30 Years Of America's Wealthiest People (Data Visualization)

Updated: Jan.1, 2020

As we wind down on 2019, we thought it would be fun to take a look at the wealthiest Americans over the past 30 years.

I spent the better part of a Saturday afternoon combing through many online versions of "The Forbes 400" to create this animated timeline showing how Forbes' annual list of the wealthiest Americans has changed over the past 30 years.  

Here are some interesting takeaways from the data.

Mr. Dominant: Bill Gates

bill gates

With all the talk the past few years of how much Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg have been pulling in, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that Bill Gates was—and is— an absolute baller. 

From 1990-2019, Gates has been America's richest person 25 times, including an astonishing 24-year run from 1994-2017 (when he was finally surpassed by Bezos).

Mr. Consistency: Warren Buffett

warren buffett

While Warren Buffett has been the wealthiest person in America only once over the past 30 years (1993), his consistency at the top of this list has been incredible. 

Buffett's wealth has placed him inside the Top 5 richest Americans every single year except for one (1991), and he's been a 2nd-place finisher behind Gates 20 different years.

Walton Family Legacy

walmart

If Sam Walton—the founder of Walmart—had been alive for the past 30 years (he passed away in 1992), he likely would have topped the Forbes 400 list every single year.

When Sam died, he passed on his fortune to his wife and four children, who each inherited an equal share. And at least one Walton has ranked in the Top 5 richest Americans 11 of the past 30 years.

Not only that, but if you were to combine the inherited Walton wealth into a single "individual", the numbers are staggering. 

For example, in 2014, the combined wealth of four members of the Walton family (Jim, Christy, Alice, and Rob) was $143.7 billion ...

Or nearly $63 billion more than Bill Gates' wealth that year.

The Rapid Growth of American Wealth

America's richest people have gotten a LOT richer over the past 30 years.

In 1990, the Top 10 richest Americans had a combined wealth of $29.8 billion, a figure that, if it were a single person, would not have cracked the Top 10 list in 2019.

And in 2019, the combined wealth of America's 10 richest people was $708.6 billion, a near 25x increase from 30 years ago. 

About The Forbes List of America's Wealthiest People

To publish this visualization, we relied on data from Forbes.com (thank you, Archive.org) and news reports from outlets such as the Associated Press.

Sharing Our Data & Visualization

If you would like to share any of the data or visualization above on your website, please feel free to go ahead.

We just ask that you use credittakeoff.com as your source. 

To embed the visualization directly on your website, please use the source code:

<div class="flourish-embed" data-src="visualisation/1096265"></div><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script>

About the Author


Mike Pearson

Mike is a recognized credit expert and founder of Credit Takeoff. His credit advice has been featured in CNBC, Investopedia, CreditCards.com, Bankrate, Huffpost, The Simple Dollar, Reader's Digest, LendingTree, and Quickbooks. Read more.

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