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. 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. These are the American billionaires that got richer during COVID.