16. Samuel M. Walton

  • Adjusted wealth*: $56.5 billion
  • Lived: 1918-1992

Fresh out of college, the Wal-Mart founder cut his teeth in a J.C. Penney management training program. Later, he ran a chain of five-and-dime stores in the South.

He left that discount retailer -- Ben Franklin -- over a fallout with company management. Walton wanted to expand to other small rural towns, but management wanted to stick to the old formula of locating stores in and around big cities.

So Walton founded Wal-Mart (WMT), and pioneered a concept of stocking several smaller stores from a centrally located distributor -- a model that remains key to the success of big box retailers.

Wal-Mart is now the country's largest retailer, and Walton's heirs are worth over $130 billion combined.

First published June 2, 2014: 6:18 PM ET
Source: *Most nominal wealth estimates are from The Wealthy 100 by Michael Klepper and Robert Gunther, and include wealth at time of death, including bequests. Estimates were then calculated as a fraction of the overall economy at time of death by Sam Williamson of Measuring Worth, and then presented in 2013 dollars based on the size of the current U.S. economy. Estimates for Gates and Buffett provided by Wealth-X.

Biographical information from The Wealthy 100 by Michael Klepper and Robert Gunther, Encyclopedia Britannica, and The Prize by Daniel Yergin.

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