11 of the Richest People in History

Coming up with a definitive list of the richest people of all time is almost impossible, thanks to the difficulties that arise with comparing different currencies and adjusting for inflation over thousands of years. But these 11 men were up there in the 0.001 percent of their time—and they were all just a little bit bonkers.

1. Jakob Fugger, March 6, 1459 – December 30, 1525

When a guy goes down in history with the nickname “The Rich,” you know he was the wealthiest person on the block. Jakob the Rich was a German merchant who made his fortune through textiles, mercury, and cinnamon. He was so minted that he loaned money to the Vatican, and held considerable control over the Holy Roman Empire. And Jakob’s business methods were so controversial that Martin Luther himself spoke out against him.

2. Marcus Licinius Crassus, ca. 115 BC – 53 BC

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Years before he ruled Rome with Julius Caesar as part of the first Triumvirate, Marcus Licinius Crassus found himself in political hot water, and his fortune was seized. Eventually he got a bit of his power back, but not his money—so he took to seizing the property of criminals who had been put to death. If no rich criminals were up for execution any time soon, he would accuse random rich guys—just to confiscate their stuff. Crassus believed in laws, but not when they applied to him; he is even reported to have seduced a Vestal Virgin, an act so taboo he should have been put to death. But Crassus managed to talk his way out of it.

3. Musa I, c. 1280 - c. 1337

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Musa, king of Mali in the early 1300s, decided one year to make the Islamic Hajj to Mecca. His journey required a retinue of 60,000 people in addition to 12,000 slaves. Everything that wasn’t actually covered in gold was transporting gold, and the entire group was reportedly carrying items worth over $400 billion in today’s money. Musa spent so much of his cash during his stopover in Egypt that it affected the national economy, and the country took years to recover.

4. Mir Osman Ali Khan, April 6, 1886 – February 24, 1967

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Ruler of an Indian state from 1911-48, the Khan was loaded. Time even put him on their cover in 1937, proclaiming him the richest man in the world. It wasn’t hard to see why: The Khan owned his own mint, where he literally printed himself money. But he also had access to more solid forms of wealth. He was a great collector of jewelry and precious stones, amassing a collection that make Elizabeth Taylor’s famous gems look like Cracker Jack prizes. One notable stone was the Jacob diamond, believed to be the seventh largest in the word, and recently valued at $150 million. The Khan used it as a paperweight.

5. Heshen, 1746 – February 22, 1799

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Heshen has the dubious honor of being remembered as the Chinese court's most corrupt official. Noticed by the Emperor at age 25, within a few years Heshen was given control of all of the country’s finances, and he used them to make himself rich: he amassed a huge art collection, thousands of priceless jewels and literally thousands of barrels full of gold and silver pieces. He stored all of this stuff in his numerous houses; between them, he had more than 3000 rooms.

6. Alan Rufus, c. 1040 – 1093

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When a Norman named William was getting ready to launch an attack on England, he needed some good men to help him. It must not have been easy to get people to risk their lives and fortunes when you have a nickname like the Bastard. But Alan Rufus did sign up to follow William, and it worked out very well for both of them. The Bastard became the Conqueror and Rufus became the richest man in British history. In return for helping him win the throne and putting down a rebellion in the north of the country, William gave Rufus some 250,000 acres of land around England. And all he had to do was decimate the population of Yorkshire to get it.

7. Cornelius Vanderbilt, May 27, 1794 – January 4, 1877

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A true American success story, the first of the Vanderbilt tycoons left school at 11 to work on a ferry. By middle age, Cornelius Vanderbilt owned most of the ferries in the northeast—he even loaned boats to the Union Navy during the Civil War. Eventually, Vanderbilt went into railroads, where he made his real money. At its height, his income was more than 1 percent of the entire country’s GDP. But while he may have been one of the richest men in the country, Vanderbilt was not welcome in society. Coming from such a poor background, he was considered very uncouth by Victorian society, and his affairs with prostitutes did not help matters. His sons had to wait until after he died to start building new fashionable mansions and ingratiating themselves with old money families.

8. Andrew Carnegie, November 25, 1835 – August 11, 1919

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One of the richest men of all time was also the greatest philanthropist of all time. Andrew Carnegie famously gave away almost all of his wealth, but it was the people who wouldn’t take his money that make him stand out. After the Spanish-American War, the U.S. purchased the Philippines from Spain for $20 million. Incensed at what he saw as unnecessary American imperialism, the shipping magnate offered the Asian country $20 million of his own money so they could buy their country back. Carnegie's offer was declined.

9. Nicholas II, May 18, 1868 – July 17, 1918

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The last of the Romanov rulers doesn’t just go down as possibly the richest monarch of all time, but also as the richest saint of all time, since after his death his family was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church. The Emperor’s wealth was invested in all the standard places when he was alive—palaces, jewelry, art, gold—and after his death, most of his money and possessions were seized by the people who shot him. But some of Romanov’s nicest jewelry is now in the possession of the British royal family. There are rumors that when minor members of the Russian royal family fled the country to save their lives, they were forced to sell off the jewelry they managed to snag to fund their new lives.

10. John D. Rockefeller, July 8, 1839 – May 23, 1937

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When your contemporaries include two of the other people on this list, it's really something to be the richest man in America. Rockefeller may have been competing with Vanderbilt and Carnegie, but he was the first man in U.S. history to amass a fortune of $1 billion. Rockefeller made his money by controlling 90% of all the oil and gas in America for decades, until the government decided they better do something about monopolies like Standard Oil. Rockefeller attributed all his success to God, and even when his net worth was more than 1.5 percent of the U.S. GDP, he taught Sunday School at his local church and even acted as its janitor as necessary.

11. Cosimo de' Medici, September 27, 1389 – August 1, 1464

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Cosimo came from one of the most dysfunctional and powerful families in European history, thanks in no small part to their great wealth. While his relatives were busy getting elected Pope, throwing prostitute parties, and marrying into royal families, Cosimo controlled the business end of things. Despite never running for office himself, he was “king in all but name” of Florence. Like the rest of his family, he spent lavishly—his personal obsessions were art and the beautification of his hometown because, as he said, people would always remember him for it. He also said that while he had spent his entire life making and spending money, spending it was much more fun. You have to wonder who was paying for all those prostitute parties.

10 Reusable Gifts for Your Eco-Friendliest Friend

Disposable tea bags can't compete with this pla-tea-pus and his friends.
Disposable tea bags can't compete with this pla-tea-pus and his friends.
DecorChic/Amazon

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By this point, your eco-friendly pal probably has a reusable water bottle that accompanies them everywhere and some sturdy grocery totes that keep their plastic-bag count below par. Here are 10 other sustainable gift ideas that’ll help them in their conservation efforts.

1. Reusable Produce Bags; $13

No more staticky plastic bags.Naturally Sensible/Amazon

The complimentary plastic produce bags in grocery stores aren’t great, but neither is having all your spherical fruits and vegetables roll pell-mell down the checkout conveyor belt. Enter the perfect alternative: mesh bags that are nylon, lightweight, and even machine-washable.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Animal Tea Infusers; $16

Nothing like afternoon tea with your tiny animal friends.DecorChic/Amazon

Saying goodbye to disposable tea bags calls for a quality tea diffuser, and there’s really no reason why it shouldn’t be shaped like an adorable animal. This “ParTEA Pack” includes a hippo, platypus, otter, cat, and owl, which can all hang over the edge of a glass or mug. (In other words, you won’t have to fish them out with your fingers or dirty a spoon when your loose leaf is done steeping.)

Buy it: Amazon

3. Rocketbook Smart Notebook; $25

Typing your notes on a tablet or laptop might save trees, but it doesn’t quite capture the feeling of writing on paper with a regular pen. The Rocketbook, on the other hand, does. After you’re finished filling a page with sketches, musings, or whatever else, you scan it into the Rocketbook app with your smartphone, wipe it clean with the microfiber cloth, and start again. This one also comes with a compatible pen, but any PILOT FriXion pens will do.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Food Huggers; $13

"I'm a hugger!"Food Huggers/Amazon

It’s hard to compete with the convenience of plastic wrap or tin foil when it comes to covering the exposed end of a piece of produce or an open tin can—and keeping those leftovers in food storage containers can take up valuable space in the fridge. This set of five silicone Food Huggers stretch to fit over a wide range of circular goods, from a lidless jar to half a lemon.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Swiffer Mop Pads; $15

For floors that'll shine like the top of the Chrysler Building.Turbo Microfiber/Amazon

Swiffers may be much less unwieldy than regular mops, but the disposable pads present a problem to anyone who likes to keep their trash output to a minimum. These machine-washable pads fasten to the bottom of any Swiffer WetJet, and the thick microfiber will trap dirt and dust instead of pushing it into corners. Each pad lasts for at least 100 uses, so you’d be saving your eco-friendly friend quite a bit of money, too.

Buy it: Amazon

6. SodaStream for Sparkling Water; $69

A fondness for fizzy over flat water doesn’t have to mean buying it bottled. Not only does the SodaStream let you make seltzer at home, but it’s also small enough that it won’t take up too much precious counter space. SodaStream also sells flavor drops to give your home-brewed beverage even more flair—this pack from Amazon ($25) includes mango, orange, raspberry, lemon, and lime.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Washable Lint Roller; $13

Roller dirty.iLifeTech/Amazon

There’s a good chance that anyone with a pet (or just an intense dislike for lint) has lint-rolled their way through countless sticky sheets. iLifeTech’s reusable roller boasts “the power of glue,” which doesn’t wear off even after you’ve washed it. Each one also comes with a 3-inch travel-sized version, so you can stay fuzz-free on the go.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Countertop Compost Bin; $23

Like a tiny Tin Man for your table.Epica/Amazon

Even if you keep a compost pile in your own backyard, it doesn’t make sense to dash outside every time you need to dump a food scrap. A countertop compost bin can come in handy, especially if it kills odors and blends in with your decor. This 1.3-gallon pail does both. It’s made of stainless steel—which matches just about everything—and contains an activated-charcoal filter that prevents rancid peels and juices from stinking up your kitchen.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Fabric-Softening Dryer Balls; $17

Also great for learning how to juggle without breaking anything.Smart Sheep

Nobody likes starchy, scratchy clothes, but some people might like blowing through bottles of fabric softener and boxes of dryer sheets even less. Smart Sheep is here to offer a solution: wool dryer balls. Not only do they last for more than 1000 loads, they also dry your laundry faster. And since they don’t contain any chemicals, fragrances, or synthetic materials, they’re a doubly great option for people with allergies and/or sensitive skin.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Rechargeable Batteries; $40

Say goodbye to loose batteries in your junk drawer.eneloop/Amazon

While plenty of devices are rechargeable themselves, others still require batteries to buzz, whir, and change the TV channel—so it’s good to have some rechargeable batteries on hand. In addition to AA batteries, AAA batteries, and a charger, this case from Panasonic comes with tiny canisters that function as C and D batteries when you slip the smaller batteries into them.

Buy it: Amazon

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What Is a Crony?

Wikimedia Commons//Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons//Public Domain

By Mignon Fogarty, Quick and Dirty Tips

You know how words start to sound weird to you? Like you start doubting yourself and start thinking, “Is that even a word?” Well, I’ve been hearing the word crony a lot lately, and it started to sound weird to me; so out of curiosity, I looked it up and thought it had an especially interesting origin, so I want to share it with you.

What is the origin of the word crony?

According to Merriam-Webster, the root of the word crony is the Greek word chronos, which means “time.”

The same root gives us the words

  • Chronology: The order of things in time.
  • Chronic: Something that lasts a long time or is with you continuously like a chronic disease.
  • Synchronous: Happening at the same time.
  • Anachronism: Something that isn’t right for its time, like a cell phone in a movie that’s supposed to be set in the 1950s.

What does crony mean?

A crony is someone you’ve been friends with or have known for a long time, and it appears to have been a slang term used by British university students and alumni to describe their old chums.

Who first used the word crony?

The first citation in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is from the famous 17th-century diarist whom I’ve mentioned before, Samuel Pepys, who was a student at Cambridge. He referred to another man as “my old Schoolefellow … who was a great crony of mine.”

When did being a crony become a bad thing?

Today, crony often has a negative connotation, but all the examples in the OED use it in a good way, just to describe old friends. So I wanted to see when having cronies became a bad thing.

The negative meaning emerged in the United States in the early 1940s to describe the Truman administration.

According to the book Throw Them All Out by Peter Schweizer, in 1946 Arthur Krock wrote in The New York Times about President Truman’s connections to the Kansas City political machine, saying, “the Missouri flavor is strong around the White House itself ... and this has led to talk of government by crony.”

Another journalist, Walter Lippmann, used the word cronyism in The New York Times, again to describe the Truman administration, in 1952, bemoaning, “the amount of politically entrenched bureaucracy that has earned Mr. Truman’s regime its sorry reputation for corruption, cronyism, extravagance, waste, and confusion.” And you can really see the word cronyism take off in use after that date. It did also catch on in British English, but it seemed to take a few decades, starting to rise in the 1980s.

What is crony capitalism?

Also in the 1980s, people started talking about “crony capitalism," which is a form of corruption in which the government shows a lot of favoritism by determining which businesses get perks like tax breaks and permits. The magazine The Economist even created a crony capitalism index in 2014 to rank countries according to how much of this type of corruption they have. (Note: I can’t find any indication that The Economist published this index after 2016.)

How do people use the word crony?

To see more about how people use the word crony, I used a search engine called Netspeak that helps you find words that appear together, and it shows that one of the most common phrases is “old crony,” and that makes sense since often a crony is a buddy or friend from when you were in school or at least someone you’ve known for a long time.

And it also shows that the word is now common in the political realm because other common phrases are “Bush crony,” “Clinton crony,” and “political crony.” (I suspect this database doesn’t include text from the last decade or we’d see the names of other major politicians, too.)

In a further extension from corruption to outright criminal activity, you also occasionally see people use the word cronies to describe partners in crime or accomplices. For example, in 2019, there was an article in The Telegraph with the headline “My Brief but Terrifying Encounter With Pablo Escobar’s Cronies.”

Is crony related to crone?

Finally, the phrase “old crony” made me think of the phrase “old crone,” and I wondered whether crone has the same root since it refers to an old woman, but nope—it doesn’t.

The editors at the Oxford English Dictionary must have wondered the same thing because the etymology for crony actually says “no connection with crone has been traced.”

Instead, according to Etymonline, crone comes from the same root as carrion, which in Old French was also used to describe an old sheep.

Context matters when using the word crony

A crony was originally an old friend, but the word came to mean someone who gets favors because of whom they know instead of becoming successful on their own merits, and the change in meaning seems to be tied to criticism of United States president Harry Truman and his administration.

You can still use the word crony to simply describe an old friend, especially someone you hung out with a lot when you were young or in school. For example, you might say, “I’m not going home for Thanksgiving this year, and I am going to miss seeing all my old high school cronies.” But be sure the context makes your meaning clear since crony can also be used to describe people who don’t deserve their position or status.

A version of this article was originally published on Quick and Dirty Tips as "What Is a Crony?" Read more from Quick and Dirty Tips.

About the author

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on The Oprah Winfrey Show and The Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.