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By Brad Tuttle
May 18, 2017
Detroit Red Wing owners Marian and Mike Ilitch walk the red carpet prior to the Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony on November 8, 2010 in Toronto, Canada.
Detroit Red Wing owners Marian and Mike Ilitch walk the red carpet prior to the Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony on November 8, 2010 in Toronto, Canada.
Bruce Bennett—Getty Images

The richest self-made woman in America invested her life savings in a pizza store in Michigan in 1954. Her name is Marian Ilitch, and the restaurant that she and her husband Mike opened turned into the Little Caesars pizza chain—which now generates over $3 billion in sales annually.

Today, Ilitch has a net worth of $5.1 billion, putting her at the top of the third-annual “America’s Richest Self-Made Women” list from Forbes, which was released this week.

The other wealthy women who made the cut earned their fortunes in a variety of fields, including tech, retail, entertainment, fast food, and fashion. (Women such as Walmart heir Alice Walton and Steve Jobs’ widow Laurene Powell Jobs, are actually richer, but they’re not included on the list because their wealth was inherited.)

There are now 18 self-made American women who are billionaires, up from 16 last year. The top 10 are all worth $2 billion or more, with Ilitch in the top spot. Diane Hendricks ($4.9 billion), the cofounder and chair of the wholesale building supplies distributor ABC Supply, is second on the list, followed by a tie for third place between gas station and convenience store chain founder Judy Love and entertainment mogul Oprah Winfrey—both at$2.9 billion.

Rounding out the top 10 are Gap co-founder Doris Fisher ($2.6 billion); Epic Systems founder and CEO Judy Faulkner ($2.5 billion); Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman ($2.5 billion); trucking entrepreneur Johnelle Hunt ($2.3 billion); casino co-founder Elaine Wynn ($2.1 billion); and Lynda Resnick ($2 billion), who alongside her husband Stewart owns huge farms and the Wonderful Company, the company behind brands like Fiji Water and Pom Wonderful.

Facebook COO and best-selling author Sheryl Sandberg and Spanx founder Sara Blakely are also in the billionaire club, with net worths of $1.6 billion and $1.1 billion, respectively. (Women such as Walmart heir Alice Walton and Steve Jobs’ widow, Laurene Powell Jobs, are actually richer than anyone on Forbes’ new list—but they’re not included because their wealth was inherited, not self-made.)

Among the other names on the list that many people will find familiar:

• Vera Wang ($630 million)
• Tory Burch ($600 million)
• Madonna ($580 million)
• Marissa Mayer ($540 million)
• Donna Karan ($470 million)
• Celine Dion ($400 million)
• Barbra Streisand ($390 million)
• Beyonce ($350 million)
• Judy Sheindlin, a.k.a. “Judge Judy” ($300 million)
• Taylor Swift ($280 million)

At the age of just 27, Taylor Swift is the youngest woman on Forbes’ list. The oldest is 90-year-old Alice Schwartz, who launched the biotech firm Bio-Rad Laboratories with her husband David in 1952, and is now worth an estimated $950 million.

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The purpose of this disclosure is to explain how we make money without charging you for our content.

Our mission is to help people at any stage of life make smart financial decisions through research, reporting, reviews, recommendations, and tools.

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Our content is free because our partners pay us a referral fee if you click on links or call any of the phone numbers on our site. If you choose to interact with the content on our site, we will likely receive compensation. If you don't, we will not be compensated. Ultimately the choice is yours.

Opinions are our own and our editors and staff writers are instructed to maintain editorial integrity, but compensation along with in-depth research will determine where, how, and in what order they appear on the page.

To find out more about our editorial process and how we make money, click here.

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