The Greatest Billionaire of All Time

 By Marc Alexander


Andrew Carnegie

America has a million millionaires, so a seven-digit income is no longer the incredible dream or achievement that it used to be. The money fantasy bar has been raised three zeros to ten, and now, everyone from pop singers to Type A personality money nerds, aspires to be a billionaire.

“One billion dollars” is easy to say, but few really realize how much one billion is.  A billion is a million thousands. It is a thousand millions. If you had a billion dollars and spent a dollar every second of the day, it would take you thirty-one years and seven months to spend it.

It used to be that the super-duper rich were unknown to the public – safely kept and low-key behind the fortified walls of plush and lavish estates. But, thanks to modern technology, there are now celebrity billionaires like Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas – all of whom amassed their wealth in very public ways. Today’s billionaires are out in the open – for everyone to watch and envy – and we, the people, know their stories intimately.

But who is the greatest billionaire of all time? And, maybe more importantly, how do we define their greatness?  By the amount of money they made? By the amount they gave away?  Or should we define the greatest billionaire of all time as the person who has made a ton of money, looked like they were having fun doing it, and then given a lot of it away to worthy causes?

The way a billionaire chooses to spend his or her wealth can be as impressive as the accumulation of the billion dollars. Bill Gates, for instance, is famous for his house Xanadu 2.0 – which features interactive walls and a system that adjusts room temperature according to each person who enters.

John D Rockefeller

Roman Abramovich, a Russian billionaire who once reportedly spent fifty-two thousand dollars on lunch, also owns the world’s most expensive yacht and several eight-figure homes.

Media mogul Ted Turner’s “Flying D” ranch is larger than several US states.

In my opinion, The Greatest Billionaire of All Time boils down to one whose mindset is, “OK, I’m a billionaire, now what? Do I buy fifty Rolls-Royces? Do I go on infinite shopping trips and get caught up in the possession of ‘things?’”

The G.O.A.T billionaire is one who, at one time or another, has experienced an  “A-ha” moment of truth, and has come to the realization that, “I can’t possibly buy another thing that would mean anything to me, let me see do some good with it.”

The G.O.A.T, billionaire isn’t simply the richest or the exclusively most philanthropic. He or she is the person who worked hard to make the money (not inherited it), spent it on some cool stuff, and then made an impact when it came time to give some or all away. There are three men who, throughout history, have done just that, and they are: John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and Bill Gates.

Carnegie, the progenitor of U.S. Steel, built a fortune of close to half a trillion dollars in the early part of the 20th century.  Carnegie was a patron of the arts and built the world-famous Carnegie Hall concert venue in New York City.  Carnegie funded hundreds of libraries, several colleges, and a myriad of education-related causes.

Bill Gates

John D. Rockefeller was considered the richest man who ever lived. He founded and owned Standard Oil, which became Esso, then later, Exxon. At one point, his fortune was valued at almost seven hundred billion dollars, but he didn’t wait until he was sitting on a stack of cash to start giving.  Rockefeller tithed ten percent of his first paycheck to his church; and as his earnings grew, he started donating to health and arts concerns. Rockefeller is acknowledged as the chief underwriter of modern medical research.  And, later in his life, he became a major funder of an African-American women’s college in Atlanta, GA that was named after his in-laws which became Spelman College.

Bill Gates, the nerd’s nerd, became the richest man in the world through hard work and focus. Gates’ own philanthropy was actually inspired by the good works of Carnegie and Rockefeller. He established the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 1994, and has donated more than twenty eight billion dollars since.

While all three of these corporate and social giants contributed greatly to the world, there can only be one G.O.A.T. billionaire. Out of the three, John D. Rockefeller is the rock star (pun intended). His left-leaning abolitionist funding and giving, while he made his money, makes him not only a philanthropist, but a true risk-taker.  The man who changed the course of history by establishing the field of medical research has to be, without question, the G.O.A.T billionaire of all time.

Agree? Disagree?  Make your argument. I dare you.



Marc Alexander is a Los Angeles-based writer, photographer and purveyor of urban culture.

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