The Century’s Wealthiest Humans: Who are They and What are They Worth?

The twentieth century was the era of mega-rich industrialist billionaires. How many people have claimed the title of the richest person in the world since 1900? Madison Trust’s research holds the answers, and it may be fewer people than you imagine. The team used data from Forbes World’s Billionaires List which traces the wealthiest people since 1987 and expanded the information to cover the wealthiest people stretching back to 1900. They even adjust their net worth to inflation, so we get a picture of their wealth by today’s standards.

The Forbes list of billionaires began in 1987 when Japanese businessman, Yoshiaki Tsutsumi was the wealthiest man thanks to his building of Japanese railroads and other real estate investments. Today, the title goes to Bernard Arnault, a French businessman known for founding the world’s successful luxury goods companies, including Louis Vuitton, Princess Yacht’s, and Christian Dior. Believe it or not, only 12 people have claimed the title “wealthiest in the world” since 1900. The list consists of:

  • Bernard Arnault: 2023
  • Elon Musk: 2022
  • Jeff Bezos: 2018-2021
  • Bill Gates: 1997-2007, 2009, 2014-2017
  • Carlos Slim: 2010-2013
  • Warren Buffet: 2008
  • Sam Walton (i.e. Walton family): 1991-1996
  • Yoshiaki Tsutsumi: 1980-1990
  • J.Paul Getty: 1950-1979
  • Henry Ford: 1940-1949
  • John D. Rockefeller: 1910-1939
  • Andrew Carnegie: 1900-1909

The infographic data makes it clear that once someone attains the status of wealthiest in the world, it’s common for them to keep that title for years at a time. Bill Gates has been the wealthiest for the longest time. He was the wealthiest for a total of 16 years. In 2022, he held more wealth than he ever has before, but it wasn’t enough to beat out fellow tech giant, Elon Musk for the title “wealthiest person in the world.” Other trends to notice include the fact that only men have made this list, and Americans make up the majority of the title holders.

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