1990 was 30 years ago. I'm just going to leave that there for a second and let everyone over the age of 35 or so digest it. It was a vastly different time. Cell phones were not in widespread use. The iPod hadn't been invented. Google and Yahoo! hadn't been created yet. There was no social media. Mark Zuckerberg was in first grade. There was barely an internet. Laptops weighed around 12 pounds. Silicon Valley hadn't yet become the mecca for creating billionaires it is today. To make the list of the richest people in the U.S., one "only" had to be worth $260 million. Today, to be the poorest person on that list, you'd need a net worth of around $2 billion. In 1990, each member of the Walton family members was worth $2.5 billion. Today the average Walton heir is worth $50+ billion. And by the way, $2.5 billion in 1990 is equivalent to $5.8 billion today. Things have changed a lot in the last 30 years.
The first 20 people on 1990's list are worth a combined $50 billion. Jeff Bezos, alone, is worth nearly 3x that amount today, and that's after his $36 billion divorce settlement last year. Bezos' net worth is more than the total combined net worth of the top 14 people on the list from 1990.
In 1990, Warren Buffett was the second-richest person, with a net worth of $3.3 billion. He was 60 years old at the time. Today, he has a net worth of $89 billion and is the third-wealthiest person in the U.S. As a member of the Giving Pledge, Buffett has donated more to philanthropy than he was worth back in 1990. Shares of his company, Berkshire Hathaway, were worth $7,175 each in 1990. Today, those same shares are trading at $340,223.94.
In 1990, Bill Gates was the 16th-richest person in America with a $2.5 billion net worth. Microsoft's IPO was just four years before and the personal computer revolution was picking up serious steam. Today, Gates has a net worth of $111 billion. Like Buffett, Gates is a member of the Giving Pledge and has donated more to philanthropy than he was worth back in 1990.
Other people who dominate the world's wealthiest year in and year out lately including Jeff Bezos, Sergey Brin and Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg were either still working in investment banking, just starting college, or in first grade in 1990, respectively.
The richest person on 1990's list is a man named John Kluge. He had a net worth of $5.6 billion. John Werner Kluge was a German-American entrepreneur who was at one time the richest person in the United States. He was best known as a television industry mogul in the United States. Kluge made his fortune through his role at the media company Metromedia. He owned television stations WABD in New York City and WTTG in Washington D.C. He joined the company in 1958 as chairman of the board and the largest shareholder. Over the years, Kluge acquired independent television stations. In 1986, 20th Century Fox came calling. They wanted to launch their own television network and needed Kluge's station to form the core of the new network. Fox paid Kluge $4 billion for his stations. In 1987 he was named the richest person in the U.S., a position he held for many years. Kluge passed away in 2010 at age 95. If he were alive today, and his net worth was $5.6 billion, Kluge would be the 118th-richest American.