Who is the cheapest man in history? I am known for being a pretty cheap guy, but it looks like I just throw money around foolishly when you compare me to Mr. John Elwes, a former member of the British Parliment and the man thought to be the inspiration for Ebenezer Scrooge. Mr Elwes was a deeply bizarre fellow who hated spending money with a passion.
If you have a lot of extra time, you can read his fascinating story over at the Internet Archive in a book called The Life of the Late John Elwes, Esquite. If you only have a little extra time, I’ll give you some of the more interesting highlights here.
Influences of history’s cheapest man
It is easy to see where Mr. Elwes’ gets his cheapness from, he was born into a family of ridiculously cheap people who taught him everything he knew.
- He was actually born John Meggot, but later was ordered to change his name to Elwes as a condition of his uncle’s will if he wanted his uncle’s inheritance.
- His father died when John was 4 years old and his mother inherited the equivalent of around $22,000,000 in today’s dollars. Despite this huge fortune John’s mother died of starvation not wanting to spend any extra money on food.
- John used to change into old worn out clothes to impress his uncle when visiting. Dressing in nicer clothes would have seemed like a waste of money to John’s uncle.
- When visiting his uncle, the two would share a single glass of wine and visit until it became dark out. To save money on candles they would go to bed when the sun went down.
- John uncles’ estate which was valued at $56 Million in today’s dollars but was known to live on just $24,000 per year in annual expenses in today’s dollars.
Strange Highlights of John’s cheapness
- Despite his huge fortune from inheritances John would dress in ragged old clothes so people often mistook him for a beggar and offered him coins.
- John would walk in the rain rather than pay for a coach.
- After badly cutting both legs while walking home in the dark John would only allow the doctor to treat one leg and bet the doctor that the untreated leg would heal first. John won the bet and didn’t have to pay the doctor’s bill.
- Rather than spend any money on repairs John’s mansion fell into such bad shape that it became uninhabitable. Visitors had a hard time sleeping when it rained because of all the water pouring through the roof.
- John was known to complain about birds stealing his hay to build nests.
- When a servant gave hay to a visitor’s horse John would sneak out to the stables to steal the hay back from the horse.
- To save firewood John would sit and eat his meals without a fire even in the cold of winter. He claimed that eating was enough excersize to keep him warm.
- No books were to be found in any of John’s homes. Reading was just too expensive.
- Later in life John became delusional. He was afraid of running out of money and dieing poor so he would hide small amounts of money around his properties.
- John had 2 sons out of wedlock and he refused to pay for them to go to school. John believed “putting things into people’s head is the sure way to take money out of their pockets”
Career of the history’s cheapest man
- John became a member of the House of Commons. He ran unopposed for three terms and spent just 18 pence on his campaign.
- After his third term John retired rather than spending money on a campaign to keep his seat.
- John owned many rental properties. After his mansion became uninhabitable due to not spending money on repairs John would live at whichever rental property was temporarily unoccupied.
- Despite not wanting to spend money himself, John was known to waste large amounts of money making loans to others which were never repaid.
Death of history’s cheapest man
- John died relatively young. Along with not wanting to pay a doctor’s bill, John lived in the cold rather than pay for firewood. This contributed to various illnesses and it is thought he might have lived another 20 years had he taken better care of himself.
- At the time of his death, John was living on just $11,000 per year in today’s dollars despite dieing with a huge fortune.
- John was thought of as a lousy business man but due to his frugality his fortune grew to around $178 Million in today’s dollars at the time of his death.
What lesson can we learn from John Elwes?
Nothing. There is nothing to be learned from this crazy person. Kind of an interesting story though.
Historical currency conversion done with help from University of Wyoming.