List of richest Americans in history

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A caricature of John D. Rockefeller Sr. published in Puck in 1901

Virtually all sources agree on John D. Rockefeller Sr. being the richest American in history.

The second place is disputed, held by Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt, John Jacob Astor, Bill Gates or Henry Ford depending on the source; most sources agree on Carnegie. Further places are a matter of even bigger debate.

Given the steady economic rise of the United States since its founding, and it becoming the foremost economic power in the world in the late 19th century, the richest Americans were often the wealthiest people worldwide at the same time.

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.[1] Bill Gates was the top living person, coming in fifth.

American Heritage 1998[edit]

American Heritage (magazine) published a list of 40 richest Americans ever in 1998. It is available here.

CNN Money[edit]

1. John D. Rockefeller
2. Cornelius Vanderbilt
3. John Jacob Astor
4. Stephen Girard
5. Richard Mellon
6. Andrew Carnegie
7. Stephen Van Ransselaer
8. A.T. Stewart
9. Frederick Weyerhäuser
10. Jay Gould
11. Marshall Field
12. Bill Gates
13. Henry Ford
14. Warren Buffett
15. Andrew Mellon
16. Sam Walton
17. Moses Taylor
18. Russell Sage
19. James G. Fair
20. William Weightman

Forbes (1998)[edit]

Forbes listed the richest Americans of all time in 1998.[2]

1. John D. Rockefeller
2. Cornelius Vanderbilt
3. John Jacob Astor
4. Stephen Girard
5. Andrew Carnegie
6. Bill Gates
7. A.T. Stewart
8. Frederick Weyerhäuser

Business Insider[edit]

Business Insider agreed on Rockefeller in first, but placed Andrew Carnegie second, followed by Vanderbilt, and Gates.[3]

1. John D. Rockefeller
2. Andrew Carnegie
3. Cornelius Vanderbilt
4. Bill Gates
5. John Jacob Astor
6. Stephen Girard
7. A.T. Stewart
8. Frederick Weyerhäuser
9. Jay Gould
10. Stephen Van Rensselaer
11. Marshall Field
12. Sam Walton
13. Warren Buffett

Bernstein & Swan 2008[edit]

Bernstein and Swan in All the Money in the World (2008) mention the 15 richest Americans of all time.[4]

1. John D. Rockefeller
2. Andrew Carnegie
3. Cornelius Vanderbilt
4. John Jacob Astor
5. Stephen Girard
6 Richard B. Mellon
7. A.T. Stewart
8. Frederick Weyerhäuser
9. Marshall Field
10. Sam Walton
11. Jay Gould
12. Henry Ford
13. Bill Gates
14. Andrew W. Mellon
15. Warren Buffett

By half decade[edit]

This list names the richest American by half decade starting in 1770.[5]

Year Name Picture
1770 Peter Manigault[6]
Peter Manigault (South Carolina plantation owner).jpg
1775 Robert Morris[7]
Robert Morris.jpg
1780 William Bingham[8]
1785 Benjamin Franklin
1790 John Hancock
John Hancock 1770-crop.jpg
1795 Elias Hasket Derby
Frothingham EliasHasketDerby.jpg
1800 Thomas Willing[9]
Thomas Willing by John Wollaston (1706-1805).jpg
1805 Stephen Girard[10]
Stephen Girard by JR Lambdin.jpg
1835 Stephen Van Rensselaer
1840 John Jacob Astor
John Jacob Astor 1763-1848 photogravure after painting by Gilbert Stuart.jpg
1850 Cornelius Vanderbilt[11][12]
Cornelius Vanderbilt Daguerrotype2.jpg
1880 William Henry Vanderbilt
1890 John D. Rockefeller[13][14]
John D. Rockefeller 1885.jpg
1900 Andrew Carnegie
Andrew Carnegie, three-quarter length portrait, seated, facing slightly left, 1913.jpg
1910 John D. Rockefeller
John D. Rockefeller 1885.jpg
1920 Henry Ford
Henry ford 1919.jpg
1930 Andrew Mellon
1940 Henry Ford[15]
Henry ford 1919.jpg
1950 H. L. Hunt[16]
Haroldson Lafayette Hunt, Jr..jpg
1955 J. Paul Getty
J Paul Getty crop.jpg
1960 Howard Hughes
Howard Hughes.jpg
1980 Daniel Ludwig
Daniel K. Ludwig.jpg
1985 Sam Walton
1990 John Werner Kluge[17]
1995 Bill Gates[18]
Bill Gates June 2015.jpg


  1. ^ "The Wealthiest Americans Ever". The New York Times. July 15, 2007. 
  2. ^ "Richest Americans in History". Forbes. August 24, 1998. Retrieved April 11, 2009. 
  3. ^ Gus Lubin (April 17, 2011). "The 13 Richest Americans Of All Time". Business Insider. 
  4. ^ All the Money in the World (2008) by Bernstein and Swan, p. 17 "Introduction"
  5. ^ 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 
  6. ^ Heitzler, Michael James (2005). Goose Creek, South Carolina: A Definitive History 1670–2003. 1. Charleston, SC: The History Press. p. 86. ISBN 978-1-59629-055-6. 
  7. ^ Kennedy, John (1894). Robert Morris and the Holland Purchase. Batavia, NY: J. F. Hall. p. 121. 
  8. ^ 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. 
  9. ^ Burke, James (2007). American Connections: The Founding Fathers. Networked. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. pp. 157–58. ISBN 978-0-7432-8226-0. 
  10. ^ Phillips, Kevin. Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of America's Rich. New York, NY: Broadway Books. p. Chapter 1. 
  11. ^ 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. 
  12. ^ 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. 
  13. ^ Li, Xiaobing; Molina, Michael (2014). Oil: A Cultural and Geographic Encyclopedia of Black Gold. 1. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. p. 335. ISBN 978-1-61069-271-7. 
  14. ^ "America's Richest Man: J. D. Rockefeller and his Enormous Fortune". The Star. Canterbury, NZ. Detroit Free Press. April 6, 1895. 
  15. ^ 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. 
  16. ^ 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. 
  17. ^ Miller, Stephen (September 9, 2010). "A One-Man Empire, From TV to Laundry". The Wall Street Journal. 
  18. ^ "Forbes magazine profile on Bill Gates". Forbes. 2015. Retrieved 1 May 2015.