The richest Americans have been in the headlines (more than usual) recently. As the Biden Administration works to get its huge infrastructure and federal assistance spending packages through Congress, one of the suggestions, which has been abandoned, was a tax on the assets of America’s billionaires. One proposal read:
The Billionaires Income Tax would apply to roughly 700 taxpayers and raise hundreds of billions of dollars, ensuring the wealthiest people in the country pay their fair share toward historic investments in child care, paid leave, and addressing the climate crisis.
It has never been entirely clear how the number 700 was determined.
Additionally, to highlight the tremendous wealth of some Americans, the net worth for Tesla founder Elon Musk rose to $300 billion, the highest of anyone in the U.S. The announcement of a venture between Tesla and Hertz sent Tesla’s shares soaring.
To determine the richest American of all time, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed net worth estimates of wealthy Americans, both living and dead, from historical and media sources, including the Forbes Real-Time Billionaires list. We converted the estimated net worth of those who have passed away into current U.S. dollars using the CPI inflation calculator from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Of the 30 wealthiest Americans of all time, 13 are still alive and hold a combined net worth of over $1.3 trillion. Most of these billionaires made their fortune primarily through the tech sector.
As for the other 17, many were active during the Gilded Age, a time in the late 1800s when bankers and industrialists held outsized shares of power and wealth. This time coincided with America’s westward expansion and desire to build up cities. Many of the richest Americans ever capitalized on these trends and made their fortunes in coal, steel, oil, railroads, and shipping. Many of these so-called “robber barons” used shady business tactics, bribery, and union busting ploys to defeat competitors and amass their fortune.
Much like the Gilded Age of years past, income inequality has again become a major issue in the U.S. today for many Americans. The number of billionaires continues to grow, but lower- and middle- class income growth lags behind that of the wealthy. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many Americans lost their jobs and struggled to make ends meet, the combined net worth of U.S. billionaires increased by over $900 billion.
The richest American of all time is John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937). However, Elon Musk may have moved ahead of him, depending on the methodology. Here are the details
> 2021 estimated net worth: $272.7 billion
John D. Rockefeller was the first American billionaire, and to this day, he is by far the wealthiest American of all time. Rockefeller began his business career as a merchant, dealing in goods like meats and grains. Though his business was successful, he soon turned his attention to the oil industry, sensing an opportunity for greater wealth. In 1870, he and his business partners founded one of the most successful companies in American history, Standard Oil.
Rockefeller pioneered concepts like vertical integration. By controlling many facets of the supply chain of his oil business, he could keep costs low and margins high. He also figured out a way to standardize the quality of oil, which had been poor up to that point. A decade after its founding, Standard Oil controlled over 90% of all oil production in America. The Supreme Court eventually broke up Standard Oil in 1911, citing antitrust laws, but by then Rockefeller had become America’s first billionaire and amassed a fortune worth $272.7 billion in 2021 dollars.