The Richest People in History
(Up until the Industrial Revolution)
When we think of wealth today, we often think of the massive personal fortunes of business magnates like Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, or Warren Buffett. However, it is only since the Industrial Revolution that measuring wealth by one’s bank account has been a norm for the world’s richest.
For most of recorded human history, in fact, the lines around wealth were quite blurred. Leaders like Augustus Caesar or Emperor Shenzong had absolute control of their empires – while bankers like Jakob Fogger and Cosimo de Medici were often found pulling the strings from behind.
This infographic focuses on the richest people in history up until the Industrial Revolution – and in the coming weeks, we will release a second version that covers wealth from then onwards (including figures like Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Jeff Bezos, etc.).
Is This List of People Definitive?
While it is certainly fun to speculate on the wealth of people from centuries past, putting together this list is exceptionally difficult and certainly not definitive.
Firstly, much wealth in early periods is tied to land (Genghis Khan) or entire empires (Augustus, Akbar), which makes calculations extremely subjective. What is most of Asia’s land worth in the year 1219? What separates personal fortune from the riches of an empire that one has full control of? There are a wide variety of answers to these questions, and they all influence the figures chosen to be represented.
Secondly, records kept from Ancient eras are scarce, exaggerated, or based on legends and oral histories. Think of King Solomon or Mansa Musa – these are characters described as immeasurably rich, so trying to put their wealth in modern context is fun, but certainly not guaranteed to be historically accurate.
Lastly, wealth and conversion rates can be approached in different ways as well. Take Crassus in the Roman Republic, who had a peak fortune of “200 million sesterces”. Well, that’s a problem for us in modernity, because that stash could be worth anywhere from $200 million to $169.8 billion, depending on how calculations are done.
So, enjoy this list of the wealthiest historical figures, but keep in mind that it is mostly for fun – and that the list of the wealthiest people in history changes depending on who you ask!
The Richest Person in Every U.S. State in 2017
The massive empires of business tycoons like Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Jeff Bezos are continually topics of discussion throughout the world, but much less attention finds its way towards the largest personal fortunes at the state level.
That’s because while some of the wealthiest people in their respective states are household names, such as Ray Dalio (Connecticut) or Michael Bloomberg (New York), the majority of people on this list fly below the radar at both the national and international levels. Further, the dropoff from the largest to smallest fortunes on the list is also steeper than you might think.
Examining the Top 10 States
Here’s how the list of the top 10 states round out:
|#4||Michael Bloomberg||New York||$50.7B||Self-made|
|#5||Charles Koch||Kansas||$47.5B||Inherited & Growing|
While their fortunes don’t quite compare to the richest people in human history, the numbers above are still very impressive.
The list is topped by Bill Gates, who was briefly overtaken as richest person in the world by fellow Seattleite Jeff Bezos for a short period of time in July, but now again sits in the #1 position. Not surprisingly, Mark Zuckerberg (California) and Michael Bloomberg (New York) also sit high, outranking other high net worth individuals from those states like Larry Ellison ($62.2 billion) or George Soros ($25.2 billion).
The list is dominated by those who are self-made or growing their fortunes, but the second half has billionaire siblings that inherited their family fortunes such as Jim and Alice Walton (Walmart), or John and Jacqueline Mars (Mars).
Flying Under the Radar
In some ways, the bottom portion of the rankings for the Richest Person in Every U.S. State is just as interesting. Many of these people are lesser known, and the disparity between these fortunes and those on the Top 10 list show how hard it really is to grow a fortune to the >$20 billion range.
|#41||Andrea Reimann-Ciardelli||New Hampshire||$1.1B||Inherited|
|#42||Gary Tharaldson||North Dakota||$900M||Self-made|
|#44 (t)||Robert Gore||Delaware||$720M||Inherited & Growing|
|#44 (t)||Elizabeth Snyder||Delaware||$720M||Inherited & Growing|
|#46 (t)||Mack C. Chase||New Mexico||$700M||Self-made|
|#46 (t)||Jimmy Rane||Alabama||$700M||Self-made|
|#49 (t)||Leonard Hyde||Alaska||$340M||Self-made|
|#49 (t)||Jonathan Rubini||Alaska||$340M||Self-made|
Just one person in the Bottom 10 is a billionaire – the rest have fortunes in the hundreds of millions.
The sources of the fortunes near the end of the list are also quite diverse. Robert Gore and Elizabeth Snyder (and their four other siblings) were the heirs to the Gore-Tex empire, each owning 7% of the company. Meanwhile, Mack C. Chase is an oil tycoon, John Abele has made his money from making medical devices, and Leonard Hyde and Jonathan Rubini are partners in a real estate firm that owns much of the Anchorage skyline