Money may not buy you happiness but everyone has dreamed of being rich at some point in their lives. Many points in their lives if we’re being honest. The ability to buy anything you ever wanted whenever you wanted is an alluring idea that only the elite 1% in the world can do.
Who wouldn’t want to be Richard Branson with a net worth of $5.4 billion or have as much money as Elon Musk who is worth about $14 billion? You could buy a fleet of hypercars without putting a dent into your fortune or a series of homes across the planet along with a few helicopters just for the hell of it.
As rich as those examples are, they have nothing on the richest people in all of human history. This list is about the people who would consider Mr. Musk and Mr. Branson’s fortunes as chump change. The second richest man alive in the world today doesn’t even make it on this list and the richest only makes it because at one point in time his net worth landed him on this list.
So here is the list of the 15 richest people in all of human history. Those who have had fortunes so vast it’s really hard to imagine — let alone describe — and adjusted to today’s dollars.
15. Richard Fitzalan 10th Earl of Arundel
Number 15 on our list is a prominent 14th-century English nobleman and landowner, Richard Fitzalan, who was also known as the 10th Earl of Arundel. Fitzalan was a military leader who fought in wars such as the Second Wars of Scottish Independence in Scotland and the hundred years’ war in France. He succeeded to the earldom of Surrey and amassed such great wealth that he made loans to King Edward III. By the time of his death in 1376, his fortune totaled a whopping $118.6 billion in today’s money.
14. John Jacob Astor
Moving right along, we come to German-American businessman and investor John Jacob Astor. He spent his formative years traveling, having been born in Germany, moving to Britain and then finally settling down in the United States. He built a monopoly in the fur trade creating a business empire that extended from the Pacific Coast all the way to the Great Lakes region in Canada. When the first fur started to decline in demand he diversified his portfolio by investing in New York real estate in 1799. He was also a huge and influential patron of the arts. John Jacob Astor also has the distinction of being the first multimillionaire in the United States. Adjusted for inflation his net worth equaled $121 billion.
13. William de Warenne
Let’s go back and visit another Earl of Surrey. The first Earl of Surrey was nobleman William de Warenne who created the nobility title of those lands under the rule of William the Conqueror’s heir, William II Rufus. William de Warenne was an English military leader who was awarded huge tracts of land due to his service during the battle of Hastings. Originally from Normandy, he was rewarded with properties in Sussex Norfolk and Yorkshire. That combined land was worth the equivalent of $146.13 billion when adjusted for inflation in today’s dollars at the time of his death.
12. Bill Gates
Number 12 on our list brings us to the modern-day and a familiar name. Bill Gates is the richest man alive in America as well as the richest person in the world today. He founded Microsoft with Paul Allen in 1975 which then went on to dominate the age of the personal computer with the Windows operating system. He held onto the Microsoft stock and at the peak of the dot-com bubble which sent his net worth soaring to $101 billion. In today’s dollars, that would have been the equivalent of $136 billion. His current net worth is around $86 billion but for a time there he did crack the top 15 in history. He’s dedicated his wealth to philanthropy having donated $28 billion as of 2013.
11. Alan Rufus
Traveling back to the 11th-century we join another nobleman from Normandy who invaded Britain. Alan Rufus joined his uncle William the Conqueror during that invasion and was nicknamed Alan”The Red” Rufus. For his service, he was given 250,000 acres of land from Yorkshire to London as well as Richmond Castle in North Yorkshire. This is another example of extreme wealth due to the conquering of England by William I. Alan Rufus’ estimated fortune when he died was £11,000 and amounted to 7% of England’s GDP at the time. In today’s dollars that would have been $149 billion.
10. Cornelius Vanderbilt
Cornelius Vanderbilt was one of the most famous and wealthiest industrialists in American history as well as the fourth richest American ever. Known as the Commodore, he made his first fortune in the steamboat industry. He was doing just fine in that industry but it wasn’t until the age of 70, however, that he reached the lofty heights of his fortune when he decided to invest in railroads. His wealth multiplied and increased so much that at the time of his death his estate was worth $185 billion in today’s money.
9. Henry Ford
While Vanderbilt was the fourth richest American ever, Ford motor company founder Henry Ford just edges him out. Ford revolutionized the auto industry through the innovative use of assembly lines, lowering the price of vehicles, and eliminating the need for specialized training in order to deliver a mass production vehicle. The Model T meant American families, who previously could only afford a horse and buggy, could now enter into the automobile revolution. When adjusted for inflation his net worth was $188 billion at the time of his death.
8. Muammar Gaddafi
Muammar Gaddafi controlled Libya with an iron fist. He was an infamous revolutionary who ruled over the country for forty years after seizing power in a coup d’etat in 1969. He was captured and tortured to death at the end of the Libyan Civil War in 2011. After which reports began to surface that he was secretly the wealthiest person on the planet. Over $70 billion was found in foreign bank accounts and invested in real estate alone. Altogether, he steadily increased his net worth over those 40 years to $200 billion at the time of his death when adjusted for inflation.
7. William the Conqueror
Alan “The Red” Rufus appeared earlier on this list with an estimated $149 billion, but that is dwarfed by his uncle William the Conqueror. As you might guess from his name, he built his wealth from conquering weaker kingdoms and building an Empire which he ruled for 20 years. He invaded England in 1066 and continued to rule until his death in 1088 after which his son William II Rufus succeeded him. By that time his estimated net worth was about $230 billion in today’s dollars which was then divided amongst his sons when he passed away.
6. Mir Osman Ali Khan, Asaff Jah VII
Mir Osman Ali Khan Bahadur ruler of the Princely State of Hyderabad and Berar in India from 1948 to 1967. He was the last ruler of the state before it became part of India as the country gained its independence from the British Empire. At the time, he was the wealthiest man in the world owing his fortune to precious metals including millions of dollars worth of gold and billions of dollars in jewels. He owned 50 Rolls Royces and used the Jacob Diamond, a $95 million diamond in today’s money, as a paperweight in his office. When adjusted for inflation his net worth was an estimated $240 billion at the time of his death.
5. Nikolai Alexandrovich Romanov
It seems that a trend in this list is there are two ways to being one of history’s wealthiest people: being a business man or the head of state. Number 5 on our list is Russian leader Nikolai Alexandrovich Romanov, also known as Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, who ruled from 1894 to 1917. Unlike everyone else on the list, however, he was canonized after his death by the Russian Orthodox church which also makes him the richest saint in human history. He and his whole family were murdered when Bolshevik revolutionists overthrew him and opened the door to communism. His $900 million at the time of his death would have been worth $300 billion today.
4. Andrew Carnegie
Switching back to industrialists from world leaders we come to Andrew Carnegie. Born in 1835 in Scotland, he moved to America as a child and created his own fortune starting with investments in railroads, bridges, and oil derricks and eventually let to building Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Steel Company. He sold that company to J.P. Morgan in 1901 for $480 million which would be $310 billion in today’s dollars. Afterward, he dedicated his time and money to charity with the final $30 million of his vast fortune donated after his death.
3. Rothschild Family
Unlike everyone else on this list, we’re including the entire Rothchilds instead of a single individual. This family of bankers hails from Frankfurt, Germany and are the richest people alive today. Their net worth is fairly difficult to pin down due to their vast holdings but the best estimates peg their wealth at about $350 billion. However, many people believe they control over $1 trillion in banking assets and real estate alone making them one of the most powerful families in the world.
2. John D. Rockefeller
John D. Rockefeller is the single richest American who has ever lived and the country’s first billionaire. He was the oil tycoon of oil tycoons having founded Standard Oil in 1870 but retired from it at the turn of the century in order to pursue philanthropy, donating money to hospitals and schools along with founding the University of Chicago. Standard Oil was so massive that it was declared a monopoly and broken into smaller companies like Amoco, Conoco, Chevron, and ExxonMobil. Rockefeller’s net worth was $400 billion when adjusted for inflation.
1. Mansa Musa I
The richest man on earth in all of human history was Mansa Musa I, ruler of the African country of Mali from 1312 to 1337. The country’s wealth was derived from producing gold and salt which the nation controlled more than half of the world’s supply. He was so rich that when he made his pilgrimage to Mecca, dozens of camels carried hundreds of pounds of gold and his lavish spending alone may have caused a currency crisis in Egypt. Adjusted for inflation, his net worth would have been $410 billion in today’s dollars.
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