The 30 Richest People of All Time
By David S. Chang
Every year Forbes publishes the richest 500 people in the world. Bill Gates has consistently topped that list until Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, became the first person to top $100 billion in early 2018.
According to the Forbes’ Richest People in the World” 2019 list, Bezos was worth $131 billion. To put this in perspective, if he were to spend $1 million dollars a day, it would take 359 years to spend his entire fortune!
Bill Gates is number #2 at $96.5 billion and Warren Buffett, “The Oracle of Omaha” is number #3 with a net worth of $82.5 billion. The 2019 list of the world’s billionaires includes 2,153 billionaires. Their combined net wealth of $8.7 trillion is equivalent to both Japan and Germany’s GDP!
How Do They Compare To Those In The Past?
While this amount seems to be a hefty sum, relatively speaking the net worth of today’s wealthiest people pale in comparison to the wealth of history’s richest people. So, who are the richest people to have ever lived?
Below are the 30 richest people of all time at their peak wealth, adjusted for inflation and appreciation of their assets. The list, including the “Honorable Mentions”, shows rulers, monarchs, and emperors of countries that drew their wealth from the country they ruled.
Here are some interesting highlights:
- History’s richest people of all time are worth about $5 trillion dollars! This amount is more than the size of Japan’s economy.
- 14 out of the 30 are Americans
- None are women (for now at least!)
- Only 3 are currently living but do not crack the Top 10: Bill Gates, Carlos Slim Helu, and Warren Buffett
30. Sam Walton (1918-1992) – $64.5 Billion.
Walton founded Walmart in 1962. Despite his massive wealth, he was known for his humble lifestyle. The Walton family is the richest family in America, worth $149 billion. Walmart is the world’s largest retailer.
29. Marshall Field (1834-1906) – $66.1 Billion.
Field was the founder of Marshall Field and Company. The Chicago-based department stores were renowned for its exceptional level of quality and customer service.
28. Stephen Van Rensselaer III (1764-1839) – $68.5 Billion.
Rensselaer was Lieutenant Governor of New York, a soldier, and one of the largest landowners in New York, which included the island of Manhattan. He is the founder of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
27. Jason Gould (1836-1892) – $71.2 Billion.
“Jay” was a railroad and gold speculator and financier. He masterminded the transportation boom in America. He was one of the “robber barons” of 19th-century American capitalism, manipulating the stock market to his advantage.
26. Warren Buffett (1930 to Present) – $72.7 Billion.
Known as the “Oracle of Omaha,” he is the most successful value investor of the 20th century. He is the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, a multinational conglomerate holding company. He has joined Bill Gates’ philanthropy pledges to give away 99% of his wealth.
25. Carlos Slim Helu (1940 to Present) – $77.1 Billion.
From 2010 to 2013, Slim was ranked as the richest person in the world. He is known as the “Warren Buffett of Mexico.” His conglomerate, Grupo Carso, is a diverse portfolio of businesses in almost every sector of the Mexican economy. His companies account for 40% fo the listings on the Mexican Stock Exchange.
24. Friedrich Weyerhauser (1834-1914) – $80 Billion.
A German-American, Weyerhauser made his vast fortune through the timber business. He later became the largest private landowner in America at the time. His company, Weyerhauser Company is a real estate investment trust (REIT) and currently one of the world’s largest private owners of timberlands.
23. Henry Duke of Lancaster (1310-1361) – $85.1 Billion.
The 1st Duke of Lancaster was an English nobleman and was one of King Edward III’s most trusted military leaders. He was a founding member of the Order of Garter and Corpus Christi College in Cambridge.
22. A.T. Stewart (1803-1876) – $90 Billion.
Alexander Turney Steward was an Irish immigrant and created a profitable and extensive dry goods business. He founded the first and largest department store in lower Manhattan at the time.
21. Stephen Girard (1750-1831) – $105 Billion.
Girard was French-born and made his wealth through shipping and banking. He saved the U.S. government from collapse during the War of 1812. He bought out the first Bank of the United States and renamed it the Bank of Stephen Girard.
20. John of Gaunt (1340-1399) – $110 Billion.
John was the fourth son of King Edward III and was King Richard II’s regent. He owned castles and estates across England and France and as Earl of Lancaster the greatest landowner in the north of England.
19. Richard Fitzalan 10th Earl of Arundel (1306-1376) – $118.6 Billion.
The 10th Earl of Arundel was an English nobleman and military leader. He fought in the Scottish Independence and Hundred Years’ War. The Earl of Arundel is the oldest extant earldom and the oldest extant peerage in the Peerage of England.
18. John Jacob Astor (1763-1848) – $121 Billion.
A German-American businessman, he became the first multi-millionaire in America by as a merchant and investor. He used his money from trading furs from Canada to wealthy women in New York City to purchase vast amounts of real estate. He was the first to create a trust in the U.S.
17. The Medici Family (15th to 18th Century) – $129 Billion.
The family earned its wealth through commerce and banking. The family is well-known for its support of the arts and humanities during the Renaissance in Florence, making it the cultural center of Europe.
The Medicis produced four popes, supported artists such as Leonardo da Vince, Michelangelo, and Botticelli.
16. Heshen (1750-1799) – $132 Billion.
Born Shanbao and from the Manchu Niohuru clan, he was an official of the Qing dynasty and a favorite of the Qianlong Emperor. As a result, he made his fortune from extortion, corruption, and stealing public funds.
When his wealth was confiscated, his estate included: 3,000 rooms in his estates and mansions, 8,000 acres of land, 42 bank branches, and significantly more. His net worth is estimated to be 15 years worth of imperial revenue.
15. Bill Gates (1955 to Present) – $136 Billion.
While the founder of Microsoft’s current net worth is $78.9 billion, his peak net worth of $136 billion was during the dotcom era. He has committed to giving 99% of his wealth to charity.
14. William de Warenne (1036-1088) – $147.1 Billion.
Known as the first Earl of Surrey, he was a Norman baron that fought alongside William the Conqueror at The Battle of Hastings in England. He was rewarded with numerous holdings and land grants.
13. Marcus Licinius Crassus (115 BC-53 BC) – $169.8 billion.
Crassus was a Roman politician and general who along with Julius Caesar and Pompeius Magnus, comprised the First Triumvirate. He gained his wealth through real estate (purchasing burning property and seizing property from criminals), slaves, and minerals. He is also known for crushing the slave uprising of Spartacus.
It is believed that Crassus’ net worth equaled the total annual budget of the Roman treasury. Some consider him to be the richest in history, but recent research shows the Roman currency may not be worth as thought.
12. Alan Rufus, 1st Lord of Richmond (1040-1089) – $178.65 billion.
Known as “Alan the Red,” he was a relative and like William de Warenne, fought alongside William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings. Rufus was given 250,000 acres of land in England.
11. Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) – $185 Billion.
Vanderbilt made his wealth in the steamboat, shipping and later the railroad industry. He was a philanthropist Vanderbilt University is named after him.
10. Henry Ford (1863-1947) – $199 Billion.
He founded Ford Motor Company in 1903 and created the first affordable automobile for the middle class. Ford left most of his wealth to the Ford Foundation, controlled by his family.
9. Muammar Gadhafi (1942-2011) – $200 Billion.
Gadhafi overthrew the Libyan government in 1969, ruling as a dictator for over 40 years. He was ousted and killed in 2011 during the Arab Spring. He took advantage of his power to amass $70 billion in cash and real estate, with Libya’s oil fields making up the rest of his net worth.
8. Jakob Fugger (1459-1525) – $221 Billion.
Known as “The Rich”, Fugger was a German merchant, miner, and banker in Europe. He lent money to Charles V so he could become Holy Roman Emperor. In return, Fugger was able to maintain his mining monopoly of copper and silver.
7. William the Conqueror (1027-1087) – $229.5 Billion.
In 1066, William of Normandy, also known as William the Conqueror, became the first Norman King of England. He successfully invaded England in The Battle of Hastings, altering the course of history and making the country the most powerful in Europe. He built his wealth by consolidating his kingdoms.
6. Mir Osman Ali Khan (1886-1967) – $230 billion.
Known as The Nizam of Hyderabad, he ruled the country until annexed by India. During his reign, he was reputed to be the richest man in the world. His wealth came gold, jewels, and his lands. He supposedly owned more than 50 Rolls Royces and used a 185-carat diamond (worth $200 million) as a paperweight.
5. Nikolai Alexandrovich Romanov (1868-1918) – $300 Billion.
Nicolas II was the last Tsar and monarch of Russia. Bolshevik revolutionists overthrew his government in 1918, killing him and his family. He was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church, making him the richest saint in history.
4. Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) – $310 Billion.
Carnegie, a poor Scottish immigrant, made his riches in the steel industry. He sold his company to JP Morgan in 1901 for $480 million and then devoted his life to philanthropy, giving away the majority of his wealth. He founded Carnegie Hall, Carnegie Mellon University, and many other philanthropic causes.
3. John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937) – $340 Billion.
After starting his own small oil company in 1870, he soon monopolized the production and ownership of oil in the U.S. He is the richest American to have ever lived. Like Carnegie, he became a philanthropist, founding the University of Chicago, the Rockefeller Foundation, and many other institutions. He was a devoted Baptist, supporting many church-based institutions.
2. The Rothschild Family (1577-Present) – $350+ Billion.
The Jewish German family dominated banking and finance in Europe, becoming one of the most powerful and richest families in the 19th century.
Mayer Rothschild’s five sons established and expanded an international banking system in London, Paris, Vienna, Naples, and Frankfurt. They are the richest family in history, with some estimating the family combined owns $1 trillion in real estate and banking assets.
1. Mansa Musa I (1280-1337) – $400+ Billion.
Known as the “king of kings”, Munsa ruled the Malian Empire (modern-day Mali, Timbuktu, and Ghana). His wealth came from producing gold and salt, which accounts for 50% of the world’s supply. During his pilgrimage to Mecca, he brought 60,000 people and 12,000 slaves, all carrying gold. He spent so much in Egypt, it caused a national currency crisis which took years to recover.
In addition to the richest people in history, these are leaders and rulers of their countries that were well-known for their wealth.
Solomon (970 BC-931 BC) – $2+ Trillion.
Solomon, son of King David of Israel, is also known as “The Wisest Man Who Ever Lived.” It makes sense that wisdom brings wealth! The Books of Kings states Solomon collected 666 talents (25 tons) of gold each year (1 Kings 10:14), a huge amount of money for a small nation like Israel. All of his household articles were pure gold. He had so much that silver was devalued and considered to be common as stone.
Need proof of his wealth? He had 1,000 wives – 700 concubines and 300 princesses! Anyone that many wives clearly needs to be rich! Since he ruled for 40 years and received 25 tons of gold a year, just the gold alone in today’s value would be over $2 trillion dollars!
Genghis Khan (1162-1227) – Trillions!
Born as Temujin, he became the leader of the largest contiguous empire in history. It stretched from Korea and China to Europe, which was almost five million square miles of land. Under his sons, the Mongol Empire grew even more to 11 to 12 million square miles, roughly the size of Africa.
Although he was known to be ruthless to his enemies, he was very generous to his loyal subjects and friends. Unlike conquering armies before, his armies were banned from personal looting. Everything was inventoried and distributing evenly.
He didn’t hoard his wealth which was one of the secrets to his success! Also by uniting the East and West, he is credited for promoting science, arts, law, international trade, and many other advancements. He was known to be a very tolerant ruler, religiously and politically.
Augustus Caesar (63 BC-14 AD) – $4.6 trillion.
Born Gaius Octavius, he was Julies Caesar’s grand-nephew and heir as his adopted son. His reign Augustus initiated an era of relative peace known as the Pax Romana (The Roman Peace). He dramatically enlarged the Roman Empire, annexing Egypt, expanded possessions in Africa, expanded into Germany, and completed the conquest of Spain.
As the first Roman emperor, he led the transformation of Rome from republic to empire and accounted for 25% to 30% of the world’s economic output. His personal wealth was equivalent to one-fifth of his empire’s economy, personally owning all of Egypt.
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