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John D. Rockefelleris often considered the wealthiest person in modern history.
Thelist of the wealthiest historical figuresgathers published estimates as to the (inflation-adjusted) net-worth and fortunes of the wealthiesthistorical figuresin comparison. Due to problems arising from different definitions of wealth, ways of measuring it, various economic models throughout history, as well as multiple other reasonsthis article discusses the wealthiest people in the following separate historical periods:AntiquityMiddle Agesandmodern period. Accordinglybecause of the previously mentioned difficultiesit is not possible to determine the single richest person in all of history.
For themodern period, wealth can be measured more or less objectively viainflation adjustment, e.g. comparing thenominal GDP of the United Statesof the respective periods, and then converting it into contemporary United States dollars. For the medieval and ancient history, comparison of wealth becomes more problematic, on one hand due to the inaccuracy or unreliability of records, on the other due to the difficulty of comparing a pre-industrial economy to a modern one, and especially in the presence ofabsolute monarchy, where an entire kingdom or empire is considered the rulers personal property. The latter factor is also an issue in the early modern to modern period, e.g. Davidson (2015) listsJoseph StalinamongThe 10 Richest People of All Timefor his complete control of a nation with 9.6% of global GDP.3
Excludingmonarchsandautocrats, the wealthiest private individual in thehistory of capitalismis variously identified asJakob Fugger(died 1525), of the early modernFuggerfamily of merchants and bankers,4and early 20th-century American entrepreneursAndrew Carnegie(died 1919)5andJohn D. Rockefeller(died 1937). Frequently, one of these few people is considered to be the richest person of all time, depending on source.
While theRothschild familyrose to the status of thewealthiest familyof bankers in the 19th century, their wealth was distributed among a number of family members, preventing them from appearing among the wealthiest individuals. The richest among the Rothschilds was the head of its English branchNathan Mayer Rothschildthe richest person of his time.6Bernstein and Swan inAll the Money in the World(2008) mention the top threerichest Americans everalltycoonsof theGilded Agerespectively: John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie andCornelius VanderbiltHenry Fordwas ranked only 12th.7
According to Close (2016), thewealthiest womanin the history of capitalism, excluding monarchs, wasLOralheiressLiliane Bettencourt, whose net worth was at $40.7 billion in 2015.8Including monarchs, he mentionsEmpress Wufor Antiquity,Isabella of Castilefor Middle Ages, andCatherine the Greatfor modern history.9
Listed individuals are thought to have had a net worth of at least the equivalent of 100 billionUnited States dollars. Therefore, it excludes figures such asAndrew W. MellonRichard B. MellonStephen Van RensselaerAlexander Turney StewartHeshenJ. P. Morgan, and others.
German merchant, mining entrepreneur and banker. He expanded Fugger familys assets by spreading their operations across Europe. At one point, Fugger & family had an almost monopolistic hold on the European copper market.
At his death, Jakob Fugger bequeathed to his nephewAnton Fuggercompany assets totaling 2,032,652guilders.
On September 29, 1916, Rockefeller became the first person ever to reach a nominal personal fortune of US$1 billion (equivalent to US$16 billion in 2018).
Rockefeller amassed his fortune from theStandard Oilcompany, of which he was a founder, chairman and major shareholder. By the time of his death in 1937, estimates place his net worth in the range of US$300 billion to US$400 billion in adjusted dollars for the late 2000s (decade). When considering the real value of his wealth, Rockefeller is widely held to have been the wealthiest American, as well as the richest person in modern history.
Carnegie founded theCarnegie Steel Company, which was the most extensive integrated iron and steel operations in the United States; in 1901, Carnegie sold his company for US$480 million toJ.P. Morgan, who then merged his company intoU.S. Steel.
Capitalized at US$1.4 billion at the time, U.S. Steel was the first billion dollar company in the world. In his final years, Carnegies net worth was US$475 million, but by the time of his death in 1919 he had donated most of his wealth to charities and other philanthropic endeavors and had only US$30 million left to his personal fortune. Carnegies hundreds of millions accounted for about 0.60% of the U.S. annual GDP and has a real value estimated at about US$75 billion adjusted for the late 2000s (decade).
Emperor of All Russiafrom 1894 to 1917. Estimates of the wealth of Nicholas II remain wildly speculative. As emperor, and an autocrat, the resources under Nicholas IIs command were virtually incalculable. However, the vast majority of this was officially owned by the State as Crown property. From this, supplemented by an annuity from the Treasury, he derived an annual income of 24 millionroubles, from which he had to fund staff, the upkeep of imperial palaces and imperial theatres, annuities for the royal family, pensions, bequests, and other outgoings.
Before the end of the year, the Tsar was usually penniless; sometimes he reached this embarrassing state by autumn.
According to the Grand Marshall of the Court, Count Paul Benckendorff, his
only amounted to between 12.5 and 17.5 million roubles.
The lastNizamofHyderabad StateinBritish India. Regarded as the wealthiest person in the world during his lifetime, his portrait was on the cover of
As a semi-autonomous monarch, he had his own mint, printing his own currency, theHyderabadi rupee, and had a private treasury that was said to contain 100m in gold and silver bullion, and a further 400m of jewels (in 2008 terms). The major source of his wealth was the Golconda mines, the only supplier ofdiamondsin the world at that time.
Among them was theJacob Diamond, valued at some 50m (in 2008 terms),
Henry Ford was an American automotive engineer, entrepreneur, and founder of theFord Motor Company. By designing theModel T Fordwith mass production in mind and employing the assembly line method of rapid production, he was able to radically lower the base price of his automobiles and reach a wider market. As production increased, Ford further reduced prices and increased salaries to reduce worker turnover. This resulted in a rapid increase in output, with Ford production rising from roughly 18,000 cars in 1909 to over 1 million cars in 1920. Despite Ford stating that his focus was increasing Ford Motor Companys benefit to society and to its employees, even at one pointbeing sued by the Dodge brothersbased on this premise, his company was massively profitable. His highest earnings were recorded at age 57 and he died at the age of 83 in 1947 at a net worth of US$188.1 billion (inflation-adjusted value in 2008 dollars).
American businessman, merchant, opium smuggler, fur trader, and investor. In 1801, Astors nominal wealth was some US$250,000, and by the time of his death in 1848 his fortune had grown to US$20 million, making him Americas first multi-millionaire.
Railroad owner. Inherited much of his wealth from his father,Cornelius Vanderbilt,
who initiated theVanderbilt familys involvement in railroad and shipping business. He doubled his fathers fortune, to an amount estimated between $52 billion and $239 billion.
Absolute rulers or conquerors are sometimes listed for the territory they controlled rather than for their immediate personal wealth (Davidson (2015) for TIME.com listedAkbar IGenghis KhanandEmperor Shenzong of Songfor their imperial possessions, whileAlan Rufusis listed for his immediate possessions within thefeudalsystem ofNorman England).3
Mansa Musa, or Musa I of Mali is considered one of the richest people ever. Musa was the tenth emperor of theMali Empire, one of the prosperousSahelian kingdomsthat developed along theSaharan slave traderoutes in the later medieval period. Mansa Musa made his fortune by exploiting hiscountrys salt and gold production.
Musa is said to have brought several tonnes of gold to Mecca when he made a pilgrimage there in 1324, deflating the value of gold across much, if not all, ofNorth Africa. Reported as being inconceivably rich by contemporaries, Theres really no way to put an accurate number on his wealth.
William the Conqueror became personally enormously wealthy from spoils of war during theNorman Conquestof England.
Byzantine emperorfrom 960 to 1025 at the time of the Eastern Roman Empires greatest medieval territorial extent, also a time of considerable prosperity for the Empire.
Alan Rufus, 1st Lord of Richmond, was a relative and companion ofWilliam the Conqueror(Duke William II of Normandy) during the Norman Conquest of England. By 1086 he had become one of the richest and most powerful men of England.
English nobleman and admiral. Succeeded to theEarldom of Surreyin 1347.
Third son of KingEdward III of England. Duke of Lancaster. Owned land in almost every county in England, with ahouseholdcomparable to that of a monarch.
ForClassical Antiquity, even more than for theHigh Middle Ages, the definition of personal wealth becomes difficult to compare with the modern period; especially in the case ofdivine kings, where an entire empire might be considered the personal property of a deified emperor.
Crassus inherited a fortune of 7 millionsestercesafter the death in 87 BC of his father,Publius Licinius Crassus Dives. After several years of exile, Crassus was able to rebuild his family fortune by seizing the property of executed convicts for himself.
Crassus also expanded his wealth by trading in slaves and by purchasing whole neighborhoods of Rome as they burned, for drastically less than market value. Crassus was known in Rome as
, meaning The Rich. It is believed that Crassus expanded his personal fortune to 170 million sesterces, whilePliny the Eldersurmised his fortune to be valued even higher, at 200 million sesterces. This would place Crassuss net worth equal to the total annual budget of the Roman treasury.
Crassus has often been listed among the wealthiest individuals in history, although depending on the estimate of the adjusted value of a Romansesterce, his net worth may also be placed in the range of US$200 million to US$20 billion.40
with $4.6 trillion because he personally owned all of Egypt.
The name of Croesus, a historical king ofLydia, was proverbial for wealth already in antiquity; this is probably due to his being the first ruler to issue truegold coinswith a standardised purity for general circulation and not necessarily for his personal wealth.
The Rockefellers: The Legacy Of Historys Richest Man, Forbes 2014
Guinness World Recordsclaims John D. Rockefeller was the richest person.
Jacob Davidson,time.com The 10 Richest People of All Time, 30 July 2015
Daniel Eckert,So wurde Jakob Fugger zum reichsten Menschen der Historie(This is how Jakob Fugger became the wealthiest person in history),
. Auf heutige Verhältnisse hochgerechnet läge das Vermögen des Bauernenkels bei unglaublichen 400 Milliarden Dollar (354 Milliarden Euro). In die Nähe dieses Wertes kamen nur die Rothschilds, die in ihrer Glanzzeit im 19. Jahrhundert die mächtigste Bankiersfamilie der Welt waren (Adjusted to current-day conditions, the net worth of the farmers grandson would be close to astonishing 400 billion dollars (354 billion Euro). Only the Rothschild family, at their peak in the 19th century the most powerful family of bankers, came close to such a figure.
listed at 372 billion US$2014 by Jacob Davidson,time.com The 10 Richest People of All Time, 30 July 2015: Rockefeller gets all the press, but Andrew Carnegie may be the richest American of all time. The Scottish immigrant sold his company, U.S. Steel, to J.P. Morgan for $480 million in 1901. That sum equates to about slightly over 2.1% of U.S. GDP at the time, giving Carnegie economic power equivalent to $372 billion in 2014.
(2008) by Bernstein and Swan, p. 17 Introduction
Kerry Close,The 10 Richest Women of All Time, time.com, 1 February 2016. Bettencourt ranks at 6 in this list, after five ancient rulers and monarchs of the Middle Ages and early modern period.
Kerry Close,The 10 Richest Women of All Time, time.com. Empress Wu ranks at 1 in this list, Catherine the Great at 3, and Isabella of Castile at 5.
Fugger Geschichte einer Familie: Die Handelsherren mit dem Dreizack
Thomas, Ryland; Williamson, Samuel H. (2019).What Was the U.S. GDP Then?.
United StatesGross Domestic Product deflatorfigures follow the
Staff (15 July 2007).The Wealthiest Americans EverNew York Times
Richest Americans in History. Forbes. 24 August 1998
The richest Americans. Forbes. Archived fromthe originalon September 16, 2009
, St. Martins Griffin; Reprint edition, 1996, p101.
McCaffrey, Julie (3 February 2012).Exclusive: The last Nizam of Hyderabad was so rich he had a 50m diamond paperweight.
Bedi, Rahul (12 April 2008).India finally settles 1million Nizam dispute.
Exhibitions at National Museum of India,New Delhi(India). 2 April 2009.
Shah, Tahir.Alan the Red, the Brit who makes Bill Gates a pauper.
Hargreaves, Steve.The richest Americans in history.
estimated his wealth at death at $105,000,000, or 1/87 of the nations GDP.
Gus Lubin,business insider The 20 Richest People Of All Time, 2 September 2010
Meet Mansa Musa I of Mali the richest human being in all history. 2012-10-16
Jacob Davidson.The 10 Richest People of All TimeCNNMoney.
, converted to dollars at average rate since 07 (1:1.7) and adjusted for inflation.The 20 Richest People Of All Time, 4 September 2010. Although he became a monarch, were counting the spoils of war before he took the throne, based on what he gave out to his sons Odo and Robert. he left the equivalent of $229.5 billion to his sons.
The Domesday Book: Englands Heritage Then and Now
Wallechinsky, DavidIrving WallaceRichest People in History Ancient Roman Crassus. Trivia-Library.
Often named as the richest man ever, a more accurate conversion of sesterce would put his modern figure between $200 million and $20 billion.Peter L. BernsteinThe 20 Richest People Of All Time
The Richest of the Rich: The Wealthiest 250 People in Britain since 1066
The Wealthy 100: From Benjamin Franklin to Bill GatesA Ranking of the Richest Americans, Past and Present
List of Presidents of the United States by net worth
Largest financial services companies by revenue
Socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor
Articles lacking reliable references from November 2017
This page was last edited on 12 April 2019, at 00:08