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The Richest People in Human History, to the Industrial Revolution

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The Richest People in Human History - Part 1

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The Richest People in Human History, to the Industrial Revolution

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When we think of wealth today, we often think of the massive personal fortunes of business magnates like Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, or Warren Buffett. However, it is only since the Industrial Revolution that measuring wealth by one’s bank account has been a norm for the world’s richest.

For most of recorded human history, in fact, the lines around wealth were quite blurred. Leaders like Augustus Caesar or Emperor Shenzong had absolute control of their empires—while bankers like Jakob Fogger and Cosimo de Medici were often found pulling the strings from behind.

This infographic we created with Texas Precious Metals focuses on the richest people in history up until the Industrial Revolution, and it highlights key facts and anecdotes on how they created their wealth.

Is This List of People Definitive?

While it is certainly fun to speculate on the wealth of people from centuries past, putting together this list is exceptionally difficult and certainly not definitive.

Here’s why:

Firstly, much wealth in early periods is tied to land (Genghis Khan) or entire empires (Augustus, Akbar), which makes calculations extremely subjective. What is most of Asia’s land worth in the year 1219? What separates personal fortune from the riches of an empire that one has full control of? There are a wide variety of answers to these questions, and they all influence the figures chosen to be represented.

Secondly, records kept from Ancient eras are scarce, exaggerated, or based on legends and oral histories. Think of King Solomon or Mansa Musa—these are characters described as immeasurably rich, so trying to put their wealth in modern context is fun, but certainly not guaranteed to be historically accurate.

Lastly, wealth and conversion rates can be approached in different ways as well. Take Crassus in the Roman Republic, who had a peak fortune of “200 million sesterces”. Well, that’s a problem for us in modernity, because that stash could be worth anywhere from $200 million to $169.8 billion, depending on how calculations are done.

So, enjoy this list of the wealthiest historical figures, but keep in mind that it is mostly for fun—and that the list of the richest people in history may change depending on who you ask!

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Mapped: The Income Needed to Live Comfortably in Every U.S. State

A single adult needs to make at least $116k annually to live comfortably in Massachusetts.

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This map illustrates the income necessary for an individual to maintain a comfortable lifestyle in each state.

The Income Needed to Live Comfortably in Every U.S. State

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Individuals in the top 11 most expensive states in the U.S. need an annual income exceeding $100,000 to live comfortably.

This map shows how much income single adults need to live comfortably in each U.S. state. SmartAsset calculated the income needed using the cost of necessities sourced from the MIT Living Wage Calculator, last updated on Feb. 14, 2024.

In this case, “comfortable” was defined as the annual income required to cover a 50/30/20 budget, allocating 50% of earnings to necessities such as housing and utility costs, 30% to discretionary spending, and 20% to savings or investments.

Massachusetts Ranks First

Massachusetts is the most expensive state to live comfortably in. A single adult needs to make at least $116,022 annually or $55.78 per hour.

RankStateSalary needed for a single working adult
1Massachusetts$116,022
2Hawaii$113,693
3California$113,651
4New York$111,738
5Washington$106,496
6Colorado$103,293
7New Jersey$103,002
8Maryland$102,918
9Oregon$101,088
10Rhode Island$100,838
11Connecticut$100,381
12Virginia$99,965
13New Hampshire$98,093
14Arizona$97,344
15Georgia$96,886
16Alaska$96,762
17Vermont$95,763
18Illinois$95,098
19Delaware$94,141
20Utah$93,683
21Nevada$93,434
22Florida$93,309
23Maine$91,686
24Pennsylvania$91,312
25North Carolina$89,690
26Minnesota$89,232
27Idaho$88,733
28South Carolina$88,317
29Wyoming$87,651
30Texas$87,027
31Tennessee$86,403
32Indiana$85,030
33Montana$84,739
34Kansas$84,656
35Michigan$84,365
36Wisconsin$84,115
37Missouri$84,032
38Alabama$83,824
39Nebraska$83,699
40New Mexico$83,616
41Iowa$83,366
42Mississippi$82,742
43Louisiana$82,451
44South Dakota$81,453
45Ohio$80,704
45Kentucky$80,704
47North Dakota$80,538
48Oklahoma$80,413
49Arkansas$79,456
50West Virginia$78,790

West Virginia is the least expensive for a single adult, who only needs to make an estimated $37.88 per hour, or $78,790 annually.

To live comfortably on your own in the top five states, a person would need to earn nearly double the typical income for single earners, as the U.S. median income for single, full-time workers is around $60,000, according to Labor Bureau data.

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out this graphic, which ranks the income a family needs to live comfortably in every U.S. state.

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