Carlos Slim is the richest man alive. But you won’t be surprised to learn that he barely makes the list when stacked against the inflation-adjusted fortunes of history.
$74.5 billion doesn’t mean what it used to.
Our list of the 20 richest people of all time includes entrepreneurs, warriors and robber barons. We did not include monarchs, whose wealth could be considered public. Our list is based on scholarly estimates, but obviously remains highly speculative.
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 that extreme private wealth occurred only several times in history, such as the great lords of England, the Gilded Age, and right now.
NOTE: This list looks at peak wealth. Carlos Slim, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett reached their inflation-adjusted peak wealth before the Dot Com Crash or the Recession.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Peak fortune: $209 billion
Source of wealth: Was called William 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.
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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