Believe it or not, Forbes‘ annual list of The World’s Billionaires is lackluster when stacked up against titans of the past. In fact, Bill Gates is the only living person to make it on our list of the richest people in the history of mankind. And, even Mr. Gates himself barely made the cut.
Of course, to accurately estimate a historical figure’s net worth in today’s dollars, one has to take into account currency exchange rates, GDP growth, inflation, and fluctuations in share price. Then you would need to consider the percentage of economic power that the one person held.
To complicate matters further, there must be credible information and historical evidence available. And, finally, do legends, rulers and monarchs deserve a place on the list? We answered no, since personal wealth and control of wealth are essentially not the same. Apologies to Mansa Musa, Nicholas II, Osman Ali Khan, Muammar Gaddafi, Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Croesus, King Solomon, and many others.
Surely, it would take years to get all of the data necessary, run the numbers through a complex algorithm, and then properly adjust each individual’s net worth. We’re sure historians and economists are actively trying to accomplish the feat as we type. But until the consensus is in, you have writers like myself who are proud to put together an infotainment piece with rough estimates (don’t worry, we did do quite a bit of research before completely wasting your time!).
Dear peasants of the internet, we present to you the richest people.
10. Niohuru Heshen
Net Worth: $132 billion
Lived: 1746 – 1799
About: Heshen was an official of the Qing dynasty who was heavily favored by the Qianlong Emperor. He began his political uprise at the age of 25, and a few short years later was able to gain control of both the Ministry of Revenue and the Civil Council. This allowed him to not only control the revenue of the entire empire, but also appoint his own supporters to important official posts.
He eventually made a fortune from extortion on a grand scale. It’s estimated that Heshen’s net worth was equivalent to an astounding 15 years worth of imperial revenue of the Qing government. At the time of his death, his property included more than 3,000 rooms from mansions and estates, 42 bank branches, 75 pawnbroker branches, and 100 large ingots of pure gold, among much more.
Needless to say, Heshen played a large role in the downfall of the Qing Dynasty and is now known as one of the most corrupt officials in Chinese history.
It makes you wonder how in the world there are 9 others who are even richer than Heshen.
9. Bill Gates
Net Worth: $149 billion
Lived: 1955 –
About: Bill Gates doesn’t need an introduction. When you think of the richest people of all-time, he immediately comes to mind. Gates is the co-founder, former chief executive and current chairman of Microsoft, which happens to be the world’s largest personal-computer software company.
Want to know how he made his money? Aside from investments, Bill Gates’ wealth can be witnessed every day from the computers that either you or many people you know are using. Billions of licenses for Microsoft Windows have been sold, in addition to the many other ventures that Microsoft is involved in.
8. Alan Rufus
Net Worth: $155 billion
Lived: 1040 – 1089
About: Alan Rufus was the second cousin of William the Conqueror, and a companion during the Norman conquest of England. After leading a suppression that killed more than 150,000 people, Rufus was awarded handsomely for his loyalty, receiving over 250,000 acres in land grants. He also earned an income of £1,100 per year, and in the 11th century, this was a very generous paycheck.
Alan Rufus is now considered the richest Briton in English history . . . and one of the richest men of all-time.
7. Henry Ford
Net Worth: $180 billion
Lived: 1863 – 1947
About: Ford is the father of the modern assembly line and the first mass-produced automobile. When you boast credentials like that, chances are you’re going to be one rich man. Given, he didn’t actually invent the automobile, but what he did do was make it affordable for the middle-class with the introduction of the Model T.
Heck, even Adolf Hitler admired Henry Ford. Hitler apparently kept a life-size portrait of Ford next to his desk and told a Detroit News reporter, “I regard Henry Ford as my inspiration.”
6. William Henry Vanderbilt
Net Worth: $229 billion
Lived: 1821 – 1885
About: Okay, so William Henry Vanderbilt had a
tiny damn good head start. He inherited over $100 million from his father, Cornelius Vanderbilt (despite Cornelius’ constant criticism of his son, calling him “a blockhead.”). But instead of lounging on the couch for the remainder of his life, William Henry Vanderbilt took that money and continued to build upon the family railroad empire. Nine years after taking over, he more than doubled his inheritance.
5. Jakob Fugger
Net Worth: $250 billion
Lived: 1459 – 1525
About: Fugger’s nickname, Jakob Fugger the Rich, automatically makes him eligible for this list of richest people to ever roam the planet. He inherited a banking business from his father, and would later use that asset–along with several other of his own businesses–to loan Charles V gold that he needed in order to secure his election as Holy Roman Emperor. In return, Charles gave the Fugger family noble rank and granted them sovereign rights over their lands. This privilege gave the Fuggers the capability to mint their own money.
The rest, as they say, is history.
4. Andrew Carnegie
Net Worth: $253 billion
Lived: 1835 – 1919
About: Carnegie was born in a one room cottage, but he wouldn’t stay there for long. After working his way up through the Pennsylvania Railroad Company and participating in inside trading with his investments, he soon had enough capital to start his own company, Carnegie Steel. The new venture eventually became an extensive iron and steel operation.
In 1901, Carnegie was ready for retirement, and J.P. Morgan was ready to help him along. Morgan organized a trust and purchased Carnegie Steel Company along with several other major producers to form the United States Steel Corporation. The buyout remains the largest industrial takeover in the history of the United States.
3. John D. Rockefeller
Net Worth: $350 billion
Lived: 1839 – 1937
About: By now you probably realize that there was plenty of opportunity to be had among entrepreneurs in the 19th century. But nobody capitalized on those circumstances better than John D. Rockefeller. Rockefeller started with a single oil refinery, but would go on to build the largest American empire ever witnessed. He was praised for his business acumen–borrowing heavily, buying out and undercutting rivals, reinvesting profits, controlling costs and waste, and making secret deals. At one point, his company, the Standard Oil Trust, was refining over 90% of the world’s oil.
Unfortunately for Rockefeller, in 1911, the Supreme Court of the United States enforced the Sherman Antitrust Act and ordered that Standard Oil Company be broken into 34 new companies (known today as ConocoPhillips, BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Pennzoil, and others).
Don’t feel too bad for poor ole John though. Ironically, the breakup of his company caused the companies’ combined net worth to rise fivefold.
2. Nathan Mayer Rothschild
Net Worth: $425 billion
Lived: 1777 – 1836
About: Nathan Mayer Rothschild is a co-founder of the international Rothschild family banking dynasty. In fact, his father, Mayer Amschel Rothschild, is often referred to as the founding father of international finance. Nathan Rothschild is well known for financing the war against Napoleon, issuing loans to many governments around the world, and controlling finance and information across all of Europe.
According to Niall Ferguson, a British historian and professor at Harvard University:
Another conspiracy theory claims that the Rothschild family controls the finances of the entire western world, and therefore has access to an infinite amount of money, even today.
1. Marcus Licinius Crassus
Net Worth: $1 trillion
Lived: 115 BC – 53 BC
About: Crassus was a Roman general and politician who made his fortune from proscriptions, slave trafficking, judicious purchases of land and houses, and purchases of burning property. He is well known for suppressing the slave revolt led by Spartacus and helping to finance Julius Caesar’s successful campaign to become Pontifex Maximus.
Supposedly Marcus Crassus would arrive at houses that were on fire with an army of 500 firefighters and offer a small sum of money for the property. If the offer was refused, the house was left to burn.
But karma would eventually catch up with Crassus. After his death, legend has it that the Parthians poured molten gold into his mouth as punishment for his greed.
Impressed? Don’t be. While the net worth of the moguls listed above will make your jaw drop, entrepreneurs of the future could very well put even Marcus Licinius Crassus to shame. Don’t believe us? Some of the world’s billionaires are already taking interest in asteroids that could be worth as much as $20 trillion . . . each.
Space trip, anyone?