6. Stephen Van Rensselaer

richest americans
  • Adjusted wealth*: $101 billion (tie)
  • Lived: 1764-1839

Van Rensselaer was the last in a line of aristocrats that had been given vast land grants in the New World under Dutch colonial rule. At one point he controlled over a million acres in New York State and had up to 100,000 tenants living on his land. He's the only member on this list to entirely inherit his fortune.

But Van Rensselaer was a progressive at heart, and let much of the rent owed to him slide. He also divided his estate among his 10 children instead of granting it all to his eldest son, which was the custom at the time.

In addition to founding Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, he also helped finance work on the Erie Canal, commanded 6,000 men during the War of 1812, and was a U.S. Congressman.

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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