The U.S. is home to more than 700 billionaires, by far the most of any country. The country’s abundant natural resources, multi-trillion dollar economy, and large population make it an ideal place for someone to launch a business empire.
Throughout the history of the U.S., a select few have been able to use their business savvy, good luck, and often their family wealth to amass fortunes that are worth the equivalent of more than $50 billion in 2021 dollars.
To determine the 30 richest Americans 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., so mMany 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. These are the American billionaires that got richer during COVID.
30. James G. Fair (1831-1894)
> 2021 estimated net worth: $57.0 billion
James G. Fair is one of just 30 Americans who amassed a personal fortune worth $57 billion or more in 2021 dollars. Fair was born in Belfast, Ireland, in 1831. His parents relocated the family to Illinois in 1843.
Before turning 18, Fair moved out west to search for gold and other precious metals. He and three partners eventually discovered a large deposit of gold and silver in Nevada that became known as “Big Bonanza” — then the largest such discovery in American history. Fair would go on to serve one term in the U.S. Senate, from 1881 to 1887, as a Democrat representing Nevada.
29. Russell Sage (1816-1906)
> 2021 estimated net worth: $57.8 billion
Russell Sage grew up with few advantages. He started as a grocery store clerk, and through entrepreneurial spirit became one of the richest Americans of all time. While working, he saved enough to buy his own grocery store, and used the profits to invest in a number of financial ventures that would eventually make him his fortune. These ventures included food wholesale, shipping, railroad and telegraph, stock market investing, and money lending.
Sage is often remembered as a financial pioneer. Some of his innovative trading methods — including developing puts and calls — are still used on Wall Street to this day.
28. Moses Taylor (1806-1882)
> 2021 estimated net worth: $58.7 billion
Moses Taylor’s father was an assistant to another one of the richest Americans of all time, John Jacob Astor. Taylor used the money his father earned to make a number of investments, notably in railroads, shipping, steel, and coal.
In 1837, Taylor became a director of New York’s City Bank, which today is known as CitiBank. He worked his way up the ranks to become president of the bank in 1856, a position he held until his death in 1882.
27. Michael Bloomberg (1942-present)
> 2021 estimated net worth: $59.0 billion
Michael Bloomberg worked on Wall Street at the beginning of his career but eventually created his own information technology company to serve the financial industry, which is the primary driver of his fortune. His company quickly became successful thanks to the Bloomberg Terminal, which in 1982 began offering traders a computerized way to collect, analyze, and share data.
Bloomberg eventually served as a three-term mayor of New York City and launched an unsuccessful presidential bid in 2019.
26. Rob Walton (1944-present)
> 2021 estimated net worth: $63.7 billion
Rob Walton is one of 13 currently living Americans to rank among the 30 richest Americans of all time, with a net worth of $63.7 billion as of April 2021. Walton is the oldest son of Walmart founder Sam Walton and was the company’s chairman from 1992 to 2015. He is still a Walmart board member.
25. Jim Walton (1948-present)
> 2021 estimated net worth: $64.4 billion
Jim Walton is one of four members of the Walton family to rank as one of the 30 richest Americans of all time. The youngest son of Walmart founder Sam Walton, Jim Walton was a Walmart board member for over 10 years. Walton is chairman and CEO of Arvest bank — a bank owned by the Walton family operating in Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Kansas.
24. Alice Walton (1949-present)
> 2021 estimated net worth: $66.2 billion
heiress of Sam Walton and founder of Walmart, Alice Walton is the only woman to rank among the 30 richest Americans of all time. She is the second richest woman in the world, behind L’Oreal heiress Francoise Bettencourt Meyers. Walton is the wealthiest surviving member of her family, narrowly edging out her brothers Rob and Jim with an estimated net worth of $66.2 billion.
Like her brothers, nearly all of Walton’s fortune stems from her stake in Walmart. Unlike her brothers, Walton has never helped run the large retail chain, instead spending her time as a patron of the arts, purchasing many notable pieces and opening a museum called Crystal Bridges.
23. Andrew Mellon (1855-1937)
> 2021 estimated net worth: $68.1 billion
Andrew Mellon and his brother Richard worked together from a young age to become business magnates, and both rank among the richest Americans of all time. The son of wealthy banker Thomas Mellon, Andrew Mellon joined the family banking firm and eventually took ownership. He also helped found the Union Trust Company and the Union Savings Bank of Pittsburgh.
The success of these institutions allowed Mellon to invest heavily in emerging sectors, which would net him much of his fortune. He helped found the Aluminum Company of America and the Gulf Oil Corporation. He later served as a U.S. secretary of the treasury for more than a decade.
22. Henry Ford (1863-1947)
> 2021 estimated net worth: $72.4 billion
Henry Ford is one of the most prominent American industrialists. He is celebrated not just for the car company that bears his name, but his business innovations like the assembly line that allowed his workers to construct an entire automobile in a fraction of the time it took before.
This quick build allowed Ford to sell his Model T cars inexpensively enough that it was the first automobile most Americans could actually afford to buy. In fact, at one point, more than half of all Americans owned a Model T. Thanks to the success of his company, Ford was believed to be the richest man in America for the last decade of his life, from 1937 to 1947.
21. Steve Ballmer (1956-present)
> 2021 estimated net worth: $73.2 billion
Steve Ballmer is the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers of the NBA, and primarily made his fortune through his time at tech giant Microsoft. He became the company’s CEO after Bill Gates stepped down. He remained in the role from 2000 to 2014, though he had been at the company since 1980 and was one of the first employees to join.
In addition to Ballmer’s estimated 4% stake in Microsoft, he also bought a similar stake in social media company Twitter.
20. Marshall Field (1834-1906)
> 2021 estimated net worth: $80.8 billion
A hardworking salesman, Marshall Field earned his fortune from his eponymous chain of department stores. He started a job at a Chicago mercantile house as a teen and worked his way up the store ranks to become a partner. He eventually bought out his partners and renamed the stores Marshall Field and Company.
Field is credited with coining the phrase “the customer is always right,” and this motto helped his business become successful. He is also seen as an innovator, catering to a newly emerging middle class and female customers in the years after the Civil War.
19. Jay Gould (1836-1892)
> 2021 estimated net worth: $84.4 billion
Jay Gould epitomized the “robber baron” era of American capitalism, often resorting to unscrupulous methods to gain and maintain wealth. Born to a poor farming family in New York, Gould worked in an animal hide tannery until he had enough money to invest in railroads.
Gould employed a number of underhanded tactics that made him, by his own admission, the most hated man in America. He fraudulently manipulated stock prices, and then bribed New York state politicians to allow such maneuvers. He also cracked down hard on labor organizers and strikes, and was vilified for it in the media. Yet Gould continued to accumulate wealth, and by the time of his death, he was one of the wealthiest Americans in history, racking up a fortune worth over $84 billion today.
18. Sergey Brin (1973-present)
> 2021 estimated net worth: $93.2 billion
Born in Moscow in 1973, Sergey Brin and his family immigrated to the States to escape the Soviet era discrimination against Jewish people. While attending Stanford University to get his doctorate in computer science, he and fellow student Larry Page created a search engine that would find the most relevant results. This project would be the starting point for Google — now the world’s most popular search engine.
Brin became a billionaire in 2004, when Google went public. The company grew, buying YouTube and creating expanding its own offerings, and was eventually reorganized under parent company Alphabet in 2015, with Brin serving as president until stepping down in 2019.
17. Larry Page (1973-present)
> 2021 estimated net worth: $96.1 billion
Google co-founder Larry Page is one of the 10 wealthiest people in the world and one of the richest Americans of all time, with an estimated net worth of over $96 billion as of 2021.
Page had two stints as Google CEO — running the company from its inception in 1998 through 2001, then serving as CEO from 2011 to 2015. He then ran Google’s newly created parent company Alphabet until 2019, when Sundar Pichai took over as CEO. Page still has a board seat at the company and is a controlling shareholder.
16. Friedrich Weyerhaeuser (1834-1914)
> 2021 estimated net worth: $98.3 billion
Friedrich Weyerhaeuser emigrated from Germany with his family as a young man and quickly found success in the timber industry. Weyerhaeuser and his brother in law bought a failed lumber mill in 1860. His idea of marking the logs his workers cut down to make it easier for his other workers downriver to identify them, and his business took off.
Weyerhaeuser worked his way up to become president of the Mississippi River Logging Company and eventually formed a group known as the Weyerhaeuser Syndicate, which controlled millions of acres of timberland as well as mills and processing plants. Towards the end of his life, investigators determined that some of his holdings amounted to a monopoly, and some of the syndicate’s subsidiaries were dissolved.
15. Larry Ellison (1944-present)
> 2021 estimated net worth: $98.4 billion
Larry Ellison founded software company Oracle in 1977. The company got its big break in 1981, when IBM opted to use Oracle’s database management system. Though he stepped down as Oracle’s CEO in 2014, Ellison still owns over a third of the company’s stock. He also sits on the board of Tesla.
Like many other living billionaires on this list, Ellison’s net worth has grown significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic — growing from $65 billion in October of 2019 to nearly $100 billion as of April 2021.
14. Warren Buffett (1930-present)
> 2021 estimated net worth: $99.8 billion
Known as the “Oracle of Omaha,” Warren Buffett is a modern-day investing legend. He created his company, Buffett Partnership, in 1956 and quickly became a millionaire. He then purchased a textile company called Berkshire Hathaway but ended its textile division and began buying into varied companies like Geico and Exxon — either buying them fully or investing in the businesses. Berkshire Hathaway shares are now among the most coveted stocks on the market.
Buffett is also known for his generous donations to charity. He has given away more than $28 billion and pledged to give all of his fortune to philanthropic causes and helped to convince other wealthy people to do the same..
13. Alexander Turney Stewart (1803-1876)
> 2021 estimated net worth: $107.8 billion
Alexander Turney Stewart is one of just 13 Americans who have amassed a fortune worth over $100 billion in 2021 dollars. He did so by slowly transforming his $3,000 inheritance into one of the largest retail empires in U.S. history.
Born in Ireland, Stewart traveled to America to sell dry goods. He became one of the first retailers to offer standard prices instead of haggling with customers. Stewart’s company became so large, it won a contract to supply uniforms for Union soldiers during the Civil War.
12. Stephen Van Rensselaer (1764-1839)
> 2021 estimated net worth: $108.9 billion
Stephen Van Rensselaer inherited virtually all of his fortune, worth nearly $109 billion in 2021 dollars. Born in 1764, he was the final member of his bloodline to get a large land grant in the new Dutch colonial area of the New World, in present day New York state. At one point, Van Rensselaer owned over a million acres of land in America and may have had as many as 100,000 tenants renting land from him.
Apart from owning land, Van Rensselaer was involved in politics, serving as an assemblyman, senator, and lieutenant governor for New York, as well as a representative in Congress. Van Rensselaer was well liked, often forgiving missed rent payments. After his death, however, many tenants refused to pay rent to his heirs, sparking what came to be known as the “Antirent Wars.”
11. Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919)
> 2021 estimated net worth: $108.9 billion
At a time when considerable portions of America’s new transportation infrastructure were being built, Andrew Carnegie’s company supplied the needed steel. Carnegie Steel Corporation used technologically advanced methods to make prodigious amounts of steel and owned the requisite raw materials to make production cheaper.
Unlike many of the richest men of his era, Carnegie was committed to philanthropy. He once wrote that a “man who dies rich dies disgraced,” and he donated virtually all of his money to various organizations and libraries.
10. Richard Mellon (1858-1933)
> 2021 estimated net worth: $111.0 billion
Richard Mellon ranks as one of the 10 richest Americans of all time, with his massive fortune amounting to the equivalent of $111 billion in 2021 dollars. Richard and his brother Andrew, who also ranks as one of the richest Americans of all time, were born to wealthy Pennsylvania banker Thomas Mellon. They eventually took charge of the family banking firm.
Being wealthy in late 1800s Pennsylvania provided the Mellons with the perfect opportunity to invest in the steel, coal, and railroad industries that made so many other men of their era extremely wealthy as the U.S. rapidly industrialized and stretched its population out west.
9. Mark Zuckerberg (1984-present)
> 2021 estimated net worth: $111.6 billion
Mark Zuckerberg has been such an influential figure of modern life that at 26 years old, Hollywood has already made a film about his rise to prominence. While at Harvard, Zuckerberg co-created what would later become the social media juggernaut Facebook. Despite the company’s recent problems with the security of its data and the accuracy of the information being shared on the platform, Facebook is still worth hundreds of billions of dollars and Zuckerberg is the nation’s wealthiest person under 40.
Zuckerberg is worth over $111 billion, largely through his approximately 15% stake in Facebook. He and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have pledged to give away nearly all of their Facebook stock throughout their lifetimes.
8. Bill Gates (1955-present)
> 2021 estimated net worth: $129.3 billion
Bill Gates has held the title of world’s richest person several times since the 1990s, and his fortune of nearly $130 billion as of April 2021 makes him one of the 10 wealthiest Americans in history.
Gates dropped out of Harvard University to co-found computer giant Microsoft in 1975. By 1987, Microsoft made Gates the world’s youngest billionaire, at 31, and he became the world’s richest man just eight years later. In recent years, Gates has increasingly stepped back from running Microsoft and focused on philanthropy. He and his wife run the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest private charity. The organization pledged hundreds of millions to fight COVID-19, investing in vaccines, detection, and treatment.
7. Stephen Girard (1750-1831)
> 2021 estimated net worth: $129.3 billion
Though he was born before the founding of the United States, Stephen Girard became one of its most important early business tycoons. Born in France in 1750, Girard sailed to the colonies in 1774, selling goods like sugar and coffee. He amassed a fleet of trading ships and invested much of his money in the First Bank of the United States.
In 1778, Girard became an American citizen. He eventually bought the bank’s assets and used them to lend millions of dollars to the young country during the War of 1812, keeping its government afloat.
6. John Jacob Astor (1763-1848)
> 2021 estimated net worth: $148.7 billion
John Jacob Astor became one of the first people to live out the American Dream, working his way up from being a poor German immigrant to real estate mogul whose net worth amounted to nearly $150 billion in 2021 dollars.
Astor married into a wealthy family in 1785 and used his wife’s money to launch his empire. A year after marrying, he began his business, which became the nation’s largest fur company by 1800. Astor exported furs to China, and imported silk and tea. In the 1830s, he sold his fur businesses and focused on real estate holdings in New York City, like hotels and residences. These high-price properties made him the richest man in America by the time of his death in 1848.
5. Elon Musk (1971-present)
> 2021 estimated net worth: $168.9 billion
Elon Musk was born in South Africa, before moving to Canada at 17, then to the U.S. to study at the University of Pennsylvania, eventually becoming a U.S. citizen. Musk first became a millionaire by selling the online city guide company he co-founded with his brother, Zip2, in 1999. He became a billionaire in 2002, when eBay acquired another one of the companies he co-founded, PayPal.
The bulk of Musk’s net worth stems from his more recent ventures, notably his electric carmaker Tesla Motors and rocket company SpaceX. Elon Musk’s net worth has skyrocketed over the past year, up from $24.6 billion in April 2020 to $168.9 billion in April 2021.
4. Sam Walton (1918-1992)
> 2021 estimated net worth: $181.8 billion
Sam Walton is one of the most successful businessmen of all time, taking Walmart from a small discount store in Arkansas into the largest retailer in the world. Walton opened the first Walmart store in Rogers, Arkansas, in 1962. By 1970, the company went public. As the store’s footprint grew, so did Walton’s wealth, and by 1985, he was the richest man in America.
Sam Walton’s heirs have held onto about half of Walmart’s stock, netting them a combined net worth exceeding $200 billion and making the Waltons the richest family in America.
3. Jeff Bezos (1964-present)
> 2021 estimated net worth: $188.5 billion
Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos ranks as the richest person in the world and the third richest American of all time, with a net worth of $188.5 billion as of April 2021. The company, which started as an online book seller in 1994, has become the dominant force in e-commerce. Amazon has also diversified successfully into a web service provider and a streaming entertainment service. Bezos announced he would step down as Amazon CEO in late 2021.
In late 2019, Bezos had a net worth of $114 billion, but with deliveries spiking amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Amazon became even more valuable, and his net worth grew by over 50%. In addition to Amazon, Bezos owns the Washington Post and a rocket called Blue Origin.
2. Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877)
> 2021 estimated net worth: $221.0 billion
Cornelius Vanderbilt is one of just two Americans who amassed a fortune that added up to over $200 billion in 2021 dollars. He first made his fortune ferrying goods on the rivers surrounding New York City, working his way up from steamship captain to building ships and operating ferry routes. He developed a reputation as a ruthless businessman, undercutting and intimidating competitors.
Vanderbilt became extravagantly wealthy by launching the fastest steamship route from New York to California during the middle of the 19th century, capitalizing on the many people heading west to search for gold. He later helped establish the transcontinental railroad industry, which helped to make him one of the wealthiest people in history.
1. John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937)
> 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.
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