Richer than Țiriac, more generous than Becali, the first Romanian big shot dies alone, in the cold: how the communist bullies “robbed” Jean Mihail

Jean Mihail is said to have been the richest man in Romania, and not necessarily in his era, but in relation to all times.

Moreover, he was more than that, he was also one of the greatest philanthropists our country has ever had.

Jean Mihail story drama Romanian businessman richest man romania
Jean Mihail / archive photo / Photo: Craiova Art Museum / National Archives Dolj

Jean Mihail, “conveyor belt” miller

Jean Mihail lived his adult life largely during the interwar period, when his wealth peaked.

He was born in 1875, and by the 1930s he was the richest man in Romania, a record he still holds today. In other words, if you were to compare them, both Ion Țiriac and Gigi Becali would lose this race.

Jean Mihail was the son of landowner Dinu Mihail and, as is easy to understand, inherited the fortune left behind by his father.

In the 1920s, he already owned several important estates in the counties of Galați, Dolj, Gorj, Olt, Ilfov, Mehedinți and Teleorman.

Among others, he owned a villa in Florești, Prahova county, and another in Bucharest, on Calea Victoriei. He was also the owner of a property at Zamora Castle in Bușteni.

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Fortune was to pass him by again when, in the 1930s, he inherited another huge fortune, this time from two of his aunts.

Later, he was building another impressive estate, this time in the centre of Craiova, where he was born. The building can be seen in the picture below and, nowadays, is the seat of the Art Museum in the “capital” of Oltenia.
Jean Mihail’s palace in Craiova and the portrait of the Romanian philanthropist / collage. Nowadays, this building is the seat of the Craiova Art Museum.

Helped the Romanian state overcome the economic crisis of the 1930s

So wealthy was Jean Mihail that during the great economic crisis of 1929 and 1933, he decided to help the Romanian state overcome its shortcomings. To this end, he pledged directly to the state.

In fact, no one else could have undertaken such a mission, since no one else had, like him, a fortune of over one billion lei (at the bank rate of the time), but also liquid assets of more than nine tons of gold.

At the same time, he was, as I told you before, one of the most important Romanian philanthropists.

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Throughout his life, he made countless donations to the high school where he studied, providing both tuition funds for pupils and students with difficult material situation, but eager for books.

In addition, he built and renovated a number of church buildings.

However, despite his many acts of charity, it seems that his end was not exactly worthy of the life he had lived.

On 23 February 1936, Jean Mihail died at the age of 60 at his palace in Craiova (see photo above) of viral bronchopneumonia.

His death is said to have occurred in solitude. Mihail would have ended up without any family members at his side, in a room without heating.

He was buried at the Ungureni Cemetery in Craiova, and at that time schools suspended classes for a day in his memory.

As he was never married and had no children, Jean Mihail’s estate came into the care of the state.

However, soon after the Communists came to power, everything that ever belonged to the businessman was nationalized and his assets were divided up among the important people in the Romanian Communist Party.

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