Assessing who the richest person to ever live was is a rather difficult task. In some cases, the exact amount of wealth the person accumulated is unknown. Secondly, it’s hard to determine the proper exchange rate or the rate of inflation since the person died, or was at the peak of his wealth. Instead, most of these figures are based on the percentage of their nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) that the individual personally owned.
Also, for some perspective, the richest person alive today is Bill Gates. At the time of this article, he is worth $89.8 billion.
10. Cornelius Vanderbilt – $185 billion
Born in Staten Island in May 1794, Cornelius Vanderbilt dropped out of school at the age of 11 to help support his impoverished family. As a child, he worked with his father, who was a farmer and a boatman.
When Vanderbilt was 16, using a small loan from his parents, he bought a two-mast sailing vessel and started ferrying passengers on the Hudson River.
During the War of 1812, using a small fleet of boats, Vanderbilt delivered supplies to government outposts. He eventually sold all his boats and went to work with a steamship captain, where he learned about steamships. He then started his own steamship business and eventually started buying up railroads.
Vanderbilt was a ruthless businessman and a shrewd marketer who focused on undercutting his competitors. His business tactics made him one of the richest men to ever live. At his peak, he had somewhere around $185 billion.
9. Henry Ford – $200 billion
Henry Ford, the man who would go on to revolutionize the automobile industry and mass production, was born in July 1863 to a prosperous family that owned a farm in Dearborn, Michigan. When he was 16, he moved to nearby Detroit and took an apprenticeship as a machinist. He then worked at several factories and on his family’s farm before ending up at Edison Illuminating Company. Within two years, he was made chief engineer.
In 1896, Ford created the Quadricycle, which was a horseless carriage. In 1899, he started the Henry Ford Detroit Automobile Company, which was later changed to the Henry Ford Company. However, he ended up leaving the business in 1902 after his partners became frustrated by his desire to constantly improve on his design. They, on the other hand, just wanted a finished product. The Henry Ford Company then became the Cadillac Motor Car Company.
Ford started the Ford Motor Company in 1903. The first car, called the Model A, was assembled a month later. Only a few of them could be assembled every day and they were assembled from parts ordered from other companies.
In October 1908, the Model T was introduced and changed the world. To make them quickly, Ford utilized mass production techniques that are still common today, including large plants, replaceable parts, and the moving assembly line.
The car was a massive success, and it started Ford on his way to enormous wealth. At his peak, Ford had somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 billion.
8. William the Conqueror – $229 billion
William was the illegitimate son of Robert I, duke of Normandy. His father died in 1035, which made William, who was eight, the Duke of Normandy. Amazingly, despite several attempts on his life, Williams survived into adulthood. By 1064, he had taken over the neighboring provinces of Brittany and Maine.
In 1066, the King of England, Edward the Confessor, died. Before his death, Edward told several people they would be the heir to his throne. One of them was William and another was Edward’s brother-in-law Harold Godwin. On his deathbed, Edward named Godwin as his successor and he assumed the throne the next day. This angered William, so he decided to invade England.
The Norman Invasion of 1066 was one of the most pivotal events in English history and it also made William the Conqueror a very wealthy man. According to the website The Richest, William would have been worth $229 billion.
7. Osman Ali Khan – $230 billion
Osman Ali Khan was the Nizam (ruler) of the State of Hyderabad. His reign lasted from 1911 until 1948, when the state was annexed by India. Khan made his wealth from royalties from mining diamonds in Hyderabad. During the 18th century, it was the only state to supply diamonds.
Khan apparently owned 50 Rolls-Royces and he used a 185-carat diamond as a paperweight. In 1937, he appeared on the cover of Time and they proclaimed him the richest man in the world. His net worth is believed to have been somewhere around $230 billion.
In his later years, Khan became reclusive and he died on February 24, 1967, at the age of 81.
6. Nikolai Alexandrovich Romanov – $300 billion
Born in May 1868, in Pushkin, Russia, Nikolai Alexandrovich Romanov became Emperor Nicholas II following his father’s death in May 1894. Nicholas II was ill-prepared to become Tsar and he didn’t want the position. But, Nicholas firmly believed that his job was ordained by God. And although he strongly believed in autocracy, he also establish an elected legislature.
Nicholas’ reign as Tsar was marred with controversy starting from his coronation. There was a stampede of people and hundreds died. Nicholas II and his wife didn’t know about the stampede and were seen smiling throughout the day and into the evening.
Another major controversy was Bloody Sunday, which happened on January 22, 1905. Thousands of workers were killed by Nicholas II’s troops while they were peacefully protesting. This led to more protests and more suppressions.
Then, during World War I, Russia suffered major military losses, food shortages, and inflation. Many people blamed Nicholas II for this. As a result, he abdicated from the throne in March 1917 and was placed under house arrest.
The Bolsheviks, who were led by Vladimir Lenin, murdered Nicholas II along with his wife, his five children and a handful of loyalists, sometime on the night of July 16 or the morning of July 17, 1918.
Nicholas II’s death marked the end of the Romanov dynasty after it had ruled Russia for 300 years. When he died, Nicholas II had a net worth of around $300 billion.
5. John D. Rockefeller – $371 billion
John D. Rockefeller Sr. was born in New York in 1839. At the age of 24, he started to invest in petroleum. Rockefeller then went on to co-found the Standard Oil company and by 1880, it became not only the leading oil company, but one of the biggest companies in the world. At its peak, Standard Oil controlled 90% of America’s oil production.
When Rockefeller died in 1937, The New York Times reported that his net worth, based on his 1918 tax return, was $1.5 billion. If you account for inflation, that is over $32 billion, which really isn’t that much compared to someone like Bill Gates. So to really understand how much money Rockefeller had, it’s important to compare his personal wealth to the economy at the time. Rockefeller’s assets were 2% of the American GDP, so that would be like someone being worth $371 billion today.
4. Andrew Carnegie – $389 billion
Andrew Carnegie, who we’re sure you know best as the guy Scrooge McDuck was likely based on, was born in 1835 in Scotland. His family immigrated to the United States when he was just a child and they settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His family was poor, but Carnegie worked hard throughout his whole life.
He founded Carnegie Steel in 1892 and it became one of the biggest producers of steel in the world. Carnegie sold the company to banker and financier J.P. Morgan in 1901. In the deal, Carnegie made $480 million. At the time, that was about 2.1 percent of America’s GDP. That means for someone to have the same amount of money now, it would be around $210 billion.
After Morgan purchased the company, it became United States Steel Corporation and the business is still in operation today. Carnegie gave away most of his wealth, making him one of the greatest philanthropist in history. He died in August 1911.
3. Jakob Fugger – $400 billion
Born in Augsburg, Germany, in March 1459, Jakob Fugger’s family ran a successful textile business and Fugger grew up rich. As an adult, he made some savvy loans to people like the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I and he financially backed Charles V in his rise to the King of Spain. Because he backed the right men, Fugger was given lucrative mining contracts. He then flooded the markets with these metals and drove many of his competitors out of business, allowing him to be the dominant metal supplier in the world at the time.
Fugger eventually became so wealthy that he was called Jakob the Rich. As for exactly how rich Fugger was, he had 2% of Europe’s GDP at the time, which would be around $400 billion today.
We know what you’re thinking – Jakob was one rich Fugger.
2. Musa Keita – $428 billion
Musa Keita was the Mansa (Sultan) of the African country of Mali from 1312-1337 and trying to determine how rich he was is straight up mind-boggling.
What is known is that his kingdom was the biggest producer of gold in the world, when gold was highly in demand. Rudolph Ware, an associate professor of history at the University of Michigan, says that, “There are pictures of him holding a scepter of gold on a throne of gold holding a cup of gold with a golden crown on his head. Imagine as much gold as you think a human being could possess and double it, that’s what all the accounts are trying to communicate.”
With his gold, Musa amassed an army that was 200,000 men strong. When he traveled, he spent money lavishly. There is a story of him going to Mecca, and his spending causing a currency crisis in Egypt.
The best estimates for his wealth are somewhere around $426 billion. .
1. Augustus Caesar $4.75 trillion
Gaius Octavius was the great-nephew and adopted son of Julius Caesar. When Caesar was assassinated in 43 BC, Octavius was named his heir. After he defeated Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium, he became ruler of Rome. He replaced the republic with a monarchy and he took the name Augustus.
Augustus was the first Emperor of Rome and he was also one of their greatest leaders. He brought the country to newfound prosperity, which also brought Augustus a tremendous amount of wealth. His empire was one of the richest in history, and his personal wealth was about one-fifth of the entire empire. At one point, he personally owned the country of Egypt, which is a pretty impressive real estate portfolio.
Augustus’s wealth, at its peak, would have been about $4.75 trillion, making him arguably the richest man who ever lived. He died in August 14 AD, at the age of 75.