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September 11, 2017updated 12 Sep 2017 6:47pm

Forbes’ 100th birthday: How wealth has changed since the inaugural Forbes 400

By Luke Christou

It has been 100 years since financial columnist B. C. Forbes founded what would become one of the most reputable sources of finance and industry information.

Forbes’ 100th birthday will fall on Friday 15 September. To mark the occasion, we have looked into what Forbes does best – rich lists.

Forbes 500 companies, World’s Billionaires, Highest-Paid Celebrities, Most Valuable Brands. Those are just some of the annual rundowns that the publication publishes each year.

However, Forbes 400 is arguably the most anticipated of the lot.

Forbes 400, published in September each year, lists the 400 richest Americans.

The list was started in 1982 by Malcolm Forbes, the son of the publication’s founder. However, not everybody was initially on board.

James Michael, who was editor of Forbes at the time, admitted that some of the first year’s inclusions were less than impressed:

I thought it was pretty dicey at first. Some of them told us to drop dead. They said they wanted no part of it, that they’d sue us.

However, Forbes 400 is still going strong 35 years later.

Bill Gates dominates

The king of the computer age, Bill Gates has dominated the list since 1994, when the home computer boom really began.

Gates’ climb to the top was a rapid one. He ranked in 16th place in 1990 and had climbed up to second 12 months later, with an estimated worth of $4.8bn.

By 1992 he was on top, with a worth of $6.3bn, before losing out to legendary investor Warren Buffet the following year.

He reclaimed the top spot in 1994 with a net worth of $9.35bn and has held on to it ever since.

Forbes' 100th birthday - Verdict

Incredible, in the three years that followed Gates’ wealth quadrupled.

Despite peaking at $85bn in 1999, Gates’ net worth currently sits at $81b after a turbulent few years, during which he lost $9bn between 2007 and 2009.

Who else has topped the list?

Prior to Gates’ two decades of dominance, five other individuals topped the list.

The most recent was current number three Warren Buffett, who sits behind Gates and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Having been a big player in the investment game since the 1960s, Buffett has always been present in the Forbes 400 list.

He managed to knock Gates off the top in 1993 and seems best poised to do so again.

Prior to ’92, John Werner Kluge dominated the list for three consecutive years.

The media mogul built up his $5.9bn fortune in the broadcasting industry, having purchased a stake in the Metropolitan Broadcasting Corporation in the 1950s. The company has since been turned into Fox’s television empire.

Prior to Kluge, Walmart founder Sam Walton led the pack between 1985 and 1988, peaking in 1987 at $8.5bn.

His wealth was split among his children upon his death in 1992 and combined the Walton family is now worth close to $149bn. Therefore, if Walton was alive today, he would likely sit well ahead of Gates.

Oil tycoon Jean Paul Getty, the world’s richest American in the 1950s, died before Forbes 400 started. However, his wealth did earn his son Gordon Getty a place at the top of the list in 1983 and 1984.

Before him, Daniel Keith Ludwig was named as the richest American in the first ever Forbes 400.

The shipping mogul was worth just $2bn, which equates to around $5.1bn today.

How wealth has changed in 35 years of Forbes 400

When the list was first published in 1982, $100m was the minimum amount needed to rank in the top 400. Nowadays you need a net worth of at least $1.7bn.

Likewise, while $2bn would have placed you top back then, it would have only placed you in 353rd place in the 2016 list. Just look at Gordon Getty – richest man with $2.2bn in 1983, 335th richest man with $2.1bn in 2016.

Wealth has certainly changed in a relatively short space of time.

Energy dominated in the inaugural list, with 89 of the 400 having made their wealth through oil.

However, technology dominates today, making up $591bn of the $2.4trn combined worth of 2016’s richest 400. Six of the current top 10 are involved in the tech industry.

Forbes 400 year-by-year: 1982 to 2016

2016: Bill Gates ($81bb)

2015: Bill Gates ($76bn)

2014: Bill Gates ($81bn)

2013: Bill Gates ($72bn)

2012: Bill Gates ($66bn)

2011: Bill Gates ($59bn)

2010: Bill Gates ($50bn)

2009: Bill Gates ($50bn)

2008: Bill Gates ($57bn)

2007: Bill Gates ($59bn)

2006: Bill Gates ($53bn)

2005: Bill Gates ($51bn)

2004: Bill Gates ($46.6bn)

2003: Bill Gates ($46bn)

2002: Bill Gates ($43bn)

2001: Bill Gates ($54bn)

2000: Bill Gates ($63bn)

1999: Bill Gates ($85bn)

1998: Bill Gates ($58bn)

1997: Bill Gates ($39.8bn)

1996: Bill Gates ($18.5bn)

1995: Bill Gates ($14.8bn)

1994: Bill Gates ($9.35bn)

1993: Warren Buffett ($8.3bn)

1992: Bill Gates ($6.3bn)

1991: John Werner Kluge ($5.9bn)

1990: John Werner Kluge ($5.6bn)

1989: John Werner Kluge ($5.2bn)

1988: Sam Walton ($6.7bn)

1987: Sam Walton ($8.5bn)

1986: Sam Walton ($4.5bn)

1985: Sam Walton ($2.8bn)

1984: Gordon P. Getty ($4.1bn)

1983: Gordon P. Getty ($2.2bn)

1982: Daniel Keith Ludwig ($2bn)

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