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Top 10: Richest Men (of All Time)

By Jason Bacchetta on August 31, 2010

The next time you’re browsing through some of the cool stuff we feature here on inStash and wishing you had the money to buy it all, look to those who monopolized money for inspiration; those who not only knew how to make money, but (we’re willing to bet) had a damn good time spending it, as well.

Forbes‘ annual list of The World’s Billionaires is an accurate indicator of who the richest people in the world are today, but how do they stack up against the titans of the past? To answer this question, we thought it only fair that we take inflation, GDP growth, currency exchange rates, fluctuations in share price and percentage of economic power into account. We then ran the numbers through a complex algorithm that took weeks to properly adjust.

OK, not really. Truth be told, this is not an exact science. It’s impossible to list the wealthiest men of all time with 100% accuracy. If we somehow managed to do it, we’re sure historians and economists alike would be extremely pleased. Aside from the factors mentioned above, there are also the issues of credible information and historical evidence – and then it needs to be decided if legends have a place on the list. What about rulers and monarchs? Many of us probably perceive personal wealth and control of wealth to be separate from one another.

In other words, this is not an exhaustive list by any means and there are quite a few figures who were left off, such as Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Croesus, King Solomon, Cosimo de’ Medici and Musa I, among many others. Better luck next time fellas. Oh, and before you bother to question the absence of Bill Gates – he didn’t make the cut. His peak worth in 1999 would work out to $154 billion today.

Without further ado, the top 10 richest men of all time:

10. Alan Rufus (1040 – 1089)

Alan Rufus

Net Worth: $155 Billion

How He Made His Fortune: Land grants, investments in steel.

About: Alan Rufus was a companion of his uncle, William the Conqueror, during the Norman conquest of England. He led a brutal suppression against rebels that killed 150,000 people. As a reward for his allegiance, Rufus received over 250,000 acres in land grants. He also made quite a fortune from his investments in steel.

Known For: Rufus’ fortune represented more than 7% of Britain’s net national income at the time.

Fun Fact: Rufus was accused of abducting Gunhilda, daughter of King Harold, and seducing her.

9. Henry Ford (1863 – 1947)


Net Worth: $188 billion

How He Made His Fortune: Ford Motor Company – mass production of cars.

About: After turning down the opportunity to take over the family farm, Henry Ford left home to become an apprentice machinist, and later became Chief Engineer at the Edison Illuminating Company. Shortly after, he began to experiment with gasoline engines. After starting and failing with multiple automobile companies, Ford eventually created the Ford Motor Company. With the introduction of the Model T and moving assembly belts, Henry Ford became an instant success.

Known For: Father of modern assembly lines used in mass production.

Fun Fact: Adolf Hitler kept a life-size portrait of Ford next to his desk. “I regard Henry Ford as my inspiration,” Hitler told a Detroit News reporter two years before becoming the Chancellor of Germany.

Quote: “A market is never saturated with a good product, but it is very quickly saturated with a bad one.”

8. Osman Ali Khan, Asaf Jah VII (1886 – 1967)

Net Worth: $225 billion

How He Made His Fortune: Inheritance, monarch.

About: Osman Ali Khan was the ruler of Hyderabad until it was merged into India in 1948. During his rule, he pushed education, science and development, which allowed for the introduction of electricity, railways, roads and airways. Nearly all of the major public buildings in Hyderabad city were built during his reign. With Osman’s death, his funeral procession was one of the largest in Indian history.

Known For: Featured on the cover of TIME magazine in the 1940s as the richest person in the world.

Fun Fact: Osman Ali had seven wives and 42 concubines.

7. William Henry Vanderbilt (1821 – 1885)

Net Worth: $239 billion

How He Made His Money: Inheritance, railroads.

About: William Henry Vanderbilt started his business training at the early age of 19 as a bank clerk. He inherited $100 million from his father and continued to grow the family railroad empire. William was an active philanthropist, giving money to the YMCA, Metropolitan Opera, Colombia University and Vanderbilt University.

Known For: By the time of his death, only nine years after taking over the family business, Vanderbilt nearly doubled his inheritance.

Fun Fact: Vanderbilt’s father, Cornelius, constantly criticized him, calling him a “blockhead.”

Quote: “The care of $200 million is too great a load for any back or brain to bear. It is enough to kill anyone. There is no pleasure in it.”

6. Andrew Carnegie (1835 – 1919)

Andrew Carnegie

Net Worth: $243 Billion

How He Made His Fortune: Carnegie Steel Company – steel producer, investments.

About: Andrew Carnegie was born in Scotland in a one room cottage. At the age of 13, he and his family moved to Pennsylvania in the United States, seeking a better life. Andrew’s first job as a bobbin boy earned him $1.20 per week, but by the age of 18, Carnegie was working his way up through the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. He developed a close relationship with the company’s president, J. Edgar Thompson, which allowed him to participate in inside trading. Carnegie began to slowly accumulate capital through his investments.

He then used this capital to start his own company, Carnegie Steel. Making use of his connections, Carnegie established businesses that supplied rails and bridges to railroads. Carnegie would go on to control the most extensive integrated iron and steel operation ever owned by any one person in the US.

In 1901, being 66 years old, Carnegie was ready for retirement. J.P. Morgan organized a trust and bought out Carnegie Steel Company along with several other major producers to form the United States Steel Corporation. Carnegie was paid $225,639,000 in the form of 5%, 50-year gold bonds.

Known For: A true “rags-to-riches” story. Philanthropy: At the time of Carnegie’s death in 1919, he had already given away over $350 million.

Fun Fact: The U.S. Steel buyout was (and still is) the largest industrial takeover in the history of the United States.

Quote: “He that cannot reason is a fool. He that will not is a bigot. He that dare not is a slave.”

5. Tsar Nicholas II of Russia (1868 – 1918)

Tsar Nicholas II of Russia

Net Worth: $253 billion

How He Made His Fortune: Inheritance, monarch.

About: Upon Nicholas II becoming Tsar, Imperial Russia was one of the greatest powers in the world. However, Nicholas was not ready to become Emperor. In fact, it was a position that he never wanted and one that he feared. This came at a time of many changes in Russia; calls for court reforms, such as the adoption of a constitutional monarchy, were shot down by Nicholas. After annihilation in the Russo-Japanese War, revolutionary outbreaks followed and the Imperial government was near collapse.

World War I eventually sealed the fate of the royal family. Nicholas II was forced to abdicate and his family was evacuated. In a tragic ending, Bolsheviks seized power from the government and had Nicholas II and his family (wife, son, and four daughters) murdered by a firing squad.

Known For: Being the last Emperor of Russia.

Fun Fact: As a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, Alexandra (Nicholas’ wife) carried the same gene mutation that afflicted several of the major European royal families – hemophilia. Nicholas’ only son was afflicted with the disease. At this time, hemophilia was untreatable and usually led to an untimely death. Hemophilia therefore became known as “the royal disease.”

Quote: “There is no justice among men.”

4. Jacob Fugger (1459 – 1525)

Net Worth: $277 Billion

How He Made His Fortune: Inheritance, trade, banking.

About: Jacob Fugger was a German banker who inherited a trade and banking business from his father. Jacob led a consortium of German and Italian businessmen that loaned Charles V gold in order to secure his election as Holy Roman Emperor. Charles would then go on to give the Fugger family noble rank and grant them sovereign rights over their lands – also allowing them to mint their own money.

The Fugger house would eventually own extensive real estate, merchant fleets and palatial establishments throughout Europe.

Known For: Using his fortune to lend money to many of Europe’s rulers.

Fun Fact: Jacob became well known, even after his death, as Jacob Fugger the Rich.

3. John D. Rockefeller (1839 – 1937)

Net Worth: $374 Billion

How He Made His Fortune: Standard Oil – an American oil producing, transporting, refining and marketing company.

About: John D. Rockefeller built an oil refinery in Cleveland, Ohio, which would later become the Standard Oil Trust. He would go on to borrow heavily, reinvest profits, control costs and utilize waste. For years, he also bought out rivals, improved the efficiency of his operations, pressed for discounts on oil shipments, undercut his competition, made secret deals and raised investment pools.

All of this led to an American empire that consisted of 20,000 domestic wells; 4,000 miles of pipeline; 5,000 tank cars and over 100,000 employees. At its peak, Standard Oil Trust was refining over 90% of the world’s oil.

Known For: Revolutionizing the petroleum industry. Philanthropy: Giving away over $550 million to medicine, education and scientific research.

Fun Fact: Eventually, 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. Among many others, some of these companies are known today as ConocoPhillips, BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Pennzoil. Ironically, the breakup of Standard Oil caused the companies’ combined net worth to rise fivefold, giving Rockefeller over $900 million.

Quote: “I would rather earn 1% off 100 people’s efforts than 100% of my own efforts.”

2. Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777 – 1836)

Net Worth: $450 Billion

How He Made His Fortune: N M Rothschild & Sons – investment bank.

About: Nathan Mayer Rothschild was a London financier and one of the founders of the international Rothschild family banking dynasty. His father, Mayer Amschel Rothschild, is referred to as the founding father of international finance. Nathan, along with his four brothers, controlled finance and information across the entire continent of Europe.

According to Niall Ferguson, a British historian and professor at Harvard University:

“For most of the nineteenth century, N M Rothschild was part of the biggest bank in the world which dominated the international bond market. For a contemporary equivalent, one has to imagine a merger between Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, J P Morgan and probably Goldman Sachs too – as well, perhaps, as the International Monetary Fund, given the nineteen-century Rothschild’s role in stabilising the finances of numerous governments.”

Known For: Financing the war against Napoleon. Issuing loans to many governments around the world. Creating a mercury monopoly.

Fun Fact: The Rothschilds are behind a number of controversies, including the Illuminati, who conspiracy theorists believe are the masterminds behind events that will lead to the establishment of a New World Order.

Quote: “I care not what puppet is placed upon the throne of England to rule the Empire on which the sun never sets. The man who controls Britain’s money supply controls the British Empire, and I control the British money supply.”

1. Marcus Licinius Crassus (115 BC – 53 BC)


Net Worth: $2 Trillion

How He Made His Fortune: Proscriptions, slave trafficking, judicious purchases of land and houses, purchases of burning property.

About: Marcus Licinius Crassus was a Roman general and politician. Although he initially began with a rather large inheritance, he lost all of it during the Marian-Cinnan proscriptions, in which he was forced to flee to Hispania. However, Crassus would get his revenge while commanding the left wing of Sulla’s army, making a fortune from proscriptions himself.

Proscriptions were only part of his overall wealth. It is said that after receiving word of houses being on fire, Crassus would arrive with an army of 500 “firefighters” and attempt to offer a modest sum for the property. If the offer was refused, Crassus would let the property burn to the ground.

Crassus went on to seek political power and struggled throughout most of his career. His fortune, however, played a large part in gaining support from senators. He was eventually elected censor and helped finance Julius Caesar’s successful campaign to become Pontifex Maximus.

Known For: Suppressing the slave revolt led by Spartacus.

Fun Fact: After Crassus’ death, a story later surfaced that the Parthians poured molten gold into Crassus’ mouth as punishment for his greed.

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