America is the richest nation in the world. The United States consistently has more millionaires and billionaires than any other nation. Four of the top five richest people in the world are Americans – Bill Gates ($90 billion), Jeff Bezos ($89 billion), Warren Buffett ($75 billion), and Mark Zuckerberg ($62 billion) all increase the United States' bottom line. So this got us thinking, what about the American entrepreneurs and tycoons of the 18th and 19th centuries (and earlier)? If we adjusted their wealth to account for inflation, how would they stack up against Gates, Bezos, Buffett, and Zuckerberg (not to mention Sergey Brin, Larry Page, and Larry Ellison)?
During the peak of the dotcom bubble, Bill Gates briefly had a net worth slightly above $100 billion. That's the same as $136 billion today after adjusting for inflation. But that doesn't even come close to being enough money to claim the top spot on this list. The Rockefellers, Carnegies, Astors, and Vanderbilts all amassed their own seriously impressive fortunes. So, where do they stack up against our modern billionaires? When you take inflation into account, who was the richest American of all time?
#10: Warren Buffett – $75 billion (1930 – present, Berkshire Hathaway)
Before he gave most of his fortune away, Warren Buffett's net worth peaked at $75 billion. The Oracle of Omaha made his billions as the Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, a holding company that owns interests in a wide variety of industries. Berkshire owns GEICO, Fruit of the Loom and hundreds of other investments.
#9: Friedrich Weyerhaeuser – $80 billion (1834 – 1914, timber, land)
After the Civil War, Friedrich Weyerhaeuser started a lumber company and eventually went on to acquire over two million acres of land making him one of the biggest private landowners in the US. His timber venture was extremely successful, earning Weyerhaeuser a personal net worth of over $80 billion in today's dollars.
#8. A.T. Stewart – $90 billion (1803 – 1876, dry goods)
Irish born Alexander Turney Stewart, aka A.T. Stewart, founded the very first department store in New York City which would go on to become the largest retail store in the world for its time. In 1869 alone Stewart's net worth was estimated at over $1 million and when he died in 1876 his fortune was worth $90 billion in 2012 dollars!
#7: Jeff Bezos – $90. 6 Billion* (1964 – present, Amazon founder) *Achieved in 2017
Jeff Bezos is the founder, chairman, CEO, and president of Amazon.com. He single-handedly changed the way the world shops. He famously wrote the business plan for Amazon while driving across country with his wife to start the business. His net worth peaked in the summer of 2017, when he was briefly richer than Bill Gates, making him the richest person in the world for a few hours.
#6: Stephen Girard – $105 billion (1750 – 1831, banker)
Originally from France, Stephen Girard made his fortune in shipping and eventually banking. The oldest person on our list of richest Americans, Girard was born in 1750 and died in 1831. At the time of this death, Stephen Girard's was the richest man in America with a net worth of $105 billion! He died without heirs so he donated a large portion of his fortune to charity.
#5: John Jacob Astor – $121 billion (1763 – 1848, New York City real estate)
John Jacob Astor made his first fortune by dominating the fur trade in the U.S. Astor then used his vast financial resources to acquire real estate in New York City including what would eventually become The Waldorf Astoria hotel. Astor was the first multi millionaire ever in America and at the time of his death in 1848 had a net worth equal to $121 billion in today's dollars.
#4: Bill Gates – $136 billion* (1955 – present, Microsoft) *Achieved in 2000
Bill Gates' peak net worth topped $136 billion for a brief moment in 1999 at the highest point of the dot com bubble but has since dropped to $90 billion which still makes him the richest living person in America. Gates has pledged to donate the majority of his wealth to charity.
#3: Cornelius Vanderbilt – $185 billion (1794 – 1877, railroads and shipping)
Cornelius Vanderbilt made an early small fortune running steamboats but didn't come into his vast wealth until he was he invested in railroads at the age of 70. He used his money to start Vanderbilt University and his descendants still own vast real estate in New York City. At the time of his death in 1877 Cornelius Vanderbilt had amassed a net worth of $185 billion in today's dollars.
#2: Andrew Carnegie – $310 billion (1835 – 1919, US Steel)
At the peak of the steel boom, Andrew Carnegie invested heavily in steel companies which paid off handsomely. Eventually Carnegie became the head of US Steel, which catapulted him to the upper echelons of American wealth. At the time of his death in 1919, Andrew Carnegie was worth the equivalent of $310 billion in today's dollars making him the second richest American to ever live.
#1: John D. Rockefeller – $340 billion (1839 – 1937, Standard Oil)
John D. Rockefeller was not only the richest America who ever lived but also one of the richest human beings in the history of the world with a net worth equivalent to $340 billion in today's dollars when he died in 1937. John D. Rockefeller was the founder of Standard Oil and eventually controlled over 90% of all the oil in the United States. Standard Oil was broken up by the US government for being a monopoly and was eventually broken up into what eventually became Amoco, Chevron Conoco, and ExxonMobil. He was the first American to ever be worth over $1 billion and donated over $500 million to charity upon his death.
With additional reporting from Brian Warner