Every year, multiple newspapers run a list of the wealthiest people in history. The lists are all essentially the same, which either means they are accurate or some poor shlub’s initial research is being cribbed by everybody.
Number one on the list, adjusted for inflation, is Mansa Musa, a 14th Century African king who today would be worth $400 billion.
The first American, John D. Rockerfeller, appears usually at No. 2 or 3, with an adjusted net worth of $340 billion.
I was surprised to see that Muammar Gaddafi makes the list with $200 billion. Apparently nobody else knew the extent of his wealth, either, until soon after his death in 2011. Gaddafi’s hidden mega-stash says everything you need to know about the difficulty of compiling this list accurately.
According to one list, No. 6 (Mir Osman Ali Khan) used a $95 million diamond as a paperweight on his office desk while William the Conqueror, first Norman king of England, joins the roster at No. 7.
The first living individual on the list is Bill Gates at No. 12. However, that was for a single year, 1999, when his stock values soared, giving him $136 billion. By the time the research was compiled, Gates had been reduced to less than half that—the paltry, humiliating sum of $62.5 billion, trailing just behind Mexico’s Carlos Slim.
As with many historical lists, this one is notable for omissions. Mansa Musa, William the Conquerer, and Gaddafi were all heads of state, so why not a single Chinese emperor? The 1,000-year time frame would also include every single Roman emperor, but none of them made the list, either.