recorded son, Nathaniel Buffet who was born in 1703.  Warren’s Buffett line, found at Dix Hills on Long Island from the early/mid 1700’s, was descended from this Nathaniel.  The line in Dix Hills went as follows:

  • Nathaniel Buffet (1703-1786) married Temperance Whitman (1712-1796)
  • Nathaniel Buffett (1742-1826) married Zerviah Platt (1748-1831)
  • Zebulon Buffett (1791-1877) married Elizabeth Chichester (1800-1831)
  • David Buffett (1824-1894) married Fanny Homan (1830-1891)

The Wood-Buffett cemetery near Huntington contains the tombstones of many of these early Buffetts  – from the 1780’s (with Nathaniel’s death in 1786) until the Buffett deaths in the early 1900’s.

Buffetts were farmers here in the 19th century, beginning with the Nathaniel who died in 1826.  His son Zebulon expanded the Buffett land holdings in the Dix Hills/Elwood area of Suffolk county.  What passed to his son David, on Zebulon’s death in 1877, appears to have been his property on Cedar Road.  David on his death in 1894 was said to have been “an able and prosperous farmer.”

It was David’s son Sidney, born in 1848 and the oldest of his four children, who abandoned the farming life and migrated west in the early 1870’s to Omaha, Nebraska.  He did once return to visit his father when his wife died in 1886.  But his future was to be out West.

Sidney’s siblings meanwhile remained in Dix Hills, his brother David living there until his death in 1942.

Buffetts in Omaha, Nebraska

Omaha’s pioneer period began in 1854 when the city was founded along the Missouri river by speculators.  The town boomed as it earned the nickname of “Gateway to the West,” particularly after the railroad arrived in 1866.

After that time, meatpacking, jobbing, and the railroad were the main bases for the city’s subsequent growth.  These industries attracted a wave of new arrivals, including a large number of immigrants, during the 1880’s.

Sidney Buffett.  When Sidney arrived in Omaha, around 1871, he first worked as a stagecoach driver.  Then, to support his growing family, he started the Buffett grocery store on South 14th Street.  There, by watching every penny, he was able to turn a profit and he soon expanded to meet the needs of the people of Omaha.

Ernest Buffett.  In 1915 Sidney’s younger son Ernest took over the management of the store, moving its location from downtown to the Dundee area in the Omaha suburbs. There he prospered.  In the Buffett tradition, he saved and reinvested his profits in the business.  And the Buffetts were also active members of the Dundee Presbyterian church.

Their store was known for its high-quality products and friendly service.  It remained in Dundee until it eventually closed in 1969.  The store was popular with Warren Buffett who would often visit as a child.  The running of the store was said to have helped shape his later business philosophy.

Howard Buffett. Ernest’s son Howard, Warren’s father, had no intention of working in the grocery store. He attended the University of Nebraska, majoring in journalism. When Warren was born in 1930, Howard was selling stocks for Union Street Bank in Omaha.

He then started a stockbroking business in Omaha with a friend.  That did not go very well.  It was during the Great Depression and the family struggled at this time.  Howard himself became an outspoken libertarian and critic of FDR’s New Deal policies:

“Convinced that Roosevelt was destroying the dollar, Howard gave gold coins to his children and bought pretty things for the house, all with a view that tangibles were better than dollars. He even stocked up on canned food and purchased a farm, intended to be the family’s refuge from the hellfire of inflation.”

These views helped elect him to Congress in 1943.  He would serve four terms in Washington DC as a Republican Congressman.  During his time there he opposed the Marshall Plan, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the draft.  And when Congress voted themselves a pay raise, he refused to accept the new pay amount, stating that he had been elected at the lower salary.  He died in 1964.

Warren Buffett’s Family Tree

  • Sidney Buffett (1848-1927) m. his second cousin Evelyn Ketcham (1850-1886) in Long Island in 1871 and moved West to Omaha, Nebraska
  • – George Buffett (1872-1891)
  • – Grace Buffett (1873-1926)
  • – Frank Buffett (1875-1949) m. Mary Moore
  • – Ernest Buffett (1877-1946)
  • Ernest Buffett m. Henrietta Duvall (1873-1921) in Omaha in 1898
  • – Clarence Buffett (1898-1937) m. Irma Norelius
  • – George Buffett (1901-1966) m. Helen Guthrie
  • – Howard Buffett (1903-1964)
  • – Fred Buffett (1906-1984) m. Katherine Norris
  • – Alice Buffett (1909-1970)
  • Howard Buffett m. Leila Stahl (1904-1996) in Omaha in 1925
  • – Doris Buffett (1928-2020), philanthropist, married four times (to Al Jorden, George Weidler, Martin Melcher, and Barry Comden)
  • – Warren Buffett (b. 1930), the Oracle of Omaha
  • – Roberta (Bertie) Buffett (b. 1933), philanthropist, m. David Elliott
  • Warren Buffett m. Susan Thompson (1932-2004) in Dundee, Omaha in 1952 (the couple separated in 1977 when Susan moved to San Francisco); rem. Astrid Menks (b. 1946) in 2006
  • – Susan (Susie) Buffett (b. 1953), teacher and philanthropist
  • – Howard Buffett (b. 1954), m. Devon Morse, businessman and writer
  • – Peter Buffett (b. 1958) m. Mary and Jennifer, musician and composer

 

 

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Written by Colin Shelley

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