List of richest Americans in history Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_richest_Americans_in_history

Business magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller is widely considered the richest American in history.

When adjusting for inflation, most sources agree on John D. Rockefeller being the richest American in history, although some define richest as an individual's wealth as a share of contemporary Gross Domestic Product (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 when he died in 1937, which was about $24 billion in dollars adjusted to 2018. Meanwhile, Bill Gates in 1999 was worth nearly $150 billion in dollars adjusted to 2018.[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.

Cornelius Vanderbilt I left a fortune worth $100 million upon his death in 1870. By some inflation calculators that would be over $2.2 billion in 2021 dollars.

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. Jean Paul Getty, when asked his reaction on being named wealthiest American 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 added, "But remember, a billion dollars isn't worth what it used to be."[2]

The second category, covering the second to eighth richest individuals, included Andrew Mellon's son, daughter, niece, and nephew. Wealthiest Americans included a total of 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.

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

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

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

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

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, subtitling it "Surprise: Only three of them are alive today".[4]

Bernstein & Swan (2008)[edit]

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

Business Insider (2011)[edit]

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

CNN Money (2014)[edit]

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

Current richest American[edit]

Elon Musk is presently the richest American, with an estimated net worth exceeding $220 billion, as of January 29, 2022 (Musk also holds Canadian and South African citizenship).[8]

By half decade[edit]

This list names the richest American by half decade starting in 1770.[9]

Year Name Picture
1770 Peter Manigault[10]
Peter Manigault (South Carolina plantation owner).jpg
1775 Robert Morris[11]
Robert Morris.jpg
1780 William Bingham[12]
1785 Benjamin Franklin[13]
Joseph Siffrein Duplessis - Benjamin Franklin - Google Art Project.jpg
1790 John Hancock[14]
John Hancock 1770-crop.jpg
1795 Elias Hasket Derby[15]
Frothingham EliasHasketDerby.jpg
1800 Thomas Willing[16]
Thomas Willing by John Wollaston (1706-1805).jpg
1805 Stephen Girard[17]
Stephen Girard by JR Lambdin.jpg
1835 Stephen Van Rensselaer[18]
1840 John Jacob Astor[19][20]
John Wesley Jarvis - John Jacob Astor - Google Art Project.jpg
1850 Cornelius Vanderbilt[21][22]
Cornelius Vanderbilt Daguerrotype2.jpg
1880 William Henry Vanderbilt[23]
William H Vanderbilt.jpg
1890 John D. Rockefeller[24][25]
Portrait of J. D. Rockefeller.jpg
1900 Andrew Carnegie
Andrew Carnegie, three-quarter length portrait, seated, facing slightly left, 1913.jpg
1910 John D. Rockefeller
Portrait of J. D. Rockefeller.jpg
1920 Henry Ford
Henry ford 1919.jpg
1930 Andrew Mellon
1940 Henry Ford[26]
Henry ford 1919.jpg
1950 H. L. Hunt[27]
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[28]
Daniel K. Ludwig (US Shipping Magnate, 1946).jpg
1985 Sam Walton[29]
1990 John Kluge[30]
John W. Kluge (American businessman).jpg
1995 Bill Gates[31]
Bill Gates June 2015.jpg
2020 Jeff Bezos[32]
Jeff Bezos at Amazon Spheres Grand Opening in Seattle - 2018 (39074799225) (cropped).jpg


  1. ^ Sumner, Scott (February 24, 2018). "Virtually all sources are wrong". The Money Illusion. Retrieved February 27, 2018.
  2. ^ "J. Paul Getty Dead at 83; Amassed Billions From Oil". Nytimes.com. June 6, 1976. Retrieved April 22, 2013.
  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 (June 1, 2014). "The richest Americans in history". CNNMoney. Retrieved March 5, 2018.
  8. ^ "Elon Musk". Bloomberg News. Retrieved January 29, 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  9. ^ 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
  10. ^ Heitzler, Michael James (2005). Goose Creek, South Carolina: A Definitive History 1670–2003. Vol. 1. Charleston, SC: The History Press. p. 86. ISBN 978-1-59629-055-6.
  11. ^ Kennedy, John (1894). Robert Morris and the Holland Purchase. Batavia, NY: J. F. Hall. p. 121. richest man 1775 robert morris.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ Gross, Daniel (April 1, 2002). "Finance & Investment: Cash of the Titans". Robb Report. Malibu, CA.
  14. ^ "Finance & Investment: Cash of the Titans".
  15. ^ Kellogg, Day Otis (1898). New American Supplement to the Latest Edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 2. New York, NY: The Werner Company. p. 1031.
  16. ^ Burke, James (2007). American Connections: The Founding Fathers. Networked. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. pp. 157–58. ISBN 978-0-7432-8226-0. richest man america 1800.
  17. ^ 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. richest man united states 1810.
  18. ^ Jones, Abner Dumont (1854). The Illustrated American Biography. Vol. 2. New York, NY: J. Milton Emerson & Co. p. 463.
  19. ^ Scharrenberg, Paul, ed. (February 1, 1929). "The Slow Climb of Wages". The Seamen's Journal. San Francisco, CA: International Seamen's Union of America. p. 48 – via Google Books.
  20. ^ Pinheiro, John C. "James K. Polk: The American Franchise". U.S. Presidents: James K. Polk. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia: The Miller Center. Retrieved June 13, 2021.
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ Davies, Norman (2018). Beneath Another Sky: A Global Journey into History. London, United Kingdom: Allen Lane. p. 534. ISBN 978-1-8461-4831-6 – via Google Books.
  24. ^ Li, Xiaobing; Molina, Michael (2014). Oil: A Cultural and Geographic Encyclopedia of Black Gold. Vol. 1. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. p. 335. ISBN 978-1-61069-271-7.
  25. ^ "America's Richest Man: J. D. Rockefeller and his Enormous Fortune". The Star. Canterbury, NZ. Detroit Free Press. April 6, 1895.
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ 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.
  28. ^ Berglund, Nina (August 15, 1980). "Billionaire Buys Catalina Savings". Tucson Citizen. Tucson, AZ. pp. 1A, 3A – via Newspapers.com.
  29. ^ "America's richest man is one of the boys". UPI Archives. Washington, DC. United Press International. November 10, 1985. Retrieved June 13, 2022.
  30. ^ Miller, Stephen (September 9, 2010). "A One-Man Empire, From TV to Laundry". The Wall Street Journal.
  31. ^ "Forbes magazine profile on Bill Gates". Forbes. 2015. Retrieved May 1, 2015.
  32. ^ "Jeff Bezos Becomes the Richest Man in Modern History, Topping $150 Billion". Bloomberg. July 16, 2018. Retrieved May 10, 2020.