List of richest Americans in history

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A caricature of John D. Rockefeller Sr. published in Puck in 1901
For the contemporary lists, see List of Americans by net worth and Forbes 400.

Most sources agree on John D. Rockefeller being the richest American in history, although they appear to define riches as an individual's wealth as a share of contemporary GDP.

This method of comparing individuals' wealth across time is disputed. For example, economic blogger Scott Sumner noted in 2018 that Rockefeller was worth $1.4 billion dollars when he died in 1937, which is about $24 billion in dollars nowadays. Meanwhile Bill Gates was worth nearly $150 billion in dollars nowadays in 1999.[1]

Second richest in terms of wealth over contemporary GDP is disputed, with various sources listing Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt, John Jacob Astor IV, Bill Gates or Henry Ford. Most sources agree on Carnegie. Further places are a matter of even bigger debate.

Given the economic rise of the United States of America since its origins, with America becoming the foremost economic power in the world by the late 19th century, the wealthiest men in America were often also the wealthiest men in the world.

Fortune's Wealthiest Americans (1957)[edit]

In 1957, Fortune magazine developed a list of the seventy-six wealthiest Americans, which was republished in many American newspapers.

Getty, when asked his reaction and whether he was really worth a billion dollars, said "You know, if you can count your money, you don't have a billion dollars" and then famously added, "But remember, a billion dollars isn't worth what it used to be."[2]

The person with the greatest impact on the list was arguably Andrew W. Mellon, who had been dead for 20 years: the second category, covering the second to eighth richest individuals, included his son, daughter, niece and nephew. The list also included seven members of the Rockefeller family, five members of the Ford family, four members of the Du Pont family (and a non-family DuPont executive), and four General Motors executives.

Five separate categories divided the list based on the amount of the fortune. Fortunes smaller than $75,000,000 were not considered worthy of inclusion in the list. Notably absent from the list are Woolworths heiress Barbara Hutton, Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, Consuelo Vanderbilt, Forrest Mars Sr., Sam Walton, Jack Heinz, Robert Wood Johnson II, Gussie Busch, William Alvin Moncrief, Charles Revson, Malcolm Forbes, William S. Paley, Kay Kimbell, Fred C. Koch, Anne Valliant Burnett Tandy, Electra Waggoner Biggs, Huguette Clark, Estee Lauder and Sunny Von Bulow. For comparison, equivalent amounts in 2018 US dollars are given below each subheading; the presumed source of the wealth is enclosed in parentheses.

$700,000,000 to $1,000,000,000

(worth $6,099,289,100 to $8,713,270,142 today)

$400,000,000 to $700,000,000

(worth $3,485,308,057 to $6,099,289,100 today)

$200,000,000 to $400,000,000

(worth $1,742,654,028 to $3,485,308,057 today)

$100,000,000 to $200,000,000

(worth $871,327,014 to $1,742,654,028 today)

$75,000,000 to 100,000,000

(worth $653,495,261 to $871,327,014 today)

Klepper & Gunther (1996)[edit]

In the 1996 book The Wealthy 100, authors Michael Klepper and Robert Gunther placed John D. Rockefeller atop the list of the richest Americans in history, followed by Cornelius Vanderbilt and John Jacob Astor.[3] Bill Gates was the top living person, coming in fifth.

American Heritage (1998)[edit]

American Heritage magazine published the following list of 40 richest Americans ever in 1998.[4]

  1. John D. Rockefeller
  2. Andrew Carnegie
  3. Cornelius Vanderbilt
  4. John Jacob Astor
  5. Bill Gates
  6. Stephen Girard
  7. Alexander Turney Stewart
  8. Frederick Weyerhaeuser
  9. Jay Gould
  10. Marshall Field
  11. Sam Walton
  12. Henry Ford
  13. Warren Buffett
  14. Andrew W. Mellon
  15. Richard B. Mellon
  16. James Graham Fair
  17. William Weightman
  18. Moses Taylor
  19. Russell Sage
  20. John Insley Blair
  21. Cyrus H. K. Curtis
  22. Paul Allen
  23. J. P. Morgan
  24. E. H. Harriman
  25. Henry Huddleston Rogers
  26. Oliver Hazard Payne
  27. Henry Clay Frick
  28. Collis Potter Huntington
  29. Peter Arrell Browne Widener
  30. Nicholas Longworth
  31. Philip Danforth Armour
  32. James Clair Flood
  33. Mark Hopkins Jr.
  34. Edward Cabot Clark
  35. Leland Stanford
  36. Hetty Green
  37. James J. Hill
  38. William Rockefeller
  39. Elias Hasket Derby
  40. Claus Spreckels

Bernstein & Swan (2008)[edit]

Bernstein and Swan in All the Money in the World (2008) mention the 15 richest Americans of all time.[5]

  1. John D. Rockefeller
  2. Andrew Carnegie
  3. Cornelius Vanderbilt
  4. John Jacob Astor
  5. Stephen Girard
  6. Richard B. Mellon
  7. A. T. Stewart
  8. Frederick Weyerhäuser
  9. Marshall Field
  10. Sam Walton
  11. Jay Gould
  12. Henry Ford
  13. Bill Gates
  14. Andrew W. Mellon
  15. Warren Buffett

Business Insider (2011)[edit]

Business Insider agreed on Rockefeller in first, but placed Andrew Carnegie second, followed by Vanderbilt, and Gates.[6]

  1. John D. Rockefeller
  2. Andrew Carnegie
  3. Cornelius Vanderbilt
  4. Bill Gates
  5. John Jacob Astor
  6. Stephen Girard
  7. A. T. Stewart
  8. Frederick Weyerhäuser
  9. Jay Gould
  10. Stephen Van Rensselaer
  11. Marshall Field
  12. Sam Walton
  13. Warren Buffett

CNN Money (2014)[edit]

The following is a list compiled by CNN Money in 2014.[7]

  1. John D. Rockefeller
  2. Cornelius Vanderbilt
  3. John Jacob Astor
  4. Stephen Girard
  5. Richard Mellon
  6. Andrew Carnegie
  7. Stephen Van Rensselaer
  8. A. T. Stewart
  9. Frederick Weyerhäuser
  10. Jay Gould
  11. Marshall Field
  12. Bill Gates
  13. Henry Ford
  14. Warren Buffett
  15. J. P. Morgan
  16. Sam Walton
  17. Moses Taylor
  18. Russell Sage
  19. James G. Fair
  20. William Weightman

By half decade[edit]

This list names the richest American by half decade starting in 1770.[8]

Year Name Picture
1770 Peter Manigault[9]
Peter Manigault (South Carolina plantation owner).jpg
1775 Robert Morris[10]
Robert Morris.jpg
1780 William Bingham[11]
1785 Benjamin Franklin[12]
1790 John Hancock[13]
John Hancock 1770-crop.jpg
1795 Elias Hasket Derby[14]
Frothingham EliasHasketDerby.jpg
1800 Thomas Willing[15]
Thomas Willing by John Wollaston (1706-1805).jpg
1805 Stephen Girard[16]
Stephen Girard by JR Lambdin.jpg
1835 Stephen Van Rensselaer[17]
1840 John Jacob Astor
John Wesley Jarvis - John Jacob Astor - Google Art Project.jpg
1850 Cornelius Vanderbilt[18][19]
Cornelius Vanderbilt Daguerrotype2.jpg
1880 William Henry Vanderbilt
William H Vanderbilt.jpg
1890 John D. Rockefeller[20][21]
John D. Rockefeller 1885.jpg
1900 Andrew Carnegie
Andrew Carnegie, three-quarter length portrait, seated, facing slightly left, 1913.jpg
1910 John D. Rockefeller
John D. Rockefeller 1885.jpg
1920 Henry Ford
Henry ford 1919.jpg
1930 Andrew Mellon
1940 Henry Ford[22]
Henry ford 1919.jpg
1950 H. L. Hunt[23]
H. L. Hunt (American oil magnate, 1965).jpg
1955 J. Paul Getty
J Paul Getty crop.jpg
1960 Howard Hughes
Howard Hughes 1938.jpg
1980 Daniel Ludwig
Daniel K. Ludwig (US Shipping Magnate, 1946).jpg
1985 Sam Walton
1990 John Kluge[24]
1995 Bill Gates[25]
Bill Gates June 2015.jpg
2018 Jeff Bezos[26]
Jeff Bezos' iconic laugh crop.jpg


  1. ^ Sumner, Scott (24 February 2018). "Virtually all sources are wrong". The Money Illusion. Retrieved 27 February 2018. 
  2. ^ "J. Paul Getty Dead at 83; Amassed Billions From Oil". 1976-06-06. Retrieved 2013-04-22. 
  3. ^ "The Wealthiest Americans Ever". The New York Times. July 15, 2007. 
  4. ^ Gibson, Christine (October 1998). "The American Heritage". American Heritage. Vol. 49 no. 6. 
  5. ^ All the Money in the World (2008) by Bernstein and Swan, p. 17 "Introduction"
  6. ^ Gus Lubin (April 17, 2011). "The 13 Richest Americans of All Time". Business Insider. 
  7. ^ Hargreaves, Steve (2014-06-01). "The richest Americans in history". CNNMoney. Retrieved 2018-03-05. 
  8. ^ Klepper, Michael; Gunther, Michael (1996), The Wealthy 100: From Benjamin Franklin to Bill Gates – A Ranking of the Richest Americans, Past and Present, Secaucus, New Jersey: Carol Publishing Group, p. xii, ISBN 978-0-8065-1800-8, OCLC 33818143 
  9. ^ Heitzler, Michael James (2005). Goose Creek, South Carolina: A Definitive History 1670–2003. 1. Charleston, SC: The History Press. p. 86. ISBN 978-1-59629-055-6. 
  10. ^ Kennedy, John (1894). Robert Morris and the Holland Purchase. Batavia, NY: J. F. Hall. p. 121. 
  11. ^ Spingola, Deanna (2011). The Ruling Elite: a Study in Imperialism, Genocide and Emancipation. Bloomington, IN: Trafford Publishing. p. 48. ISBN 978-1-4269-5462-7. 
  12. ^ Gross, Daniel (April 1, 2002). "Finance & Investment: Cash of the Titans". Robb Report. Malibu, CA. 
  13. ^ "Finance & Investment: Cash of the Titans".
  14. ^ Kellogg, Day Otis (1898). New American Supplement to the Latest Edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica. 2. New York, NY: The Werner Company. p. 1031. 
  15. ^ Burke, James (2007). American Connections: The Founding Fathers. Networked. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. pp. 157–58. ISBN 978-0-7432-8226-0. 
  16. ^ Phillips, Kevin (June 18, 2002). Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of America's Rich. New York, NY: Broadway Books. p. Chapter 1. ISBN 9780767911511. 
  17. ^ Jones, Abner Dumont (1854). The Illustrated American Biography. 2. New York, NY: J. Milton Emerson & Co. p. 463. 
  18. ^ Buder, Stanley (2009). Capitalizing on Change: A Social History of American Business. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press. p. 105. ISBN 978-0-8078-3231-8. Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794–1877) succeeded Astor as the wealthiest American. 
  19. ^ Kemp, Michael (2016). Uncommon Sense: Investment Wisdom Since the Stock Market's Dawn. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons. p. 242. ISBN 978-0-7303-2424-9. Consider also Cornelius Vanderbilt, the wealthiest American at the time of his death in 1877. 
  20. ^ Li, Xiaobing; Molina, Michael (2014). Oil: A Cultural and Geographic Encyclopedia of Black Gold. 1. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. p. 335. ISBN 978-1-61069-271-7. 
  21. ^ "America's Richest Man: J. D. Rockefeller and his Enormous Fortune". The Star. Canterbury, NZ. Detroit Free Press. April 6, 1895. 
  22. ^ National Republic: A Monthly Review of American History, Policy, Politics and Public Affairs. Washington, DC: National Republic Publishing Co. 1940. p. 30. The richest man in America is Henry Ford. 
  23. ^ Knowles, Ruth Sheldon (1978). The Greatest Gamblers: The Epic of American Oil Exploration. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. p. 302. ISBN 978-0-8061-1513-9. 
  24. ^ Miller, Stephen (September 9, 2010). "A One-Man Empire, From TV to Laundry". The Wall Street Journal. 
  25. ^ "Forbes magazine profile on Bill Gates". Forbes. 2015. Retrieved May 1, 2015. 
  26. ^ "The World's Billionaires 2018". Forbes. Retrieved 2018-09-06.