The 20 Richest People Of All Time

Stephen Girard

Photo: wikipedia

Who were the wealthiest people EVER?

Our list of the 20 richest, based on scholarly estimates and adjusted for inflation, includes entrepreneurs, warriors, and robber barons. We did not include monarchs, whose vast wealth is considered public.

Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Carlos Slim are the only living men who crack the list — and that’s only counting their net worth at bubble peaks in 1999 and 2007.

You’ll notice much of the list come from England and America. Partly this happens because that’s where estimates were available. But it’s also true extreme private wealth occurred only several times in history, such as: The great lords of England, the Gilded Age, and today’s credit bubble.

#20 Carlos Slim

Peak fortune: $61.8 billion

Source of wealth: Many. He is most famous, however, for having big holdings in major telecom companies, especially America Movil, one of the largest corporations in Latin America.

Estimate from 2008 Forbes list of billionaires, adjusted for inflation.

#19 Warren Buffett

Peak fortune: $63.9 billion

Source of wealth: Investments. The Oracle of Omaha joined Berkshire Hathaway as chairman in 1970 and hasn't looked back. He has pledged to give away 99 per cent of his money.

Estimate from 2008 Forbes list of billionaires, adjusted for inflation.

#18 Sam Walton

Peak fortune: $64.5 billion

Source of wealth: Founded Walmart in 1962 and lived a famously humble live. As Walmart keeps growing, Walton's four children have individual fortunes around $20 billion each.

Estimate from economist Peter Bernstein via Forbes, adjusted for inflation.

#17 Marshall Field

Peak fortune: $66.1 billion

Source of wealth: He started the retail store chain Marshall Field and Co. in Chicago during the Civil War.

Estimate from economist Peter Bernstein via Forbes, adjusted for inflation.

#16 Stephen Van Rensselaer

Peak fortune: $68.5

Source of wealth: Major of the US Militia and member of the New York State Assembly, Rensselaer was also heir to one of the most well-endowed estates in the US. He founded the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a portion of his wealth.

Estimate comes from NYT, adjusted for inflation.

#15 Jay Gould

Peak fortune: $71.2

Source of wealth: Railroad baron and gold speculator, Jay Gould masterminded the 19th century transportation boom in America. He and financier James Fisk also bought up a dominating share of the gold market at the time - enough to directly affect market movements during Gould's lifetime.

Estimate comes from NYT, adjusted for inflation.

#14 Henry Duke of Lancaster

Peak fortune: $77.5 billion

Source of wealth: English diplomat, noble, soldier, and founding member of the Order of the Garter.. He is remembered today for his peace talks with France and for being a patron of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

Estimate from historian William Rubenstein via The Times, converted to dollars at average rate since '07 (1:1.7) and adjusted for inflation.

#13 Frederick Weyerhaeuser

Peak fortune: $79.4 billion

Source of wealth: He founded Weyerhaeuser Company, one of the biggest timber company in the United States, after he arrived to America from Germany in the 19th century.

Estimate from economist Peter Bernstein via Forbes, adjusted for inflation.

#12 A.T. Stewart

Peak fortune: $88.9 billion

Source of wealth: An American entrepreneur, he founded the first department store in lower Manhattan and subsequently expanded his retail business.

Estimate from economist Peter Bernstein via Forbes, adjusted for inflation.

#11 John of Gaunt

Peak fortune: $101 billion

Source of wealth: Richard II's regent during much of the latter's rule and the father of Henry Bolingbroke (who would eventually come back from exile to depose Richard and take the English throne into his hands). One of Shakespeare's meekest characters.

Estimate from historian William Rubenstein via The Times, converted to dollars at average rate since '07 (1:1.7) and adjusted for inflation.

#10 Stephen Girard

Peak fortune: $105 billion

Source of wealth: Successful in the shipping trade, he was a French-born American merchant that went into the banking business later in his life, owning a bank that was called 'Girard's Bank'.

Estimate from economist Peter Bernstein via Forbes, adjusted for inflation.

#9 Richard Fitzalan 10th Earl of Arundel

Peak fortune: $108 billion

Source of wealth: The Earl of Arundel and quite the military leader. He fought in the Scottish Independence wars and in the Hundred Years' War. Subsequent Earls of Arundel -- his sons -- would make this list, but we're only counting that money once.

Estimate from historian William Rubenstein via The Times, converted to dollars at average rate since '07 (1:1.7) and adjusted for inflation.

#8 John Jacob Astor

Peak fortune: $121 billion

Source of wealth: A successful fur trader, he established a near monopoly within the U.S. by around 1800. He subsequently switched trades and went on to investing in real estate, focusing on New York City.

Estimate from economist Peter Bernstein via Forbes, adjusted for inflation.

#7 William de Warenne

Peak fortune: $134 billion

Source of wealth: Originally from Normandy, William I de Warenne participated in the battle of Hastings and was rewarded with properties in Sussex, Northfolk and Yorkshire. He became the first Earl of Surrey.

Estimate from historian William Rubenstein via The Times, converted to dollars at average rate since '07 (1:1.7) and adjusted for inflation.

#6 Bill Gates

Peak fortune: $136 billion

Source of wealth: Founded Microsoft with Paul Allen in 1975. He held onto shares as Microsoft dominated the age of computers, peaking in personal wealth at the top of the Dot Com Bubble.

Estimate from wide-spread reports of a $101 billion net worth for a period in 1999, adjusted for inflation.

#5 Alan Rufus

Fortune: $149 billion

Source of wealth: A Norman who joined William The Conqueror in the invasion of Britain in the 11th century, Alan 'The Red' had 250,000 acres of land from Yorkshire to London. He also owned Richmond Castle in North Yorkshire, which, for the time, was considered very comfortable.

Estimate from historian William Rubenstein via The Times, converted to dollars at average rate since '07 (1:1.7) and adjusted for inflation.

#4 Cornelius Vanderbilt

Fortune: $185 billion

Source of wealth: In 1862, he began to buy railroad lines. Although already 70 years old, his wealth mostly comes from this business of the 19th century. Prior to that, he was known as a cold-blooded steam-boat entrepreneur.

Estimate comes from economist Peter Bernstein via Forbes, adjusted for inflation.

#3 William The Conqueror

Peak fortune: $209 billion

Source of wealth: Was called 0William the Bastard until he led the last successful foreign invasion of England in 1066. Although he became a monarch, we're counting the spoils of war before he took the throne, based on what he gave out to his sons Odo and Robert.

Estimate from historian William Rubenstein via The Times, converted to dollars at average rate since '07 (1:1.7) and adjusted for inflation.

#2 Andrew Carnegie

Fortune: $309 billion

Source of wealth: Carnegie invested in the steel business when the market was booming, eventually ending up at the head of the U.S. Steel empire.

Estimate comes from economist Peter Bernstein via Forbes, adjusted for inflation.

#1 John D. Rockefeller

Fortune: $336 billion

Source of wealth: He founded Standard Oil in 1870, at the age of 31, and bought up most of the oil refineries in the United States, eventually controlling about 90% of the American oil business.

Estimate comes from economist Peter Bernstein via Forbes, adjusted for inflation.

Bonus: Some people who didn't make the list

Marcus Licinius Crassus: Often named as the richest man ever, a more accurate conversion of sesterce would put his modern figure between $200 million and $20 billion. Great discussion here.

The Rothschilds: Scholars put the Rothschild fortune during the 19th century at £400,000,000 in 1961 money. Converted to dollars and adjusted for inflation, they don't make the list. (Portrait Of A Dynasty, page 57)

Genghis Khan: Owned most of Asia, but we couldn't find an estimate.

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