Apple is currently the most valuable publicly traded company at about $474 billion. Exxon and Google follow at about $405 billion.
Apple had reached a peak of about $625 billion two years ago.
Apple would have been a trillion dollar company if Google had not released Android and Samsung and others had not enabled Android to grab more market share. Clearly if there were no Android smartphones and tablets those would have been Apple sales. Apple would easily have been double the valuation and likely triple. A true technology and design breakthrough that would have made a more than a trillion dollar public company if they had only been able to slow successful competitor entry by 2-4 years.
Inflation Adjusted Trillionaire
John D. Rockefeller, the richest American ever, saw his wealth peak in 1913 at around $900 million, or 2.5% of the country’s GDP that year, according to biographer Ron Chernow. This would make Rockefeller worth about $400 billion. A figure in the range of $300-600 billion is reached either by updating the figure based on percent of US GDP or by using inflation adjustments. Rockefeller died in 1937. Assuming 2.5% annual GDP growth, then Rockefeller will be an inflation adjusted trillionaire in about 25 years.
Andrew Carnegie founded the Carnegie Steel Company, which was the most extensive integrated iron and steel operations in the United States, Carnegie merged his company into U.S. Steel and sold his share for US$492 million in 1901. Capitalized at US$1.4 billion at the time, U.S. Steel was the first billion dollar company in the world. In his final years, Carnegie’s net worth was US$475 million, but by the time of his death in 1919 he had donated most of his wealth to charities and other philanthropic endeavors and had only US$30 million left to his personal fortune. Carnegie’s hundreds of millions accounted for about 0.60% of the U.S. annual GDP and has a real value estimated at anywhere from US$75 billion to US$297.8 billion.
Cornelius Vanderbilt gained his fortune from shipping and railroad. His net worth of US$105 million in 1877 was equal to 1.15% of the U.S. annual GDP in his day. With a real value estimated somewhere between US$143 billion and US$178.4 billion adjusted.
Henry Ford had his highest earnings recorded at age 57 and he died at the age of 83 in 1947 at a net worth of US$188.1 billion (inflation-adjusted value in 2008 dollars).
The high frequency traders of today had nothing compared to the Rothschilds who at times had hours to days of information before others and they controlled markets, currencies and central banks. They knew the results of the Napoleonic wars before anyone else. The modern day comparison would be that Russia’s Putin might be the world’s richest person and Putin would have definitely known that he was going to invade the Ukraine and he could then have executed financial transaction with that advance knowledge. Putin has been estimated to be worth $40-70 billion.
The four richest Walmart heirs have $35-37.6 billion. The combined Walmart family is worth about $150 billion.
The two richest Koch brothers are currently each worth over $50 billion. There are also two poorer brothers who are each worth about $5 billion. The combined Koch family is worth about $110 billion.
Three members of the Mars family are each worth about $25 billion.
Highest Value Companies Ever
Saudi Aramco was estimated to be worth about $3.6 trillion when oil was at $90 per barrel. West Texas Oil is at $100 per barrel and Brent Crude is at $106 per barrel. Saudi Aramco is probably at $4 trillion. There have been estimates for Saudi Aramco as high as $10 trillion.
The Mississippi Company in 1720 was as high as $6 trillion inflation adjusted. It was a massive bubble where people bought in based on owning part of the new world.
The South Sea Company in 1720 saw hyperinflation of its share price on misplaced speculation over future business growth. But there was a difference: the British government was pulling the strings instead of the French, and company’s monopoly extended over Spanish-controlled South America and not French colonies further north. And it was able to fall back on its legitimate underlying trade business after the house of cards collapsed.
The Dutch East India Company in 1637 had real trading value but went as high as an inflation adjusted $7.4 trillion on the tulip bubble.
Elon Musk has the vision of colonizing Mars and there are companies like Planetary Resources that are looking to Asteroid Mining. Space development could explode with new space technology like fully reusable rockets that could bring the price of accessing space down to $100 per kilogram or less. Elon Musk could within fifteen years have a reusable Mars Colonization rocket based on chemical rockets. However, there is the possibility for breakthroughs in molten salt fission reactors and nuclear fusion energy(Lawrenceville Plasma Physics, General Fusion, Helion Energy) and nuclear fusion for space propulsion. There is also the possibility of material revolution with large volume carbon nanotube and graphene production. Molecular nanotechnology could finally be realized in the next twenty years or at least advanced DNA nanotechnology and synthetic biology.
Elon Musk also has the potential to be the electric car version of Henry Ford or the futuretech (electric supersonic passenger jets and hyperloop) transportation version of Vanderbilt.
A true energy breakthrough could create a future technology version of Standard Oil with a “Standard nuclear fusion”.
A true breakthrough opening up of space colonization and development could enable a space colonization version of the Dutch East India Company.
Modern and Future Wealth versus Historical
The wealthy of the modern and future have a larger economic pie to capture. The World economy is larger even after adjusting for inflation.
Even with just 3% world GDP growth the world economy would be 16 times bigger in 100 years or about $1300 trillion in todays dollars. Sometime in the next forty years, we will probably see the world’s first modern trillionaire without retro-inflation adjustment (although with inflation making future dollars worth less).
Likely new trillionaire making markets –
* radical life extension market
* molecular nanotechnology
* energy breakthrough (aneutronic nuclear fusion)
* space industrialization
However, there is more capture of wealth by state owned enterprises and nationalization of resources.
There is also faster technological competition.
Countries like China also shut out of impede global technology companies to allow local copycats to get going in China. The local copycats can then get stronger and able to compete on a closer to level competition and innovation playing field.
GINI levels (money distribution over the population) for money to the top 1% has been higher at other times in history.
Some in the thousands of other billionaires or some other competing companies prevent individuals or companies from becoming as dominant as Rockefeller or the Rothschild family at their peak. Governments prevent a modern Standard Oil unless it is an Aramco.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.