5 wealthiest historical figures from Early modern to the modern period

With a peak net worth of approximately US$418 billion in 2019 dollars, American oil magnate John D. Rockefeller is the richest person in American history, and the richest person in the post-Industrial Revolution era.

The list of the richest historical figures gathers published assessments of the (inflation-adjusted) fortunes and net-worth of the wealthiest historical figures. Listed individuals from the early modern period are thought to have had a net worth of at least the equivalent of 100 billion United States dollars. Let’s explore

John D. Rockefeller – United States

  • 1839–1937 (97 years)
  • Net Worth: 440 Billion USD

On September 29, 1916 CE, Rockefeller became the first individual ever to reach a personal fortune of US$1 billion (equivalent to US$16 billion in 2019). Rockefeller accumulated his fortune from the Standard Oil company, of which he was a chairman, founder, and significant shareholder. By the time of his death in 1937 CE, estimates (if using his wealth as a percentage of US GDP) place his net worth in the range of US$440 billion.

Jakob Fugger – Augsburg, Modern Day Germany

  • 1459–1525 (66 years)
  • Net Worth: 400 Billion USD

Jakob Fugger was a mining entrepreneur, German merchant, and banker. He expanded the Fugger family’s assets by expanding their operations across Europe. At one point, Fugger and his family had an essentially monopolistic hold on the European copper market. At his death, Jakob Fugger willed to his nephew Anton Fugger company assets figuring 2,032,652 guilders.

Mir Osman Ali Khan – Hyderabad State, Modern Day India

  • 1886–1967 (81 years)
  • Net Worth: 330 Billion USD

Mir Osman Ali Khan was the last invading Nizam of Hyderabad State in British India. Regarded as the richest person in the world during his lifetime, his picture was on the cover of Time magazine in 1937 CE. As a semi-autonomous king, he had his own mint, printing his currency, the Hyderabadi rupee, and had a special treasure that was said to contain £100m in silver and gold bullion, and a further £400m of jewels (in 2015 terms). The primary source of his wealth was the Golconda mines, the only supplier of diamonds globally at that time.

Andrew Carnegie – United States

  • 1835–1919 (84 years)
  • Net Worth: 310 Billion USD

Carnegie established the Carnegie Steel Company, which was the most comprehensive integrated steel and iron operations in the United States; in 1901 CE, Carnegie sold his company for US$480 million to J.P. Morgan, who then absorbed his company into U.S. Steel. Capitalized at US$1.4 billion during those days, U.S. Steel was the first billion-dollar company globally. In his final years, Carnegie’s net worth was around US$475 million. Still, by the time of his death in 1919 CE, he had donated most of his wealth to foundations and other charitable endeavors and had only US$30 million left to his fortune.

Henry Ford – United States

  • 1863–1947 (84 years)
  • Net Worth: 200 Billion USD

Henry Ford was an entrepreneur, American automotive engineer, and founder of the legendary Ford Motor Company. By designing the Model T Ford with mass production in mind and hiring the assembly line method of the rapid output, he was able to essentially lower the base price of his automobiles and reach a broader market. As production grew, Ford further reduced expenses and increased salaries to overcome worker turnover. His highest earnings were reported at age 57, and he died at the age of 83 in 1947 CE at a net worth of US$200 billion (inflation-adjusted value in 2020 dollars)

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