Top 16 Richest People of All Time


Sure, we all know Bill Gates is rich. But how does his Microsoft (NASDAQ:) empire stack up against, say, Genghis Khan’s actual empire in terms of pure wealth? Historians have managed to estimate net worths dating all the way back to the biblical era – adjusted for modern-day inflation, of course – and the results are truly astounding.

The richest figures in history come from all over the globe, including ancient societies that no longer even exist. But to be sure, the impact of their financial reign can often still be felt until this day.

Read on to discover the richest people of all time, and to discover the surprising ways their acquired their fantastic fortunes. You’ll probably never guess who was the richest of them all!

Cornelius Vanderbilt

Cornelius Vanderbilt

Country: USA
Company: New York Central Railroad
Industry: Construction
Net Worth: $185 billion (adjusted for inflation)

Cornelius Vanderbilt is one of the most famous businessmen of all time, and he made his fortune through infrastructure – namely, through railroads and shipping. The man who arguably laid the literal framework for the American industrial machine was born in Staten Island, New York. His first business positions had to do with inland water trading.

His personality was often combative and cunning, and he would usually inspire fear and even hatred among his peers and rivals. However, he was also hard-working and honest, according to his biographer.

Vanderbilt famously founded Nashville’s Vanderbilt University. He was married twice; once to Sophia Johnson for 55 years, and then to Frank Crawford for eight years until his death. He was also a philanthropist, spending money on anti-poverty causes.

Henry Ford

Henry Ford

Country: USA
Company: Ford Motors
Industry: Automotive
Net Worth: $199 billion (adjusted for inflation)

Henry Ford was a famous American business magnate and philanthropist. You likely already know his name because he was the inventor of the automobile assembly line, which bore the cars that shares his name.

He did not invent the first car (a common misconception), but he took the assembly line concept for Fords and made them an industry standard, ushering in the age of the automobile. That fast production made the cars cheaper, so the average American family at the time was able to afford one.

Ford was born in Greenfield Township, Michigan, and he died in 1947 after being active in business for more than 50 years. His business savvy expanded to other industries as well. The mass production of goods made prices cheaper, and his cost-lowering had a ripple effect that changed the American economy altogether. He left his wealth to his Ford Foundation.

Jakob Fugger

Jakob Fugger

Country: Germany
Company: Fugger Trading
Industry: Merchant/Textile
Net Worth: $221 billion (adjusted for inflation)

Jakob Fugger was born in 1459 in the Holy Roman Empire, and he died in 1525, living to the relatively old age (at the time) of 66. Fuggler was a merchant in Germany, and his main source of wealth was in mining and banking. He came from a merchant family, solidifying his wealth through the centuries. He is also known as Jakob II.

Fugger’s wealth dated back to textile trading. It wasn’t until Jakob and his brother Georg took those funds to Tyrol and started mining, finding and gold in the mines of Bohemia and Germany.

Fugger was also a cleric, and he was educated in Venice at the age of 14. He resided in Venice until a few years before he died, though his business endeavers stretched across Europe.

Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie

Country: USA
Company: Carnegie Steel
Industry: Steel
Net Worth: $310 billion (adjusted for inflation)

Andrew Carnegie was one of the most famous American industrialists of all time. He was originally born in Scotland, but emigrated to America. He was not only a titan of industry; he was also heavily involved in charity.

Carnegie moved to America from Scotland with his parents in 1848. Once he had immigrated, he worked as a telegrapher, and then began investing in railroads, bridges, and cars, accumulating a small amount of wealth. He soon became a bond salesman, increasing his financial power. After he had sufficient funds, he started the Carnegie Steel Company in Pittsburgh, PA.

Carnegie’s name is on a lot of the buildings in Pittsburgh, as a reminder of his contribution to U.S. industry. He also dedicated his life to building schools, libraries, museums, and other public works. He likely gave away $350 million to charity during his lifetime.

John D. Rockefeller

John D. Rockefeller

Country: USA
Company: Standard Oil
Industry: Oil & Gas
Net Worth: $340 billion (adjusted for inflation)

John D. Rockefeller is one of the most well-known names in American economic history. He was an industrialist and philanthropist, as well as the richest American of all time (adjusted for inflation). He was born in upstate New York to a large family. His father was a con man, while his mother, by contrast, was devoutly religious.

Rockefeller first worked as a bookkeeper, working his way up. He then entered into business partnerships, founding Standard Oil Company when he was still young. He founded the company in 1870 and ran it for 27 years. He was Standard Oil’s largest shareholder.

Because of the need for gas and kerosene, Standard Oil took off during the oil boom as America expanded west. Rockefeller’s wealth skyrocketed, giving him unprecedented power in the railroad and the automotive industry. It’s hard to imagine his wealth will ever be surpassed.

Bill Gates

Bill Gates

Country: USA
Company: Microsoft
Industry: Tech
Net Worth: $144 billion

Bill Gates is the second-richest person in the world, and one of the richest of all time. He was born in 1955, and is the legendary founder of the computer empire Microsoft. He was the CEO of Microsoft for years, but he recently stepped down and instead took the position of tech adviser.

Bill Gates was always interested in constructing software and systems. He has been credited with inventing the first PC. Gates showed a special talent in software when he was just 13 years old, and he was able to get out of classes at 13 to pursue programming.

He attended Harvard before founding Microsoft. He was able to build his wealth through the “PC revolution,” and he became a philanthropist and humanitarian as well, donating billions to charitable causes.

William de Warenne

William de Warenne

Country: England
Company: de Warenne Estates
Industry: Real Estate
Net Worth: $144 billion (adjusted for inflation)

His name may not be too familiar to you, but William de Warenne was one of the richest people in all of human history. De Warenne wasn’t a conqueror or a leader; he was the Earl of Surrey, a position he created after he became a real estate magnate around the year 1040.

He infamously fought for William the Conqueror, which is likely why he was able to hold huge swaths of land spanning across 13 different countries. De Warenne fought at the Battle of Hastings, and, after he retired from the military, went with his wife to Rome. They visited monastery after monastery and decided to found one themselves, called Lewes Priory.

He ended up returning to war in several sieges. The last one, the Siege of Pevensey Castle, ended up being his final, as he was killed on the battlefield.

John Jacob Astor

John Jacob Astor

Country: USA
Company: Astor Trading
Industry: Fur Trade
Net Worth: $168 billion (adjusted for inflation)

John Jacob Astor was a business magnate and former military lieutenant in the Spanish-American War. He was born in 1864 in Rhinebeck, New York. He died in 1912 on the infamous RMS Titanic, the “unsinkable ship” which sank in the North Atlantic Ocean after smashing into a glacier.

Trading ran in Astor’s family. His father and mother were fur-traders, and the Astor family’s wealth was the deepest-held in post-colonial America. His grandparents were also famed merchants and political figures. Astor was not only a trader, he was also a real estate magnate, making fortunes in building some of America’s earliest hotels.

Among the most famous of Astor’s many hotels is the Waldorf-Astoria. But the brilliant businessman also patented several scientific and technical inventions, including a turbine engine and another invention that turned common peat moss into gasoline.

Pablo Escobar

Pablo Escobar

Country: Colombia
Company: Narcotics
Industry: Narcotics Trafficking
Net Worth: $30 billion (adjusted for inflation)

Pablo Escobar is one of the most infamous names of the 20th century – and not just because of the hit Netflix (NASDAQ:) series Narcos. He was born in Rionegro Colombia in 1949, and he died in 1993 after being executed by the Colombian National Police in his hometown just a day after he turned 44. As we all know, Escobar was a notorious drug trafficker and narco-terrorist.

Escobar’s main drug supply focused on cocaine. He built this illegal venture the way someone would build a legal venture: he started small. In 1975, he flew out planes himself to bring drugs from Colombia and Panama. As he made money from that, he invested and saved until he could buy 15 more planes.

The business expanded. His success soon placed him directly in the crosshairs of both the American and Colombian governments. People in his hometown, however, often praise how much he donated to local charities despite his illicit empire.

Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos

Country: USA
Company: Amazon (NASDAQ:)
Industry: E-commerce
Net Worth: $150 billion

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos recently overtook Bill Gates as the world’s richest man. Born in New Mexico in 1964, Bezos is a wildly successful business magnate and philanthropist. He received his education from Princeton University and he became the world’s richest man in 2017.

Amazon is an e-commerce platform that sells almost anything you can possibly want. Bezos started the company in the 1990s originally as a way to sell books, but he soon expanded the business to include other items as well. Recently, Amazon bought Whole Foods, signalling its entry into the food industry.

Bezos is also an investor, starting the fund Bezos Expeditions. This venture capital firm invests in startups looking to get off the ground. But it’s important to remember that Bezos came from humble beginnings. His mother was a high school student when she had him, and his father worked at a small local bike shop.

Stephen Girard

Stephen Girard

Country: France
Company: Gerard Ships
Industry: Merchant
Net Worth: $120 billion (adjusted for inflation)

Stephen Girard was born in 1750 in Bordeaux, a French Kingdom. He later immigrated to America, where he amassed one of the biggest American empires of his era. Girard famously founded the First Bank of the United States. He was a banker by trade, as well as a reputed trader and philanthropist.

The charter for the previous bank at that location had expired, and Girard, who had made money from being a merchant and sailing, bought out the location, including the building and the furniture in it. He called the bank “Girard’s Bank.” It later merged with the financial institution Mellon Bank, and, after that, it was bought by Citizens.

Girard was America’s richest man when he died. When he passed, he gave almost all of his money to charity, starting a boarding school for orphans of coal miners.

William Henry Vanderbilt

William Henry Vanderbilt

Country: USA
Company: Vanderbilt Railroads
Industry: Construction
Net Worth: $239 billion (adjusted for inflation)

Famous railroad magnate William Henry Vanderbilt was born in 1821 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He was the oldest son of construction tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, and inherited his father’s business even though Corlenlius was famously cruel to his son.

This strained father-son relationship changed after they took a trip to Europe. As the story goes, they managed to find some common ground on this trip. As a result, Cornelius granted his son a bigger stake in his railroad business, Vanderbilt Railroads.

William Henry Vanderbilt was known for being a notoriously cutthroat businessman. When asked if he operated trains for the public, he scoffed, replying that public interest was secondary to making his company a profit.

Jean Paul Getty

Jean Paul Getty

Country: USA
Company: Getty Oil
Industry: Oil & Gas
Net Worth: $27 billion

Jean Paul Getty was born in 1892 in Minneapolis. He was an oil magnate who made most of his vast fortune from the petroleum industry during the oil boom of early industrial America. He was the richest man in America when he died, though he was also known for being notoriously cheap.

In 1973, Getty’s grandson was kidnapped by the Italian mafia. Getty famously negotiated the price himself, trying to get the kidnappers to bargain with him. Despite this frugal streak, he collected art and antiques. His collection became a museum in Los Angeles, currently valued at roughly $661 million.

Getty started off with a small, $10,000 investment in a few Oklahoma oil fields in 1914. Early oil success grew that investment, eventually erupting into a multi-billion dollar company with deep roots in big oil today.

Sam Walton

Sam Walton

Country: USA
Company: Walmart (NYSE:)
Industry: Retail
Net Worth: $10 billion

Sam Walton was born in 1918, and created the famous retail empire known as Walmart. Walmart is the largest corporation in the world, and it is also the world’s largest private employer. Thanks to the retailer’s massive success, Walton at one point held the title of America’s richest man (though he was since be dethroned).

Walton attended the University of Missouri in 1940, and worked on farms to make ends meet for his family during the Great Depression. He was also active in the military for many years. After his service, he managed a local variety store. This likely began giving him ideas for his future Walmart empire.

He soon bought his own store, growing it into its own chain. The rest is history. Walton passed away several decades ago, but the massive Walmart fortune remains tightly controlled by his many heirs and offspring.

John Pitcairn Jr.

John Pitcairn Jr.

Country: USA
Company: Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co.
Industry: Glass
Net Worth: $50 billion (adjusted for inflation)

John Pitcairn Jr. was born in Scotland, but he became a naturalized American citizen in the early 1800s. Like so many others during this era, Pitcairn earned his fortune through oil. But he came from humble beginnings. His father was a struggling machinist and his mother was a housekeeper. They moved to New York seeking a better life for their family.

Pitcairn attended school until he was 14, but then dropped out to work on building railroads. He then got an office job for the superintendent of one of the railroad companies. Before long he was working his way up the ladder, taking control of the company, and becoming its general manager.

But his flagship company was undoubtedly the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company. The company was which was America’s first commercial producer of flat glass that was high-quality, plate-produced, and thick.

Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan

Country: Mongol Empire
Company: N/A
Industry: Military
Net Worth: $100 trillion (adjusted for inflation)

Genghis Khan was the ruler of the Mongol Empire, ruling from 1206 to 1227. Khan will always be remembered for his general brutality, in addition to his massive empire. He was, politically, considered by most historians to be a good ruler. Most famously, Khan consolidated the Silk Road, making a single cohesive political realm bound by trade money.

He greatly boosted trade between regions of Asia and Europe, linking Muslims and Christian traders and merchants to improve cross-cultural exchange. To that end, Khan was surprisingly religiously-tolerant. Though he was a Tengrist, he still often asked religious leaders from other faiths for advice.

But Khan was famously not too tolerant of his military foes. The territories he conquered were completely wiped out, including all sectors of the population. His genocide was not uncommon for that time, but it was still historically noteworthy.



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