10 Quirky Families That Still Rule the World

Katie Carey
Katie Carey

By Jeff Wilser

You’d never confuse them for the Rockefellers. But you also wouldn’t have curling without ’em.

1. THE ROSENWACHS

Power: Hydrating Wall Street, Broadway, and the media 

Look up in New York City and you’ll no doubt see a wooden water tower topping a roof. Resembling rustic grain silos, the towers are an iconic part of the cityscape and quietly keep millions of people alive. (Normal pipes can’t pump water more than six stories, and these barrels help hydrate higher floors.) The whole industry is run by just three families, but the Rosenwachs reign supreme. They made their first barrel in 1894 and have built more than 10,000 since. The technology hasn’t changed much: Each tank lasts 30 to 35 years, at which point it will be replaced … likely by a Rosenwach.

2. THE KAYS

Power: Keeping the World Stoned

An uninhabited 240-acre slab Keats once called an “ocean-pyramid,” Ailsa Craig in Scotland is the only known source of common green and blue hone granite, the crucial ingredients for Olympic curling stones. The granites’ molecular structure sits in a Goldilocks zone: Water can’t soak in, but a hint of elasticity stops the stones from cracking when they bump on the rink. Thanks to a 200-year-old agreement, the Kay family has exclusive rights to quarry these magical rocks, making them the world’s largest—and nearly only—supplier of curling stones.

3. THE FRELINGHUYSENS

Power: New Jersey Politicking

Forget the Kennedys and Roosevelts: This is America’s real political dynasty. In 1775, Frederick Frelinghuysen joined the New Jersey Provincial Congress and later served in the Senate. Every generation of Frelinghuysens has produced a politician since, including a secretary of state (in Chester Arthur’s cabinet), a vice-presidential candidate (remember 1844’s Clay-Frelinghuysen vs. Polk-Dallas?), and four more senators. Today, Rodney Frelinghuysen—Frederick’s great-great-great-great-grandson—represents New Jersey’s 11th district in the U.S. House of Representatives.

4. THE KONGOS

Power: Building Religion

Shigemitsu Kongō was commissioned to build Japan’s first Buddhist temple in 593, even though almost nobody there practiced the religion. (Most Japanese were Shintoists.) But as Buddhism spread, Kongō’s family acted as the country’s default temple architects, building nearly every major temple for the next 1400 years. After 40 generations of keeping it in the family, the business went under in 2006. However, the Kongōs’ influence on Japan’s architecture—and its 45 million Buddhists—remains unshakable.

5. THE BROOKES

Power: Designing Wartime Fashion

John Brooke & Sons (and sons and sons … ) specialized in military uniforms, with 15 generations making wool outfits for the British army and navy, the French army, and even the Russian army. British troops kept warm in their wool while fighting everybody from Napoleon to Hitler. At the dawn of the Cold War, even Soviet military police wore John Brooke & Sons overcoats—proof the two sides could agree on at least one thing: fashion.

6. THE HOFFMANNS

Power: Making the People Cough-Free

In 1898, Fritz Hoffmann-La Roche invented an effective over-the-counter cough syrup. To make it drinkable, he flavored it with orange, the way he took his cognac. And to help it move off shelves, he partnered with makers of “saint cards.” The baseball cards of their day, the collectibles depicted a saint—and an ad for “Roche’s Syrup.” Somehow the marketing scheme worked, and the saints have been looking out for the family ever since. He used the booming sales to branch out; Bloomberg recently valued the health care juggernaut at $35 billion.

7. THE CHRISTIANSENS 

Power: Building Budding Engineers

Put aside the fact that there are 86 Legos for every human on the planet, or the fact that your grandpa’s blocks will snap into ones made in 2016. The Lego company—a family business started by Ole Kirk Christiansen in 1932—helps build the world. At MIT, a project called Lifelong Kindergarten partners with Lego to teach kids how to create robots, assemble jets, and master principles like torque. And Lego’s Architecture Studio, a monochrome kit of 1200 pieces with a 272-page book from architecture firms, unlocks secrets behind structures like Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. (Assembly required.)

8. THE MALTAS

Power: Ringing Praise for Church and High School Music Programs

Biggie vs. Tupac. Jobs vs. Gates. Hooli vs. Pied Piper. They have nothing on the Handbell Wars. In 1973, Jake Malta, a star engineer for the handbell company Schulmerich, quit to start his own business, Malmark, just 10 miles down the road. After traveling Europe to study the science of bells, he designed a new handbell that he insisted was purer than all the bells before it—perfection, really. Lawsuits followed. A legal war raged for 30 years, one case almost reaching the Supreme Court in 1992. As NPR reported, though, the titans finally reached peace. “The enemy is the 300 million people out there who don’t ring handbells,” Schulmerich’s Jonathan Goldstein said.

9. THE HALLS

Power: Dictating Schmaltz

When Joyce C. Hall was a broke teenager, he earned extra cash by selling postcards. In 1910, he moved to Kansas City with a shoebox full of wares and began selling them out of a YMCA. His brothers joined in, and the company grew as demand to send cards to troops rose over the two world wars. Today, the company pumps out 10,000 products every year and has seemingly touched every American’s birthday, wedding, and funeral. You know it as Hallmark.

10. THE MOGIS

Power: Bolstering the Wisconsin Economy

Every bottle of Kikkoman soy sauce you buy in the United States comes not from Japan, but from either Wisconsin or California. The Mogi family began making soy sauce in Japan in 1630. But in 1972, under the leadership of Yuzaburo Mogi, Kikkoman opened a factory near the abundant soy fields of Walworth, Wisconsin. The factory now churns out 29 million gallons a year, making it the single biggest soy sauce factory on the planet. (A second Kikkoman production facility opened in Folsom, California in 1998.)

Note: This article has been updated to include mention of Kikkoman's California facility.

This Gorgeous Vintage Edition of Clue Sets the Perfect Mood for a Murder Mystery

WS Game Company
WS Game Company

Everyone should have a few good board games lying around the house for official game nights with family and friends and to kill some time on the occasional rainy day. But if your collection leaves a lot to be desired, you can class-up your selection with this great deal on the Vintage Bookshelf Edition of Clue for $40.

A brief history of Clue

'Clue' Vintage Bookshelf Edition.
WS Game Company.

Originally titled Murder!, Clue was created by a musician named Anthony Pratt in Birmingham, England, in 1943, and he filed a patent for it in 1944. He sold the game to Waddington's in the UK a few years later, and they changed the name to Cluedo in 1949 (that name was a mix between the words clue and Ludo, which was a 19th-century game.) That same year, the game was licensed to Parker Brothers in the United States, where it was published as Clue. Since then, there have been numerous special editions and spinoffs of the original game, not to mention books and a television series based on it. Most notably, though, was the cult classic 1985 film Clue, which featured Eileen Brennan, Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Martin Mull, and Lesley Ann Warren.

As you probably know, every game of Clue begins with the revelation of a murder. The object of the game is to be the first person to deduce who did it, with what weapon, and where. To achieve that end, each player assumes the role of one of the suspects and moves strategically around the board collecting clues.

With its emphasis on logic and critical thinking—in addition to some old-fashioned luck—Clue is a masterpiece that has stood the test of time and evolved with each decade, with special versions of the game hitting shelves recently based on The Office, Rick and Morty, and Star Wars.

Clue Vintage Bookshelf Edition

'Clue' Vintage Library Edition.
WS Game Company

The Vintage Bookshelf Edition of Clue is the work of the WS Game Company, a licensee of Hasbro, and all the design elements are inspired by the aesthetic of the 1949 original. The game features a vintage-looking game board, cards, wood movers, die-cast weapons, six pencils, an ivory-colored die, an envelope, and a pad of “detective notes.” And, of course, everything folds up and stores inside a beautiful cloth-bound book box that you can store right on the shelf in your living room.

Clue Vintage Bookshelf Edition is a limited-release item, and right now you can get it for $40.

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8 Facts About the Stonewall Riots

Monica Schipper, Getty Images for Airbnb
Monica Schipper, Getty Images for Airbnb

A pivotal moment in civil rights took place the week of June 28, 1969. That day, police raided a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn in New York City's Greenwich Village. The move was a clear condemnation by law enforcement officials of the city's gay population. The volatile riots that followed sparked a new sense of urgency about demanding tolerance for persecuted communities.

1. The Stonewall Inn was operated by an organized crime organization.

In the 1960s, homosexuality was under fire from all directions. Because it was perceived as being amoral, individuals caught engaging in so-called "lewd behavior" were arrested and their names and home addresses were published in their local newspapers. Homosexual activity was considered illegal in most states.

As a result, being part of the LGBTQ community in New York was never without its share of harassment. Several laws were on the books that prohibited same-sex public displays of affection; a criminal statute banned people from wearing less than three “gender appropriate” articles of clothing. Commiserating at gay-friendly bars was also problematic, because officials often withheld liquor licenses from such establishments.

This kind of persecution led to members of the mafia purchasing and operating gay-friendly clubs. It was not an altruistic endeavor: The mob believed that catering to an underserved clientele by bribing city officials would be profitable, and it was. The Genovese crime family owned the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street, which became known for welcoming drag queens and giving homeless teenagers and young adults a place to gather. Often, these places got tipped off before a raid took place so they could hide any liquor. But the June 28 raid at the Stonewall Inn was different: No one was tipped off.

2. Police had to lock themselves inside the Stonewall Inn to barricade themselves from the crowd.

During the June 28 raid, police (who were alleged to have targeted Stonewall for its lack of a liquor license and the owners' possible blackmail attempts on gay attendees) confiscated alcohol and arrested 13 people in total, some for violating the statute on inappropriate gender apparel. After some patrons and local residents witnessed an officer striking a prisoner on the head, they began lashing out with anything within arm’s reach—including bottles, stones, and loose change. A number of people even pulled a parking meter from the ground and tried to use it as a battering ram.

The police, fearing for their safety, locked themselves inside the Stonewall Inn as the angry mob outside grew into the thousands. Some were attempting to set the property on fire. Reinforcements were eventually able to get the crowd under control—for one night, at least.

3. The situation got worse on the second night of the Stonewall riots.

After getting the crowd to disperse, police likely thought the worst of their problems was over. But on the second night, the Stonewall Inn reopened and another mob formed to meet the police response. Both sides were more aggressive on the second night of the Stonewall Uprising, with residents and customers forming a mob of protestors and police using violent force to try and subdue them.

“There was more anger and more fight the second night,” eyewitness and participant Danny Garvin told PBS’s American Experience. “There was no going back now, there was no going back … we had discovered a power that we weren’t even aware that we had.”

4. Protestors set their sights on The Village Voice.

Tempers flared again days later when The Village Voice published two articles using homophobic slurs to describe the scene at the Stonewall Inn. Angry about the demeaning coverage, protestors once again took to the streets, with some descending on the offices of the Voice, which were located just down the street from the Stonewall.

5. Not all of the protests were violent.

During the demonstrations—which some observers later referred to as an “uprising”—some protestors opted for a nonviolent approach in order to be heard. Eyewitnesses reported residents forming Rockettes-style kick lines that performed in front of stern-faced policemen. Others sang or participated in chants like “Liberate the bar!”

6. The Stonewall Riots led to New York’s first gay rights march.

Once the riots had subsided, protestors were filled with motivation to organize for their rights. A year after the riots, residents began marching on Christopher Street and Sixth Avenue. The date, June 28, was dubbed Christopher Street Liberation Day. Thousands of people marched the streets while thousands of other people lined up alongside them to protest the treatment of the LGBTQ community at the hands of law enforcement officials and society at large.

Some members of a New York Police Department who had confronted protestors during the Stonewall Riots one year before were now being ordered to protect those same protestors during the walk. Other marches took place in other cities, marking the country's first widespread demonstration for gay rights.

7. The Stonewall Inn is now a national monument.

Since the events of 1969, the Stonewall Inn has been considered an important and historic venue for the new era of gay rights. On June 24, 2016, President Barack Obama made that official when he designated the Stonewall Inn and the surrounding area a National Historic Landmark under the care of the National Park Service. Many credit the Stonewall Uprising with the subsequent surge in gay rights groups. One participant, Marsha P. Johnson, started Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) the following year, an organization devoted to helping homeless LGBTQ youth.

8. The Stonewall Inn is still standing.

Following the riots, the Stonewall’s patrons were still faced with police harassment and were growing uncomfortable with the mob affiliation. Months after the event, the Stonewall became a juice bar before subsequent owners tried operating it as a bagel shop, a Chinese restaurant, and a shoe store in the 1970s and 1980s. New owners renovated the building in 2007.

Today, the Stonewall is once again operating as a bar and club at 53 Christopher Street in Manhattan. Naturally, everyone is welcome.

Note: An earlier version of this article misidentified Marsha P. Johnson's organization as Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries. The correct name is Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries.