‘Some make money, some are born into it while some have money thrust on them’. It is only the first two clauses of this popular saying that have any relevance in the lives of the richest, and the first even more than the second. Here in reverse order of their wealth is a brief list of the ten richest men from across the world and of all time, when considered at the height of their fortunes and measured in terms of 2008 US dollars with other adjustments for inflation and foreign exchange.
- Carlos Slim Helu
Currently the richest man in the world, Slim owns vast assets in wide range of sectors in Mexico, ranging from communications to transportation and from cigarettes to soft drinks. All these put his estimated net worth at $60 billion. In fact between 2005 and 2007, it is believed that his net worth practically double and at one time his fortunes were growing at the rate of $27 million profit each day!
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The 70 year-old Mexican billionaire grew up as the son of a Lebanese immigrant who came to Mexico at the turn of the twentieth century. Slim married Soumaya Domit in 1967 and the couple had six children. Currently Slim is widowed and takes active interest in the Museo Soumaya which is funded by the Carlos Slim Foundation and has one of the largest Dali and Rodin collection in the world.
- Warren Buffet
One of the most high-profile investors of America, Buffet has consistently figured among the top three richest men in the world for many years now. At the peak of his fortunes, Buffet was estimated to have $62 billion net worth even though currently that has come down to $47 billion. The primary source of Buffet’s fortune is the textile firm Berkshire Hathaway which he took over in 1965. Eventually he used the company as a vehicle to invest in varied sectors as insurance, food, utilities and recently green technology.
In 1962, buffet married Susan Thompson and the couple had three children. However the couple began living separately since 1977 even though they remained married till Susan’ death in 2004. Currently the 78 year-old self-made billionaire is married to Astrid Menks, his long-time companion who moved in with him after his wife left.
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- King Fahd Bin Abdul Aziz Alsaud
The Saudi Arabian king who expired in 2005 at the age of 82 left behind a fortune estimated to be worth 32 billion Sterling Pounds or $76 billion at its height. As the ruler of Saudi Arabia, the King owed his wealth not only to ancestral and royal assets but to vast petroleum reserves in his country. However a debilitating stroke in 1995 left the King noticeably frail and unable to perform his royal duties following which his brother Crown Prince Abdullah served as de facto Regent of the kingdom.
King Fahd has several wives as allowed under the Islamic law. He divorced six of them while two died under natural circumstances. The king had six sons and three daughters. King Fahd’s eldest son, Prince Faisal bin Fahd died of a heart attack even while the king was alive. At the time of his own death, King Fahd was married to Princess Jawarah al Ibrahim, reportedly his favorite wife.
- Sam Walton
Sam Walton was the Founder of Wal-Mart, which is today the world’s largest retail chain and also the second-largest private employer in America. At the peak of his fortunes, Walton’s wealth was an estimated $62.1 billion. The secret of Walton’s phenomenal success lay in introducing new concepts such as good variety, convenient store hours and central warehousing of merchandise which allowed heavy discount and thus extended his competitive reach into smaller markets.
Sam Walton was married to Helen Robson and the couple had four children, Sam Robson, John, Jim and Alice. Currently Jim and Robson Walton remain active in the day-to-day running of the vast retail empire.
- Frederick Weyerhaeuser
One of the biggest businessmen of the late nineteenth century, Frederick Weyerhaeuser built his fortunes around the lumber industry. He owed his success not only to easy access to timber resources at the time but also to huge demand for lumber and building in the aftermath of the American Civil War. At the height of his entrepreneurial success, Weyerhaeuser was estimated to possess a net worth of $76.5 billion.
The self-made billionaire of German origin migrated to United States in 1852 in search of better economic prospects. Here he began taking odd jobs in farms until he impressed a boss with his sales acumen and knowledge on timber, after which there was no looking back. In 1857 Weyerhaeuser married Sarah Elizabeth Bloedel of Erie, Pennsylvania. The couple had seven children in the course of their long marriage and celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary in 1907 in the midst of children and grandchildren in the family home on Rock Island.
- John Jacob Astor
The man synonymous with the fur trade is believed to be the first millionaire of America. Astor started out in the fur business sometime at the end of eighteenth century when he overheard some men discussing the prospects in this line. After making millions, he turned his attention to the opium trade where again he met with success. Eventually he diversified into real estate, focusing on the city which was to be the financial capital of the world, NYC. At the peak of his career, Astor’s fortunes were estimated to run into $116.6 billion.
The son of German refugees, Astor is another shining example of how big one can make in the Promised Land. After arriving to United States in 1784, he soon started trading with the Native American Indians in fur and gradually built up a business which extended till the Great Lakes region and Canada. Astor got married the very next year of his arrival in America. His wife was Sarah Todd who according to Astor possessed a keen practical mind and who had helped with him with many crucial business decisions. The marriage produced five children, three daughters and two sons of whom
William Backhouse Astor carried on the Astor business legacy.
- Bill Gates
The Software mogul who co-founded Microsoft is today the second richest person in the world. Interestingly however almost 60% of Gates’ fortune is held outside Microsoft with assets in Four Seasons Hotel, Auto Nation, Televisa as well as his investment vehicle Cascade. So even if Gates’ current net worth is down to $58 billion from its heady peak a decade ago, it hardly matters to him with an all-time fortune of $124 billion including the $38.7 billion strong Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Bill Gates got married to Melinda French of Dallas on New Year’s Day in 1994 on the Hawaiian island of Lanai. Melinda at the time was working as a Microsoft manager. Today the couple have three children and they live in a palatial 60,000 square feet, earth-sheltered mansion in Medina, Washington. Both Bill and Melinda Gates are actively involved in philanthropy with charitable and scientific research constituting their main areas of support. During his leisure, Bill Gates is believed to enjoy reading, playing golf, bridge and tennis.
- Cornelius Vanderbilt
The self-made entrepreneur who changed the rules of transport business in nineteenth century America, Cornelius Vanderbilt made millions from his steamship and railroad empire. In the early years of business, Vanderbilt was known for undercutting his competitors to the point of his own unprofitability. But apparently his business sense paid off in the end as he amassed a fortune which in its peak touched a massive $178.4 billion.
Vanderbilt was the descendent of Dutch immigrants but by the age of 16 he was already running his own ferry service between Staten Island and Manhattan. In 1817, he was picked up by an entrepreneur to captain a steamboat following which Vanderbilt went on from strength to strength. His first wife Sophia was actually a first cousin with whom he had thirteen children. Following his wife's death in 1868, Vanderbilt went to Canada where he met and married a cousin from Mobile, Alabama, named Frank Armstrong Crawford, who at the time was 43 years younger than her husband.
- Andrew Carnegie
The American steel magnate of the nineteenth century, Andrew Carnegie is one of the richest men of all times. And yet success did not come to him overnight. A self-made man from humble beginnings, Carnegie worked hard from childhood. With continual progress he accumulated savings which became investments. Eventually his investments became capital for a wide range of business ventures spread over railroads, rail sleeping cars, bridges, oil derricks and finance which at the peak of his career made him worth a whopping $297.8 billion.
The Scottish-American entrepreneurial legend married Louise Whitfield, daughter of New York City merchant John D. Whitfield in a private ceremony in 1887. At the time of marriage Louise was twenty-one years younger than her husband. The couple had only one child, a daughter Margaret. Today Andrew Carnegie is best remembered for his philanthropic legacy which made him donate billions to educational and research institutions.
- John D. Rockefeller
The richest man in modern history is without doubt John D. Rockefeller whose name has become a by-word for big money. Rockefeller made his fortune in the oil business and founded the Standard Oil Company which soon came to dominate the entire energy industry. Eventually he was found to have encouraged monopolistic practices but by then he had already diversified into other ventures and the Rockefeller fortune was estimated to be a staggering $323.4 billion.
In 1864, Rockefeller married Laura Celestia Spelman of whom he is believed to have said "Her judgment was always better than mine. Without her keen advice, I would be a poor man.” The couple had four daughters and one son, John D Rockefeller Jr., who was largely entrusted with the running of several educational and scientific foundations that the great entrepreneur-philanthropist had founded.