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10 Facts about the 10 Richest Americans

America's greatest fortunes, after adjusting for inflation, were all accumulated more than a century ago. Here are 10 fascinating facts about the people behind them.

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10 Facts about the 10 Richest Americans

  1. 10 Fascinating Facts about the 10 Richest Americans $120 Billion $138 Billion $101 Billion $205 Billion $100 Billion $91 Billion $101 Billion $78 Billion $253 Billion $103 Billion Stephen Girard (1750) John Jacob Astor (1763) Stephen Van Rensselaer (1764) Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794) Alexander T. Stewart (1803) Fredrich Weyerhauser (1834) Andrew Carnegie (1835) Jay Gould (1836) John D. Rockefeller (1839) Richard Mellon (1858)
  2. John D. Rockefeller, the founder and largest shareholder of Standard Oil, was the richest American of all time. He’d be worth an estimated $253 billion in 2013 dollars. That’s 3.2 times the net worth of Bill Gates, the richest person currently living. $120 Billion $138 Billion $101 Billion $205 Billion $100 Billion $91 Billion $101 Billion $78 Billion $253 Billion $103 Billion Stephen Girard (1750) John Jacob Astor (1763) Stephen Van Rensselaer (1764) Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794) Alexander T. Stewart (1803) Fredrich Weyerhauser (1834) Andrew Carnegie (1835) Jay Gould (1836) John D. Rockefeller (1839) Richard Mellon (1858)
  3. Stephen Van Rensselaer was the only one to inherit his fortune, which traces its roots to a Dutch diamond and pearl merchant. In 1630, the elder van Rensselaer received a land grant from the Dutch West India Co., encompassing Albany, New York and the surrounding area. $120 Billion $138 Billion $101 Billion $205 Billion $100 Billion $91 Billion $101 Billion $78 Billion $253 Billion $103 Billion Stephen Girard (1750) John Jacob Astor (1763) Stephen Van Rensselaer (1764) Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794) Alexander T. Stewart (1803) Fredrich Weyerhauser (1834) Andrew Carnegie (1835) Jay Gould (1836) John D. Rockefeller (1839) Richard Mellon (1858)
  4. When Cornelius Vanderbilt died in 1877, his estate was equivalent to 20% of the nation’s money supply. Had his heirs liquidated his assets, it would have thrown the United States into an economic depression worse than even the debilitating Great Depression of the 1930s. $120 Billion $138 Billion $101 Billion $205 Billion $100 Billion $91 Billion $101 Billion $78 Billion $253 Billion $103 Billion Stephen Girard (1750) John Jacob Astor (1763) Stephen Van Rensselaer (1764) Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794) Alexander T. Stewart (1803) Fredrich Weyerhauser (1834) Andrew Carnegie (1835) Jay Gould (1836) John D. Rockefeller (1839) Richard Mellon (1858)
  5. Jay Gould was the stereotypical robber baron of the Gilded Age, acquiring control over the infamous Erie Railroad. His sworn enemy, Cornelius Vanderbilt, once said of Gould: “No man could have such a countenance as his, and still be honest.” $120 Billion $138 Billion $101 Billion $205 Billion $100 Billion $91 Billion $101 Billion $78 Billion $253 Billion $103 Billion Stephen Girard (1750) John Jacob Astor (1763) Stephen Van Rensselaer (1764) Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794) Alexander T. Stewart (1803) Fredrich Weyerhauser (1834) Andrew Carnegie (1835) Jay Gould (1836) John D. Rockefeller (1839) Richard Mellon (1858)
  6. Andrew Carnegie started out as a secretary and telegraph operator for Thomas A. Scott, an executive of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Carnegie later industrialized the production of steel, without which skyscrapers wouldn’t have been possible. He gave his entire fortune to charity. $120 Billion $138 Billion $101 Billion $205 Billion $100 Billion $91 Billion $101 Billion $78 Billion $253 Billion $103 Billion Stephen Girard (1750) John Jacob Astor (1763) Stephen Van Rensselaer (1764) Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794) Alexander T. Stewart (1803) Fredrich Weyerhauser (1834) Andrew Carnegie (1835) Jay Gould (1836) John D. Rockefeller (1839) Richard Mellon (1858)
  7. Neither of the bankers on the list – Stephen Girard and Richard Mellon – were based in New York City. Their banks were headquartered instead in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, respectively. Notably absent is J.P. Morgan, namesake of the biggest bank in America today, JPMorgan Chase. $120 Billion $138 Billion $101 Billion $205 Billion $100 Billion $91 Billion $101 Billion $78 Billion $253 Billion $103 Billion Stephen Girard (1750) John Jacob Astor (1763) Stephen Van Rensselaer (1764) Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794) Alexander T. Stewart (1803) Fredrich Weyerhauser (1834) Andrew Carnegie (1835) Jay Gould (1836) John D. Rockefeller (1839) Richard Mellon (1858)
  8. Three of the people on the list were born before the American Revolution. And six were born in the 1800s. The latter is no coincidence, as the Gilded Age, spanning from the end of the Civil War in 1865 to the Panic of 1907, was the greatest economic era in American history. $120 Billion $138 Billion $101 Billion $205 Billion $100 Billion $91 Billion $101 Billion $78 Billion $253 Billion $103 Billion Stephen Girard (1750) John Jacob Astor (1763) Stephen Van Rensselaer (1764) Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794) Alexander T. Stewart (1803) Fredrich Weyerhauser (1834) Andrew Carnegie (1835) Jay Gould (1836) John D. Rockefeller (1839) Richard Mellon (1858)
  9. Five of the richest Americans became wealthy after immigrating to the US: Stephen Girard (France), John Jacob Astor (Germany), Alexander T. Stewart (Ireland), Fredrich Weyerhauser (Germany), and Andrew Carnegie (Scotland). $120 Billion $138 Billion $101 Billion $205 Billion $100 Billion $91 Billion $101 Billion $78 Billion $253 Billion $103 Billion Stephen Girard (1750) John Jacob Astor (1763) Stephen Van Rensselaer (1764) Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794) Alexander T. Stewart (1803) Fredrich Weyerhauser (1834) Andrew Carnegie (1835) Jay Gould (1836) John D. Rockefeller (1839) Richard Mellon (1858)
  10. Some of these men earned fortunes in multiple industries. For instance, John Jacob Astor was originally a successful fur trader who then magnified his wealth by purchasing large parcels of New York City. Cornelius Vanderbilt earned his first fortune in steamboats before switching to railroads. $120 Billion $138 Billion $101 Billion $205 Billion $100 Billion $91 Billion $101 Billion $78 Billion $253 Billion $103 Billion Stephen Girard (1750) John Jacob Astor (1763) Stephen Van Rensselaer (1764) Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794) Alexander T. Stewart (1803) Fredrich Weyerhauser (1834) Andrew Carnegie (1835) Jay Gould (1836) John D. Rockefeller (1839) Richard Mellon (1858)
  11. John D. Rockefeller lived the longest of the group, dying in 1937 at the age of 92. Jay Gould had the shortest life, dying at only 56. The average lifespan of the 10 was 79 years old. This helps explain why Rockefeller died so much richer, as he had an average of 13 more years to work with. $120 Billion $138 Billion $101 Billion $205 Billion $100 Billion $91 Billion $101 Billion $78 Billion $253 Billion $103 Billion Stephen Girard (1750) John Jacob Astor (1763) Stephen Van Rensselaer (1764) Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794) Alexander T. Stewart (1803) Fredrich Weyerhauser (1834) Andrew Carnegie (1835) Jay Gould (1836) John D. Rockefeller (1839) Richard Mellon (1858)
  12. Looking for more information like this? $120 Billion $138 Billion $101 Billion $205 Billion $100 Billion $91 Billion $101 Billion $78 Billion $253 Billion $103 Billion Stephen Girard (1750) John Jacob Astor (1763) Stephen Van Rensselaer (1764) Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794) Alexander T. Stewart (1803) Fredrich Weyerhauser (1834) Andrew Carnegie (1835) Jay Gould (1836) John D. Rockefeller (1839) Richard Mellon (1858) The Motley Fool’s mission is to help the world invest better. We’ve done this over the past 20 years by thinking long term and outside the box – even if that means turning Wall Street on its head. To learn more about what The Motley Fool thinks about current investment trends, and receive a special free report about what might be the next big industry to come out of Silicon Valley, just click here now.

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