The Richest People in History
(Up until the Industrial Revolution)
Click here for a larger, more legible version of the infographic that you can explore in-depth.
When we think of wealth today, we often think of the massive personal fortunes of business magnates like Bill Gates, 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 focuses on the richest people in history up until the Industrial Revolution – and in the coming weeks, we will release a second version that covers wealth from then onwards (including figures like Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Jeff Bezos, etc.).
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.
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 wealthiest people in history changes depending on who you ask!
About the Money Project
The Money Project uses intuitive visualizations to explore ideas around the very concept of money itself. Founded in 2015 by Visual Capitalist and Texas Precious Metals, the Money Project will look at the evolving nature of money, and will try to answer the difficult questions that prevent us from truly understanding the role that money plays in finance, investments, and accumulating wealth.
All of the World’s Wealth in One Visualization
There is $360.6 trillion of wealth globally. This graphic shows how it breaks down by country, to show who owns all of the world’s wealth.
All of the World’s Wealth in One Visualization
The financial concept of wealth is broad, and it can take many forms.
While your wealth is most likely driven by the dollars in your bank account and the value of your stock portfolio and house, wealth also includes a number of smaller things as well, such as the old furniture in your garage or a painting on the wall.
From the macro perspective of a country, wealth is even more all-encompassing — it’s not just about the assets held by private households or businesses, but also those owned by the public. What is the value of a new toll bridge, or an aging nuclear power plant?
Today’s visualization comes to us from HowMuch.net, and it shows all of the world’s wealth in one place, sorted by country.
Total Wealth by Region
In 2019, total world wealth grew by $9.1 trillion to $360.6 trillion, which amounts to a 2.6% increase over the previous year.
Here’s how that divvies up between major global regions:
|Region||Total Wealth ($B, 2019)||% Global Share|
Last year, growth in global wealth exceeded that of the population, incrementally increasing wealth per adult to $70,850, a 1.2% bump and an all-time high.
That said, it’s worth mentioning that Credit Suisse, the authors of the Global Wealth Report 2019 and the source of all this data, notes that the 1.2% increase has not been adjusted for inflation.
Ranking Countries by Total Wealth
Which countries are the richest?
Let’s take a look at the 15 countries that hold the most wealth, according to Credit Suisse:
|Rank||Country||Region||Total Wealth ($B, 2019)||% Global Share|
|#1||🇺🇸 United States||North America||$105,990||29.4%|
|#5||🇬🇧 United Kingdom||Europe||$14,341||4.0%|
|#9||🇨🇦 Canada||North America||$8,573||2.4%|
|#11||🇰🇷 South Korea||Asia-Pacific||$7,302||2.0%|
|All Other Countries||$56,585||15.7%|
The 15 wealthiest nations combine for 84.3% of global wealth.
Leading the pack is the United States, which holds $106.0 trillion of the world’s wealth — equal to a 29.4% share of the global total. Interestingly, the United States economy makes up 23.9% of the size of the world economy in comparison.
Behind the U.S. is China, the only other country with a double-digit share of global wealth, equal to 17.7% of wealth or $63.8 trillion. As the country continues to build out its middle class, one estimate sees Chinese private wealth increasing by 119.5% over the next decade.
Impressively, the combined wealth of the U.S. and China is more than the next 13 countries in aggregate — and almost equal to half of the global wealth total.
The 20 Best-Performing Stocks of the Decade
This graphic reveals the best-performing stocks over the last 10 years, and shows how much an initial $100 investment would be worth today.
The 20 Best-Performing Stocks of the Last Decade
Hindsight is 20/20. It can be incredibly difficult to pick the “next big stock” in the moment, but looking back gives us clarity on where we could have reaped the highest rewards. While some of the decade’s chart-toppers—like Netflix and Amazon—are household names, other stocks may come as a surprise.
Today’s visualization reveals the best-performing stocks over the last 10 years, and shows how much an initial $100 investment would be worth today.
To compile the list, MarketWatch reviewed the current S&P 500 constituents and excluded any stocks that have traded in their present form for less than 10 years. The remaining companies were sorted based on their total return, with reinvested dividends, from December 31, 2009 to December 5, 2019.
So, which stocks come out on top? Here’s a full list of the top 20, organized by ranking:
|Rank||Company||Ticker||Final Value of $100 Investment||S&P 500 Sector|
|1||Netflix Inc.||NASDAQ: NFLX||$3,867||Communication Services|
|2||MarketAxess Holdings Inc.||NASDAQ: MKTX||$3,282||Financials|
|3||Abiomed Inc.||NASDAQ: ABMD||$2,221||Health Care|
|4||TransDigm Group Inc.||NYSE: TDG||$2,165||Industrials|
|5||Broadcom Inc.||NASDAQ: AVGO||$2,019||Information Technology|
|6||Align Technology Inc.||NASDAQ: ALGN||$1,558||Health Care|
|7||United Rentals Inc.||NYSE: URI||$1,534||Industrials|
|8||Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc.||NASDAQ: REGN||$1,530||Health Care|
|9||Ulta Beauty Inc.||NASDAQ: ULTA||$1,333||Consumer Discretionary|
|10||Amazon.com Inc.||NASDAQ: AMZN||$1,309||Consumer Discretionary|
|11||Extra Space Storage Inc.||NYSE: EXR||$1,266||Real Estate|
|12||Constellation Brands Inc. Class A||NYSE: STZ||$1,224||Consumer Staples|
|13||Nvidia Corp.||NASDAQ: NVDA||$1,217||Information Technology|
|14||Take-Two Interactive Software Inc.||NASDAQ: TTWO||$1,214||Information Technology|
|15||Ross Stores Inc.||NASDAQ: ROST||$1,181||Consumer Discretionary|
|16||Fortinet Inc.||NASDAQ: FTNT||$1,179||Information Technology|
|17||Mastercard Inc. Class A||NYSE: MA||$1,178||Information Technology|
|18||Charter Communications Inc. Class A||NASDAQ: CHTR||$1,177||Communication Services|
|19||O'Reilly Automotive Inc.||NASDAQ: ORLY||$1,160||Consumer Discretionary|
|20||Cintas Corp.||NASDAQ: CTAS||$1,153||Industrials|
Note: The final value of a $100 investment is based on the total return, with reinvested dividends, from December 31, 2009 – December 5, 2019.
In comparison, $100 in the S&P 500 index overall would have amounted to $344 over the same time period. Let’s take a closer look at these strong performers.
Streaming giant Netflix takes the #1 spot. The company earned a staggering 3,767% return over the last ten years, meaning an initial $100 investment would now be worth almost $4,000. However, it remains to be seen whether Netflix’s first mover advantage will remain strong with new competitors entering the space.
One such rival, Amazon, takes its spot at #10 in the best-performing stocks of the decade. From its humble roots as an online bookseller, the company has transformed into an ecommerce leader. CEO Jeff Bezos credits Amazon’s admirable success to three key customer-centric factors: listen, invent, and personalize.
At #12 on the list, Constellation Brands—owner of several alcohol brands such as Corona—is also no stranger to invention. The company is protecting itself against cannabidiol (CBD) disruption with a $5 billion dollar investment in Canopy Growth, and future plans to create its own CBD-infused beverages.
Other well-known names on the top 20 list include discount department store chain Ross Stores (#15) and the credit card company Mastercard (#17), with the latter benefiting from an oligopoly in the industry.
Flying Under the Radar
Apart from the names you’d expect to see, there are also some lesser-known companies that made the list.
Well established among institutional investors and broker-dealers, MarketAxess Holdings takes the #2 spot. The fintech company operates a global electronic bond trading platform, vastly improving the process for investors who traditionally traded bonds “over-the-counter”.
In third place, healthcare technology company Abiomed develops medical devices that provide circulatory support. The company’s Impella® device—the world’s smallest heart pump— has been used to treat over 50,000 U.S. patients.
Fourth place company Transdigm Group gains its stronghold by developing specialized products for the aerospace industry. It has a strong acquisition strategy as well, having acquired over 60 businesses since its formation in 1993.
A Sector View
If we organize the top 20 by sector, information technology stocks appear in the list most frequently with five companies, followed by consumer discretionary (4 companies), and industrials and healthcare (3 companies each).
Sectors with less representation in the top 20 are communication services (2 companies), as well as consumer staples, financials, and real estate (1 company each).
The Bottom Line
While these stocks have performed extremely well over the last decade, they are not necessarily the best portfolio additions today. Some companies may have become overvalued, or be facing new competition in their industry—as is the case with Netflix. It’s best to consider all current information when building a portfolio.
However, the top 20 stocks do demonstrate the power of a buy-and-hold strategy. If you’re lucky enough to identify a winner early on, it’s possible to simply sit back and let your dollars grow.
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