20 Richest People Of All-Time
If you check out the current list of the richest people in the world here, you’ll find that the wealthiest today aren’t so wealthy compared to the richest people of all-time. Many of the people who have achieved the greatest wealth in our world’s history weren’t inventors or salesmen, but instead came from royalty. Yet, there are still a few rich people in more modern history to be included among the wealthiest people who have ever lived. It would be impossible to go through the amount of money these people made in one lifetime, so thanks to them, they have made their relatives rich today.
Find out where you stack up to the richest people of all-time by calculating your net worth. If you want to make it onto this list, you better get cracking because it will take at least $80 billion in today’s money just to get the 20th spot. These numbers are adjusted for inflation so they might not be accurate on the penny, but it will give you a good idea of who really had the most wealth during their lifetime.
If you can’t make it onto this list, don’t feel bad. This represents less than 99.9999999999 percent of the people who have ever lived. So let’s get started and take a look at the 20 richest people of all-time, starting with number 20.
#20 – Friedrich Weyerhaeuser ($80 Billion)
Friedrich was born in Germany but died in Pasadena, California in 1914. Before he left this world, he had amassed a huge amount of money from his company, the uncreatively named, Weyerhaeuser Company. The Weyerhaeuser Company didn’t do anything super out of the ordinary. They dealt in sawmills and other wood related business.
Friedrich wanted to be a brewer when he got started in America, but ended up drinking away a lot of his profits. So he got off of the booze and went into the exciting industry of timber. He was known as the “Timber King” during his peak and made the US Business Hall of Fame. Friedrich lived mainly in Illinois where his family is still filthy rich.
#19 – Henry Duke Of Lancaster ($85.1 Billion)
There are about a dozen NFL franchises combined that don’t have as many titles as Henry. His full official name in which he was addressed was Henry of Grosmont, 1st Duke of Lancaster, 4th Earl of Leicester and Lancaster, but you could just call him Hank.
Henry spent his life in the 1300’s and was born into nobility. When he became the Earl of Lancaster, he used his cunning as a politician and diplomat to start making some serious money. Even though he was the richest man in England at the time, he still got on the bad side of King Edward II and was executed in 1322. Rich people are a lot safer now than 700 years ago.
#18 – A.T. Stewart ($90 Billion)
If you are making more than $1 million per year in this day and age, you are doing just fine for yourself. Can you imagine making that kind of money in 1869? That’s what Alexander Turney (A.T. for short) Stewart did in Ireland. During this time period, he was running the largest retailer of dry goods in the world.
If you don’t know what dry goods are, it’s basically just clothes, blankets and things of that nature. Originally, A.T.’s parents had it in mind that they wanted the young lad to be a minister. After they saw how much money he was making in New York, they were probably glad he went in a different direction. He was so rich that they almost appointed him to be in charge of the US Treasury department.
#17 – Stephen Girard ($105 Billion)
This man is not to be confused with current soccer player Steven Gerrard, who is actually a millionaire as well. By the time that Stephen Girard died in 1831, he had about 0.75 percent of the entire United States’s money. The banking game in the infancy of America needed an all-star, and Girard was just the man to do it.
The charter for the First Bank of the United States was set to expire, so Girard decided he wanted to take it over and bought most of the stocks. He renamed it Girard’s Bank, making it sound more personable and ended up financing a lot of the War of 1812. Government bonds that came back to Girard’s Bank made him extremely rich, since war has always been profitable.
#16 – John of Gaunt ($110 Billion)
John of Gaunt wasn’t just any old duke, he was the 1st Duke of Lancaster. King Edward III was survived by three sons and John was the third in the group. The only thing was that King Edward III wasn’t there when John was born, so many people actually believe John was just the son of a butcher and not actually royalty.
Regardless, John lived his life as a royal and loved the fast life. He was married three times and had a mistress during all three of his marriages. As you may have already seen, royals in Europe were extremely wealthy, just as they are now. John of Gaunt was one of the richest in history.
#15 – Richard FitzAlan 10th Earl Of Arundel ($118.6 Billion)
Richard was another noble in a long line (pretty common theme, here) and also the leader of the English military. Richard was the son of Edmund, who was obviously the 9th Earl Of Arundel. He almost lost out on a lot of his money as he married into the Despenser family who also had a lot of pull.
The Despenser family ended up being rebelled against and Richard’s father was executed as a result. A good bulk of his wealth came from family ties and the military, but it was ultimately his decision to become The Earl of Surrey that increased his wealth. He even had King Edward III owing him money.
#14 – John Jacob Astor ($121 Billion)
Astor holds the prestigious title of being the first multi-millionaire in the history of the United States. Born in Germany, Astor came over to America during the country’s first years. There seemed to be a great need for items made of fur, so Astor started a monopoly on the business in the new country.
After expanding westward as the United States grew, Astor was making a killing in the fur market. To up his net worth, he started going into the real estate business in New York City. New York City was big, but it wasn’t the thriving metropolis that it is today, so Astor got in on the ground floor before it was too expensive. Selling fur and then buying real estate might not make you a billionaire these days, but it worked for Astor.
#13 – William de Warenne ($147.13 Billion)
Are you ready for some more royalty? William de Warenne was the 1st Earl Of Surrey, named to the position in 1088. It wouldn’t last very long, as William was killed during the First Siege Of Pevensey Castle later that year. Before real estate became big business, William de Warenne perfected the trade.
William had land holdings all over Europe, which only gained value throughout his life. In terms of his liquid assets, these real estate spots were enough to make him one of the richest men of all-time. It certainly didn’t hurt that he came from nobility, but you have to start somewhere. Just a reminder to not take a job as Earl when you already have enough money, it doesn’t end well.
#12 – Bill Gates ($136 Billion)
We now see someone that has actually been on live television during his life since he didn’t die before TV’s invention. Almost everyone in the world knows the name Bill Gates, as they are constantly reminded whenever their computers break that it is somehow his fault. As the founder of Microsoft, Gates basically created something expensive we all use, much like building the first car.
Gates and his wife Melinda have used their vast wealth to do good in the world. Outside of the computer business, the Gates’ are noted philanthropists who donate millions every year. Gates is also in the real estate business with Berkshire Hathaway, so that certainly hasn’t hurt his net worth.
#11 – Alan Rufus ($178.65 Billion)
Alan Rufus was one of the companions of William The Conqueror (who you will hear more about later). It is estimated that Rufus lived between 1040 and 1093, but medical records were a little shaky 1,000 years ago. Much like other Brits from hundreds of years ago on this list, Rufus got in good with the right people.
Land holdings made Rufus rich, but he also made his business in the commerce market. Wool and salt were two of his biggest assets and the trading market was very kind to Rufus. He also started his own town in North Yorkshire before passing away to really seal the deal on his net worth. Rufus’ ancestors include many Counts, Dukes, Bishops— and other titles that seem strange to Americans.
#10 – Cornelius Vanderbilt ($185 Billion)
When America officially became a country in 1776, it was pretty difficult to get goods across the new nation if there wasn’t water to take a boat on. Cornelius Vanderbilt got into the water transporting business, but it was his unique (at the time) railroad business that made him one of the wealthiest people of all-time.
Cornelius didn’t start out very wealthy, and dropped out of school at 11 years old to help on his dad’s ferry. Five years later, he opened his own ferry business. The Vanderbilts were a bit odd, which was evident when Cornelius married his first cousin, Sophia and had 13 children with her. The Vanderbilt name is still relevant as he was the founder of Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. You may remember it as the school with the football team that gets beat by everyone.
#9 – Henry Ford ($199 Billion)
Detroit may get picked on a lot right now for being a dump in most areas and having a rough economy. But, there was a time when Detroit was really thriving and it was all thanks to Henry Ford. Nobody was driving cars at the turn of the century, but Henry Ford took a risk and started the Ford Motor Company, which is still in business today (after a few close calls).
There weren’t any other players in the American auto industry at the time when Ford started his company, so he had an early monopoly. Name recognition and a lack of foreign cars in the United States made Ford insanely rich. The family is still rich, and the youngest grandson of Henry Ford once owned the Detroit Lions.
#8 – Muammar Gaddafi ($200 Billion)
You may remember Muammar Gaddafi from a few years ago as the highly controversial leader of Libya. He held the title for 42 years after taking the power for himself in a coup d’etat, until the bloody Libyan Civil War of 2011. When Gaddafi started, he used ideals from the socialist regime but quickly started playing by his own rules.
After making pretty much everyone in the world hate him, Gaddafi was caught in a crossfire during the Civil War. The rebels were quick to catch up to him, and they beat him bloody and left him for dead. Gaddafi had a lot of money at the time of his death, but since it was blood money, it probably shouldn’t count all that much.
#7 – William The Conqueror ($229.6 Billion)
William was the Norman King of England from 1066 to 1087, when he died. Previously, he had been the Duke of Normandy and led the Normans into a battle with England, which they won. That’s how he got the title “The Conqueror”, to be the man you have to beat the man.
William was almost knocked out of his Dukehood before it even started. Since he was born out of wedlock to a mistress, he was dubbed “William The Bastard”. After holding off rebels that didn’t think he was fit for royalty, they realized that William was not a pushover and that he kind of earned his spot. The expansion of William’s territory and conquering of England were what really made him very rich. Not bad for “The Bastard”.
#6 – Mir Osman Ali Khan ($230 Billion)
Mir Osman Ali Khan was the final Nizam in the history of Hyderabad and Berar. The reason his reign came to an end was because India annexed Hyderabad and he lost most of his power in the region. Before that, Ali Khan held a tremendous amount of wealth in his position due to his long history of royal family.
It was a bit of a sad ending for Ali Khan, who was worth around $1 billion at the time of his death. Legal disputes among the family split the money in about 100 different directions, but he was still incredibly wealthy. It just goes to show you that every family fights over money at some point, no matter how much of it there is.
#5 – Nikolai Alexandrovich Romanov ($300 Billion)
Nicholas II was the final Emperor in the history of Russia. The Romanovs had a good run, but it had to come to an end at some point. Nicholas II earned the titles of Grand Duke Of Finland and King Of Poland. It was much easier just to call him a czar (or tsar, however you prefer). He wasn’t really the nicest guy in the world, either.
Nicholas II was forced out of office in 1917 after Russia went from the world’s most thriving empire to a complete train wreck in their economy and military. He also was quite fond of war, which could no longer be supported after losing money. When Nicholas II started, though, there was a lot of wealth to his name. He still makes the top 5, despite the fact that he probably finished well outside of the top 100.
#4 – Andrew Carnegie ($310 Billion)
Moving from Scotland to the United States was the best thing the Carnegies could have done for their son, Andrew. Andrew Carnegie saved up his money from working as a telegrapher and used it to invest in railroads and oil, which ended up being a pretty smart move.
Using his new-found great wealth, Carnegie started his own business in the steel industry, which was another fantastic idea at the time (this was a smart man). 18 years before Carnegie’s death, he sold his steel company for $13.6 billion in today’s money and went on to expand his name into colleges, a concert venue, a museum and much more. His name is still thrown around quite a bit in New York.
#3 – John D. Rockefeller ($340 Billion)
Americans did not use much oil until the invention of the automobile. After that, it was open season. Before the automobile, though, John D. Rockefeller founded the largest oil company (Standard Oil) which essentially ran a monopoly in the United States thanks to the railroad industry. It was still big business as Rockefeller owned 90 percent of America’s oil.
Colleges are also a great way to make money and Rockefeller started three of them from the ground up (University of Chicago, Rockefeller University, Central Philippine University). If only he were getting today’s tuition rates, he may be at the top of this list. The Rockefeller name can still be seen plastered on buildings across the country, as he owned pretty much everything as the richest man in the world during his time.
#2 – The Rothschild Family ($350 Billion)
The Rothschild Family started out with Mayer Amschel Rothschild, who got into the banking business in Frankfurt during the late 1700’s. Mayer spread his wealth among his five children, which took off from there as they all got into the business. Many of the Rothschilds became so successful that they became Austrian nobles.
Banks started popping up left and right under the Rothschild name and at one point, Lord Nathan Rothschild had more power than even the royals in Great Britain. The family went on hiatus for nearly 90 years and started business back up in 1989. Just like Michael Jordan, the great ones always come back sooner or later.
#1 – Mansa Musa I ($400 Billion)
Musa I was the Mansa (essentially the emperor) of Mali for 25 years in the 1300’s. The Mali Empire had a vast amount of wealth at the time, and Musa I was the largest benefactor in the line. The family had just about every valuable asset in their region of the world for a very long time, so Musa I pretty much controlled everything.
Mansa wasn’t the only title he had, as Musa I ended up with over a dozen titles. There obviously are no pictures of Musa I around, but paintings usually depict him with something very valuable in his hand (such as gold). Musa I constructed an empire, and in turn, made himself the wealthiest man to ever live. It’s just too bad not many people know who he is. History has a way of forgetting about everyone, I suppose.