The Richest People Of All Time, And Their Obnoxious Fortunes

When payday rolls around at the end of a long, hard month of work, we might feel pretty rich — even if it’s just momentarily. But for most of us, the reality is we’re not actually that well off — especially when you compare it to what these 21 men managed to earn in their lifetime. Let’s just say you’d probably forget about that monthly paycheck with billions or trillions in the bank.

21. Richard FitzAlan, 10th Earl of Arundel

Richard FitzAlan held many different titles. As a nobleman, he was the 10th Earl of Arundel and the 8th Earl of Surrey. In 1345, and in the midst of his storied medieval military career, he became the Admiral of the Western Fleet. FitzAlan was also married twice and a father to at least seven children. Thankfully, he had more than enough money to support them all!

⁓$108 billion

FitzAlan died in January 1376 after spending his lifetime accruing a £60,000 all-cash fortune — an impressive sum for the 14th century. In fact, it was enough of an inheritance for his sons, the future Earls of Arundel, to also become some of the world's wealthiest men ever! Today, FitzAlan’s savings would be worth about $108 billion.

20. Bill Gates

Bill Gates got into Harvard, but he didn’t stay long. Instead, he decided to drop out and start his own business. That business would be Microsoft, which is now the biggest PC software enterprise in the world. Gates served as Microsoft’s CEO until January of 2000 — although he still provides advice to those running the company now.

$114.2 billion

Between 1995 and 2017, Gates held the number one spot on Forbes’ list of the world’s richest people in all but four of those years. At the time of writing, August 2022, he’s got an impressive $114.2 billion to his name. And amazingly, he has already donated a staggering $35.8 billion in his Microsoft stock to the eponymous charitable foundation he founded with his ex-wife.

19. Warren Buffett

As a kid, Warren Buffett was into an unusual subject for someone of his age: investing. At 19, he graduated from the University of Nebraska before studying at Columbia Business School and then enrolling at the New York Institute of Finance. Since 1970 he has made a mountain of cash through investments as the CEO and chairman of Berkshire Hathaway.

$118 billion

Buffett stands as the fifth-richest man in the world, just behind Gates on the 2022 Forbes list. He has saved up an impressive $118 billion — but he’s also well known for living frugally in spite of his extra-cushy bank account. He has also promised to give away 99 percent of his fortune, funneling funds to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

18. Heshen

Heshen quickly rose through the ranks as an official of the Qing dynasty that ruled over China, as the Qianlong Emperor took a shine to him. He jumped from vice-president of the Ministry of Revenue to Grand Councillor, before then being made minister of the Imperial Household Department. He even received the right to ride around the imperial palace grounds — known as the Forbidden City — on a horse. This was an honor only typically bestowed on Imperial China’s most high-ranking elderly officials.

⁓$132 billion

It turned out that from his various imperial posts, Heshen had been able to siphon tax revenues into his personal accounts. By 1799 and the time of his death, it came to light just how corrupt Heshen had become. It seems he had managed to squirrel away a personal fortune that would be worth some $132 billion nowadays.

17. Jeff Bezos

Princeton graduate Jeff Bezos decided in 1993 that he wanted to start an online bookstore. So, while on a trip from New York City to Seattle, he drew up a business plan. He warned investors — including his parents, who reportedly gave him $300,000 — that his business had a 70 percent chance of going bankrupt or otherwise failing.

$168 billion

That business was Amazon, and Bezos didn’t go bankrupt — he became one of the world’s richest living men. According to Forbes, Bezos has around $168 billion in his pocket. And for four years he sat at the top of the magazine’s billionaire list before another well-known business tycoon pipped him to the post.

16. John Jacob Astor

Born in Germany, John Jacob Astor moved to America after the Revolutionary War and became the country’s first multimillionaire. Astor’s fortune came from his monopoly in the fur trade, but by 1830 interest in fur had waned. So he changed course and started investing in real estate in New York City.

⁓$168 billion

Astor had racked up $20 million by the time he died — a figure equivalent to around $168 billion today. But he couldn’t have gotten that far without his wife Sarah Cox Todd, who initially only brought a mere $300 to their union. What she lacked in wealth she made up for in great business judgment, according to her husband. He even claimed that she helped with his company because she had better sense than the majority of merchants.

15. Cornelius Vanderbilt

Cornelius Vanderbilt didn’t have all that much while growing up, and he never got a great education. But he still worked his way up the corporate ladder to hold leadership roles within the inland water trade. He then parlayed his earnings into the railroad industry, eventually becoming the owner of the New York Central Railroad.

~$185 billion

Vanderbilt remains not only one of the wealthiest Americans ever, but one of the richest men to have ever lived. Adjusted with today’s inflation rates, he grew his net worth to approximately $185 billion before he died in 1877. He and his family used their money and influence for some good — he provided the funding to found Nashville’s Vanderbilt University, for one.

14. Henry Ford

It’s a common misconception that Henry Ford invented the automobile or the assembly line. Really, he just utilized the assembly line to make cars more affordable for numerous Americans. The Model T changed the face of transportation in America, of course. But Ford also revolutionized the business world, churning out an affordable product while still paying his workers a good wage.

~$200 billion

In recent years, the Ford Motor Company has had its fair share of ups and downs, thanks in part to an ever-changing car market. But during the founding Ford’s tenure, the business was wildly successful. It's no surprise Ford himself raked in a personal fortune valued at around $200 billion today!

13. William the Conqueror

William the Conqueror became Duke of Normandy in 1035, but he wanted to make a land grab for England. To do so, he first had to wait until his control of Normandy was safe, before finally going for England. In 1066 he became the first-ever Norman to act as King of England — the last foreign invader to take the English crown.

~$209 billion

The rest of William the Conqueror’s reign was spent trying to maintain control of the throne he had nabbed. But he did also find the time to build some castles, reconfigure the English clergy, and bring Norman nobility to England. And even with all this on his plate, he still managed to amass a fortune valued at $209 billion today. Men can multitask, after all!

12. Muammar Gaddafi

As a member of the Libyan military, Muammar Gaddafi defected and formed his own cell, overthrowing the country’s monarch in 1969. With that, he became the figurehead of Libyan politics for the next four decades. Some lauded him for his anti-imperialist beliefs and the improvements he brought to his people’s day-to-day lives. Others condemned him as a dictator who violated human rights and funded terrorism around the world. Whatever people thought, there was no denying that what he did made him extremely wealthy.

~$212 billion

While in power Gaddafi nationalized Libya’s oil reserves, which boosted state revenues. And as it turned out, he had also skimmed some of this money from the top. In 2011 — the year that Gaddafi died — officials revealed that the former leader had funneled Libyan funds into secret accounts, real estate deals, and sketchy investments. Altogether, it equaled a hidden fortune of about $212 billion.

11. Elon Musk

PayPal. Tesla. SpaceX. These are just a few of the companies founded by Elon Musk. And there are plenty more that you probably won’t have even heard of. So it's hardly surprising that in 2022, Musk finally made it to the top spot on the Forbes list of the wealthiest people in the world, kicking Bezos down to second place!

$219 billion

The business tycoon’s wealth has grown exponentially over the last few years. Amazingly, it was only a few years ago that Musk was all the way down at position 31 on Forbes' list. The approximately $219 billion in his bank account has seen him slide up 30 places. And no one can deny that it’s pretty impressive!

10. Osman Ali Khan

His Exalted Highness Osman Ali Khan, the Nizam of Hyderabad, ruled over his princely state from 1911 until India annexed it in 1948. During that time, he made lots of additions to the state’s capital city. These include a university, a hospital, and government buildings that are still in use today.

~$230 billion

While Osman Ali Khan served as the absolute leader of Hyderabad, some believed that he was also the world’s richest man. And even after the Indian government annexed his state and seized the majority of his belongings, he still had $1 billion to his name. At his peak, though, His Exalted Highness was likely worth a staggering $230 billion, as adjusted for inflation.

9. Jakob Fugger

Jakob Fugger didn’t become Europe’s richest man in the early 1500s by investing his time and energy into a single industry. While he and his family made the majority of their wealth from the textile trade, his brothers did dabble in a bit of banking. And their company also branched out into the mining trade, pulling silver, copper, quicksilver, and cinnabar from the earth.

~$277 billion

Eventually, Fugger earned the nickname “Jakob the Rich,” and deservedly so — his family’s business helped him to build a personal net worth of approximately $277 billion in today’s money. Fugger used his affluence to influence continental politics. He even bankrolled the campaigns of both Maximilian I and Spanish King Charles V, both of whom became Holy Roman Emperor.

8. Tsar Nicholas II of Russia

History doesn’t remember Tsar Nicholas II of Russia in a good light. He earned nicknames such as Bloody Nicholas and Vile Nicholas because of the often violent acts he carried out in power. His reign ended in a similar fashion after the Russian people revolted in 1917. Nicholas and his family were executed in 1918.

~$300 billion

Much political unrest in Russia came from Tsar Nicholas II’s policies. The working class, for one, suffered from terrible conditions for work and poor treatment from the upper classes. And the Tsar seemingly made no effort to redistribute his wealth to help his subjects. Meanwhile, his personal fortune tallied up to some $300 billion.

7. Andrew Carnegie

As the saying goes, “Strike while the iron’s hot.” Andrew Carnegie must’ve heard that somewhere because he invested in the American steel industry just as it started to boom. But he didn’t just live out his life as a steel-industry magnate; he was a passionate philanthropist who encouraged other rich people to give back, too.

~$309 billion

Of course, Carnegie didn’t just implore others to give — he showed them how. In just under two decades, he donated an astounding $350 million of his fortune to universities, charities, and other do-good foundations. That figure represented about 90 percent of Carnegie’s money, which would have been valued at about $309 billion today.

6. John D. Rockefeller

Many teenagers get part-time jobs, perhaps to save for college or pay for their first car. But John D. Rockefeller — who became an assistant bookkeeper at just 16 — managed to kick-start his future career in business. By age 20 he was involved in a number of business ventures, eventually narrowing his focus to oil refining and establishing the Standard Oil Company in 1870.

Between $300 and $400 billion

Rockefeller struck gold by starting his company when he did. Kerosene and gas became vital elements in the American lifestyle, whether they were being used to light lamps or fuel cars. By September 29, 1916, Rockefeller was credited as the first-ever individual to rack up a net worth of $1 billion. And by the time he died in 1937, he was worth somewhere between $300 and $400 billion, a figure adjusted with modern inflation rates.

5. Mansa Musa I of Mali

The word “mansa” means “sultan,” “emperor,” or “conqueror” in English. Musa I of Mali was the tenth person to hold the title from the years 1312 to 1337. He reigned over the Mali Empire’s expansive territory, which today would have encompassed Mali and a southern stretch of Mauritania.

~$415 billion

The BBC once described Mansa Musa I of Mali as “the richest man of all time.” The land over which he ruled just so happened to contain half of the world’s entire supply of gold. He traded it with merchants as far away as Egypt and Italy, racking up a fortune estimated to be about $415 billion in today’s dollars.

4. King Solomon of Israel

The Hebrew Bible, Quran, Old Testament, and Hadiths all contain stories of King Solomon of Israel, who took the throne after his father King David. Solomon’s reign is thought to have lasted from 970 to 931 B.C. And according to all of the holy books, he ruled over Israel with great wisdom.

~$2.2 trillion

King Solomon racked up unbelievable wealth as Israel’s monarch. For starters, legend has it that he earned 25 tons of gold per year of his nearly four-decade reign. This alone would be worth billions today, but he added to his fortune through taxes and trade money. And that’s why some estimate that he would have been worth $2.2 trillion in the present day!

3. Augustus

Augustus served as the first emperor of the Roman Empire, leading his people from 27 B.C. until he died in 14 A.D. During that time, he cemented his place in history as an effective yet peaceful leader. Many actually refer to his time in charge as Pax Romana, which is Latin for “Roman Peace.” This is because of the relative calm he brought to his empire.

~$4.63 trillion

While he reigned over Rome, Augustus drew his fortune directly from the empire’s economy — about 20 percent of that money went into the emperor’s pocket. He also had a sprawling territory, even ruling over all of Egypt at one point. Therefore, at his peak, it’s estimated Augustus would’ve been worth about an eye-watering $4.63 trillion in today’s money.

2. Emperor Shenzong of Song

From 1067 to 1085, Emperor Shenzong of Song ruled over China as the sixth leader of the Song dynasty. He employed statesman and economist Wang Anshi as his chancellor, a pivotal choice during his reign. Wang’s policies helped Chinese peasants and those out of work. In fact, some even consider Song’s China to be the predecessor of the modern welfare state.

>$30 trillion

As the Emperor of China, Shenzong of Song controlled 30 percent of the world’s gross domestic product during his reign. So essentially he had a net worth of more than $30 trillion while he ruled over his empire. And although he did collect taxes from his people, he also helped them. In fact, his period in charge is often called the Peaceful Prosperity era because of this.

1. Genghis Khan

As the first ruler of the Mongol Empire, Genghis Khan laid the foundation for what would become the largest contiguous land empire ever. He did this by bringing together nomadic tribes dotting Northeast Asia. Together, they conquered most of Eurasia in Genghis Khan’s punishing way. Many consider him a genocidal leader because of his brutality.

~$120 trillion

The vast expanse of territory conquered by Genghis Khan would have given him a tremendous amount of wealth today. During his reign, he acquired a staggering 12 million square miles — no ruler in history has ever led such a successful land grab. And in this day and age, all that space would be worth hundreds of trillions of dollars. Khan’s approximate net worth was a whopping $120 trillion!