The Wealthiest Historical Figures and How Much They Would be Worth in Today’s Dollars

Written by Carly Hallman

Who are the richest people in history? While putting a dollar value on ancient kings might be difficult, we think we have a pretty good list of the top contenders for the richest people ever. From ancient kings to modern monopolists, here’s who we think are the top contenders.

Wealthiest people in history in todays dollars infographic

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Historical Figures and How Much They Would Make in Today’s Dollars Transcript

Figure Years Alive Money in Their Day Modern Equivalent Source of Their Wealth Facts
Augustus Caesar 63 BC-14 AD 300 sesterces per Roman citizen $4.6 trillion (Rumored) Emperor His personal wealth was worth one-fifth of the empire’s economy, an empire that accounted for between 25% and 30% of the world’s economic output.
Jakob Fugger 1459-1525 2 million guilders $400-500 billion (Rough Estimate) Banking and Monopoly
  • His wealth accounted for 2% of Europe’s GDP at the time of his death.
  • He created the Fuggerei, the first affordable housing project.
Mansa Musa I of Mali 1280-1337 Many tons of pure gold $400-415 billion (Rumored) Emperor and Monopoly
  • His wealth was unimaginable to his contemporaries — it’s hard to say if it was exaggerated or understated.
  • He had control of the region’s salt and gold production.
John D. Rockefeller 1839-1937 $1.4 billion $253-400 billion (Rough Estimate) Monopoly Standard Oil Company
  • He founded the University of Chicago and hundreds of libraries across the U.S.
  • The Rockefellers are still one of the wealthiest families in the U.S. today.
Andrew Carnegie 1835-1919 $475 million $310-372 billion (Best Guess) Monopoly Carnegie Steel Company
  • At one point, Carnegie’s hundreds of millions accounted for 0.60% of the U.S. GDP.
  • He left very little to his family when he died, choosing instead to invest in libraries and universities.
Nicholas II of Russia 1868-1918 12.5-17.5 million rubles of personal wealth, plus annual income $250-300 billion (Rumored) Emperor
  • His wealth is very speculative.
  • The czar was almost penniless by the end of the year, but he got an annual income of 24 million rubles.
Osman Ali Khan, Asaf Jah VII 1886-1967 Roughly $2 billion, crown jewels $210 billion (Best Guess) Monarchy He was the nizam of Hyderabad, with his own mint and a massive private treasury of gold and jewels.
Alan Rufus 1040-93 11,000 pounds $165-195 billion (Rough Estimate) Monarchy He inherited the wealth of William the Conqueror.
Cornelius Vanderbilt 1794-1877 $100-150 million $105-215 billion (Rough Estimate) Monopoly New York Central Railroad He directed the construction of New York City’s Grand Central Station.
Basil II 976-1025 300,000 pounds of gold $169-200 billion (Rumored) Emperor He flourished due to the lucrative silk industry but was known for his cruelty in blinding Bulgarian prisoners.
Henry Ford 1863-1947 $100 million $67.2-200 billion (Rough Estimate) Other Business/Technology Ford Motor Company
  • Ford more than doubled the typical wage to $5 a day.
  • He was famously anti-Semitic.
John Jacob Astor 1763-1848 $20 million $110-168 billion (Best Guess) Monopoly Fur Trading He was the first multi-millionaire in the U.S.
Jeff Bezos 1964-Present $125.8 billion (Alive Today) Other Business/Technology Amazon The Amazon founder is currently the richest man in the world.
Stephen Girard 1750-1831 $7.5 million $105-120 billion (Best Guess) Banking
  • He personally saved the U.S. from financial collapse during the War of 1812.
  • He never had children, and he gave away most of his wealth.
Bill Gates 1955-Present $96.1 billion (Alive Today) Other Business/Technology Microsoft Gates and Warren Buffet founded The Giving Pledge, a promise that they will give at least half of their wealth to philanthropy.
Jason “Jay” Gould 1836-92 $100 million $78.3 billion (Best Guess) Monopoly Railroads and Real Estate One of the most hated men of Wall Street, Gould was accused of bribery and stock fraud.

Other Potential Trillionaires from History

Figure Years Alive Estimated Worth Their Business Facts
Emperor Shenzong of Song 1048-85 25-30% of global GDP Emperor His “New Policies” were aimed at improving the lives of peasants, a forerunner of the welfare state.
Gengis Khan 1162-1227 12 million square miles of land Emperor He had a lot of land and spoils, but it’s hard to say how much personal wealth he had.
King Solomon of Israel 970-31 BC Every year, he was said to have taken 666 talents (25 tons) of gold in taxes. Monarchy While historians are unclear about whether or not the figure existed, the wealth he amassed could’ve reached as much as $2 trillion in today’s dollars.

Sources:

Who Was the Richest Person of All Time?

It’s possible that it’s Augustus Caesar, a Roman emperor who was estimated to have the biggest net worth ever ($4.6 trillion in modern money), but there are other contenders out there. Here’s our list of the top 10 richest people of all time:

  1. Augustus Caesar — Potentially the richest man of all time, he was the first emperor of the Roman Empire and valued at a rough estimate of $4.6 trillion in today’s dollars. He personally owned a fifth of the wealth of an empire that accounted for about 30% of the gross domestic product of the whole world.
  2. Possibly: Emperor Shenzong of Song — Also the leader of an empire that accounted for 30% of the world’s GDP at the time and valued in the trillions, Emperor Shenzong of China is a contender for the richest man to ever live. It’s possible he had the highest net worth ever. It’s difficult, however, to separate his personal wealth from his country’s, ranking him lower on our list.
  3. Possibly: King Solomon of Israel — If you take the Bible as fact, the famous King Solomon’s net worth would have been valued in the trillions, since every year, he demanded about 25 tons of gold from his subjects, eventually leading to his tragic downfall.
  4. Possibly: Gengis Khan — Another of history’s most profitable and terrifying emperors is Genghis Khan. Net worth estimates for him are all over the place, with some awarding him figures with the modern-day value of hundreds of trillions of dollars and others maintaining that Genghis Khan only had an extreme amount of land rather than great personal wealth. Either way, he’s certainly a contender for the richest person to ever live.
  5. Jakob Fugger — Despite being worth an estimated $400 to $500 billion, most people haven’t learned about this Catholic, German, Renaissance-era mogul in their history lessons. He had a tight grip on the copper and textile industries in merchant-based Italy and even dealt out loans to the famous royals of the House of Habsburg. He started what many think of as the first European welfare housing program, the Fuggerei. (Only Catholics were allowed entry, though.)
  6. Mansa Musa — According to his contemporaries, who simply could not fathom his wealth, this African king was the richest man in the world ever. How much is Mansa Musa worth today? With camel-loads of gold and salt, Mansa Musa’s net worth has been valued by modern-day scholars to be around $400 to $415 billion in modern money.
  7. John D. Rockefeller — Now, we’ve reached some modern rich people, starting with oil magnate John D. Rockefeller. Net worth figures for him are a bit skewed, but his $1.4 billion in olden-day money would be worth several hundred billion now. Some scholars estimate that he would be worth $400 billion today. For scale, that’s three times more than today’s richest person, Jeff Bezos.
  8. Andrew Carnegie — Carnegie once said, “The man who dies rich dies disgraced.” While he didn’t exactly die a billionaire, giving away massive swaths of his wealth to more than 3,500 public libraries, the Carnegie net worth at his richest was valued in today’s dollars between $300 and $372 billion.
  9. Nicholas II of Russia — The revolutionaries considered their monarch to be the richest person in history. That being said, he spent wildly: His allotment of 24 million rubles was usually spent by the end of the year.
  10. Osman Ali Khan — The nizam of Hyderbad was named the wealthiest person ever by Time Magazine and used the world-famous Jacob Diamond as a paperweight.

Who Was the Richest Person in America’s History?

The richest American ever is widely considered to be John D. Rockefeller, worth about $400 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars, or about 2% of the United States GDP. Members of his family continue to be some of the wealthiest people in U.S. history.

Who Is the Richest Person Today?

Jeff Bezos is considered to be the richest person in the world today, valued at a whopping $125.8 billion. His Amazon business has taken the world by storm, and he has enough to invest in a space program. Yet Bezos makes a fraction of what John D. Rockefeller and many others on our list made. Perhaps it is better that wealth is no longer in the hands of monarchs but entrepreneurs. Yet one must still ask: Will history repeat itself?


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