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The Richest People in Human History - Part 1

The Richest People in Human History

(Up until the Industrial Revolution)

Click here for a larger, more legible version of the infographic that you can explore in-depth.

When we think of wealth today, we often think of the massive personal fortunes of business magnates like Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, or Warren Buffett. However, it is only since the Industrial Revolution that measuring wealth by one’s bank account has been a norm for the world’s richest.

For most of recorded human history, in fact, the lines around wealth were quite blurred. Leaders like Augustus Caesar or Emperor Shenzong had absolute control of their empires – while bankers like Jakob Fogger and Cosimo de Medici were often found pulling the strings from behind.

This infographic focuses on the richest people in history up until the Industrial Revolution – and in the coming weeks, we will release a second version that covers wealth from then onwards (including figures like Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Jeff Bezos, etc.).

Is This List of People Definitive?

While it is certainly fun to speculate on the wealth of people from centuries past, putting together this list is exceptionally difficult and certainly not definitive.

Here’s why:

Firstly, much wealth in early periods is tied to land (Genghis Khan) or entire empires (Augustus, Akbar), which makes calculations extremely subjective. What is most of Asia’s land worth in the year 1219? What separates personal fortune from the riches of an empire that one has full control of? There are a wide variety of answers to these questions, and they all influence the figures chosen to be represented.

Secondly, records kept from Ancient eras are scarce, exaggerated, or based on legends and oral histories. Think of King Solomon or Mansa Musa – these are characters described as immeasurably rich, so trying to put their wealth in modern context is fun, but certainly not guaranteed to be historically accurate.

Lastly, wealth and conversion rates can be approached in different ways as well. Take Crassus in the Roman Republic, who had a peak fortune of “200 million sesterces”. Well, that’s a problem for us in modernity, because that stash could be worth anywhere from $200 million to $169.8 billion, depending on how calculations are done.

So, enjoy this list of the wealthiest historical figures, but keep in mind that it is mostly for fun – and that the list of the wealthiest people in history changes depending on who you ask!

About the Money Project

The Money Project uses intuitive visualizations to explore ideas around the very concept of money itself. Founded in 2015 by Visual Capitalist and Texas Precious Metals, the Money Project will look at the evolving nature of money, and will try to answer the difficult questions that prevent us from truly understanding the role that money plays in finance, investments, and accumulating wealth.

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31 Fascinating Facts on the Early History of the U.S. Dollar

31 Fascinating Facts on the Early History of the U.S. Dollar

The Money Project is an ongoing collaboration between Visual Capitalist and Texas Precious Metals that seeks to use intuitive visualizations to explore the origins, nature, and use of money.

Today, we all know the U.S. dollar as an iconic currency that is recognizable to people around the world.

And while we’ve previously looked at the buying power of the U.S. dollar over time, as well as important events like the Great Depression, we have not looked at the history of the dollar itself.

How and why was it conceived, and why do we call it a “dollar” or a “buck”? How did the dollar’s early history help to shape today’s world?

Before the Dollar

For the early colonists, currency was a bit of a free-for-all.

Officially, cash was denominated in pounds, shillings, and pence, but in reality things were a different story. Cash was often scarce, and colonists needed to be innovative to fulfill transactions. At various points in time, they used tobacco, beaver skins, and wampum in the place of money. Some colonies even tried to issue their own fiat currencies – many of which went bust.

As it turned out, the Spanish dollar was often the most abundant form of cash – and this is what led to U.S. currency eventually being denominated in dollars.

The Revolution

During the American Revolution in 1775, the Continental Congress issued a money known as the Continental Currency to try and fund the war. The government printed too many, and the value of a Continental diminished rapidly.

Just five years later, after runaway inflation, the Continental was worth 2.5% of its face value. Benjamin Franklin rightly noted that the depreciation of the Continental had, in fact, acted as a tax to pay for the war. Holders of the currency – everyday people – were punished by losing massive amounts of buying power. Interestingly, this is where we get the phrase “Not worth a Continental”.

Birth of the Dollar

The failure of the Continental Currency must have been top of mind during the writing of the Constitution. A clause was even added, under Article 1, Section 10, to make sure such a failure would never happen again. It was written that states were not permitted to “coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; [or] make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts.”

And so, the Coinage Act of 1792 created the U.S. dollar as a standard unit of currency. The U.S. Mint was authorized to oversee coinage, and the Act also established a penalty of death for debasing coinage issued by the Mint.

The Almighty Buck

In the 19th Century, a new slang term emerged for the dollar.

Especially in the Great Lakes area, different amounts of money were equated with animal skins. One particular reference showed that in Ohio in 1851, the skin of a muskrat was worth $0.25, and that of a doe was worth $0.50. Meanwhile, the skin of a buck was equal to the “almighty dollar” – and hence, the word “buck” became synonymous with the U.S. dollar.

The Civil War

Leading up to the Civil War, private banks around the country issued their own paper currencies.

With 10,000 or so of these currencies in circulation as the war broke out, governments soon found it very cumbersome to try and pay debts with many different types of notes. As a result, the $10 Demand Note was the first official paper currency issued in 1861 by the government to help finance the war.

The North began paying debts with a fiat currency called the “greenback”, while Confederate states issued their own paper currency as well. The latter was worthless by the time the Confederacy lost the war.

The Counterfeiting Problem

Around this time, counterfeiting was a widespread problem with greenbacks and all the private notes that were circulating. More than 1/3 of bills were fake at this time.

Sophisticated counterfeit operations were happening in British Canada, and some bank engravers would even moonlight as counterfeiters, using the same plates and dyes they had from their day job.

To deal with the problem, the Secret Service was formed in 1865.

The Modern Dollar

Counterfeiting measures have come a long way since the late 19th century. Today, it’s estimated that less than 0.01% of notes are fake.

Learn more about the modern U.S. dollar in the next part of this series.

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Although gold has a bigger reputation today as a monetary metal, it was often deemed too valuable for everyday transactions throughout history.

For the most part, common people in places like Ancient Rome used silver to buy daily staples like grain or wine. As a result, silver has a strong reputation through monetary history as the “people’s money”.

Even today, silver is still much more widely accessible. With one ounce of gold being 70x more expensive than an ounce of silver, it’s difficult for someone who is just starting to accumulate wealth to own gold.

Visualizing Silver

What do savings and debt look like, using the “people’s money”?

Below is everything from the average paycheck to global sovereign debt visualized as silver cubes.

1. A median U.S. family brings in $2,355 per pay period (semi-monthly) pre-tax.

Average U.S. Paycheck as a Silver Cube

2. However, the median American family only has about $5,000 of savings.

Median U.S. Savings as a Silver Cube

3. The standard silver delivery bar holds 1,000 oz of silver.

Silver bar

4. Average household debt is $98,312, with mortgage debt being the primary component.

Average household debt as a silver cube

5. A Lamborghini worth over $400,000 needs a silver cube with 16-inch (0.4m) sides.

A Lamborghini's value as a silver cube

6. Using a silver price of about $18/oz, here’s what $1 million looks like.

$1 million as a silver cube

7. Every day, the world’s mines produce about 75 tonnes of silver, worth over $44 million.

Daily Silver Production as a silver cube

8. Silver Eagle sales have jumped considerably since the Financial Crisis.

Silver Eagle Sales as a Silver Cube

9. When the Hunt Brothers tried to corner the silver market, they hoarded 200 million oz.

Hunt Brothers Stockpile as a Silver Cube

10. Today, almost 900 million oz of silver is mined each year.

All Silver Mined Each Year as a Silver Cube

11. JP Morgan’s market capitalization, in comparison to previous cubes.

JPMorgan's market capitalization as a silver cube

12. All silver ever mined would not compare to the Fed’s balance sheet, which is now $4.5 trillion.

All Global Debt Visualized as a Gold Cube

13. Global sovereign debt is 13X bigger than all previous cubes combined.

All Sovereign Debt Visualized as a Gold Cube

Liked our visualizations of silver cubes?

Don’t forget to check out 11 stunning visualizations of gold.

The Money Project is an ongoing collaboration between Visual Capitalist and Texas Precious Metals that seeks to use intuitive visualizations to explore the origins, nature, and use of money.

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Presented by: Texas Precious Metals

The Global War on Cash

The Global War on Cash

The Money Project is an ongoing collaboration between Visual Capitalist and Texas Precious Metals that seeks to use intuitive visualizations to explore the origins, nature, and use of money.

There is a global push by lawmakers to eliminate the use of physical cash around the world. This movement is often referred to as “The War on Cash”, and there are three major players involved:

1. The Initiators
Who?
Governments, central banks.
Why?
The elimination of cash will make it easier to track all types of transactions – including those made by criminals.

2. The Enemy
Who?
Criminals, terrorists
Why?
Large denominations of bank notes make illegal transactions easier to perform, and increase anonymity.

3. The Crossfire
Who?
Citizens
Why?
The coercive elimination of physical cash will have potential repercussions on the economy and social liberties.

Is Cash Still King?

Cash has always been king – but starting in the late 1990s, the convenience of new technologies have helped make non-cash transactions to become more viable:

  • Online banking
  • Smartphones
  • Payment technologies
  • Encryption

By 2015, there were 426 billion cashless transactions worldwide – a 50% increase from five years before.

Year# of cashless transactions
2010285.2 billion
2015426.3 billion

And today, there are multiple ways to pay digitally, including:

  • Online banking (Visa, Mastercard, Interac)
  • Smartphones (Apple Pay)
  • Intermediaries ( Paypal , Square)
  • Cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin)

The First Shots Fired

The success of these new technologies have prompted lawmakers to posit that all transactions should now be digital.

Here is their case for a cashless society:

Removing high denominations of bills from circulation makes it harder for terrorists, drug dealers, money launderers, and tax evaders.

  • $1 million in $100 bills weighs only one kilogram (2.2 lbs).
  • Criminals move $2 trillion per year around the world each year.
  • The U.S. $100 bill is the most popular note in the world, with 10 billion of them in circulation.

This also gives regulators more control over the economy.

  • More traceable money means higher tax revenues.
  • It means there is a third-party for all transactions.
  • Central banks can dictate interest rates that encourage (or discourage) spending to try to manage inflation. This includes ZIRP or NIRP policies.

Cashless transactions are faster and more efficient.

  • Banks would incur less costs by not having to handle cash.
  • It also makes compliance and reporting easier.
  • The “burden” of cash can be up to 1.5% of GDP, according to some experts.

But for this to be possible, they say that cash – especially large denomination bills – must be eliminated. After all, cash is still used for about 85% of all transactions worldwide.

A Declaration of War

Governments and central banks have moved swiftly in dozens of countries to start eliminating cash.

Some key examples of this? Australia, Singapore, Venezuela, the U.S., and the European Central Bank have all eliminated (or have proposed to eliminate) high denomination notes. Other countries like France, Sweden and Greece have targeted adding restrictions on the size of cash transactions, reducing the amount of ATMs in the countryside, or limiting the amount of cash that can be held outside of the banking system. Finally, some countries have taken things a full step further – South Korea aims to eliminate paper currency in its entirety by 2020.

But right now, the “War on Cash” can’t be mentioned without invoking images of day-long lineups in India. In November 2016, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi demonetized 500 and 1000 rupee notes, eliminating 86% of the country’s notes overnight. While Indians could theoretically exchange 500 and 1,000 rupee notes for higher denominations, it was only up to a limit of 4,000 rupees per person. Sums above that had to be routed through a bank account in a country where only 50% of Indians have such access.

The Hindu has reported that there have now been 112 reported deaths associated with the Indian demonetization. Some people have committed suicide, but most deaths come from elderly people waiting in bank queues for hours or days to exchange money.

Caught in the Crossfire

The shots fired by governments to fight its war on cash may have several unintended casualties:

1. Privacy

  • Cashless transactions would always include some intermediary or third-party.
  • Increased government access to personal transactions and records.
  • Certain types of transactions (gambling, etc.) could be barred or frozen by governments.
  • Decentralized cryptocurrency could be an alternative for such transactions

2. Savings

  • Savers could no longer have the individual freedom to store wealth “outside” of the system.
  • Eliminating cash makes negative interest rates (NIRP) a feasible option for policymakers.
  • A cashless society also means all savers would be “on the hook” for bank bail-in scenarios.
  • Savers would have limited abilities to react to extreme monetary events like deflation or inflation.

3. Human Rights

  • Rapid demonetization has violated people’s rights to life and food.
  • In India, removing the 500 and 1,000 rupee notes has caused multiple human tragedies, including patients being denied treatment and people not being able to afford food.
  • Demonetization also hurts people and small businesses that make their livelihoods in the informal sectors of the economy.

4. Cybersecurity

  • With all wealth stored digitally, the potential risk and impact of cybercrime increases.
  • Hacking or identity theft could destroy people’s entire life savings.
  • The cost of online data breaches is already expected to reach $2.1 trillion by 2019, according to Juniper Research.

As the War on Cash accelerates, many shots will be fired. The question is: who will take the majority of the damage?

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Demystifying the Chinese Yuan

Demystifying the Chinese Yuan

The Money Project is an ongoing collaboration between Visual Capitalist and Texas Precious Metals that seeks to use intuitive visualizations to explore the origins, nature, and use of money.

With one of the world’s largest economies and a growing financial sector, China continues to rise as a global power.

The country’s currency, the Chinese yuan (officially the Renminbi), is also starting to mature. The most recent evidence of this? The IMF’s decision to include the yuan as a part of its SDR international reserve asset, a basket of major world currencies:

Currency2011-2015 SDR2016 SDRChange
U.S. Dollar41.9%41.7%-0.2%
Euro37.4%30.9%-6.5%
Pound11.3%8.1%-3.2%
Yen9.4%8.3%-1.1%
Yuan0.0%10.9%+10.9%

The Chinese economy is significant on a world stage, but its currency and financial system still have major growing up to do.

China is walking a fine balance: it desperately wants to legitimize its currency, but it also must find ways to keep its economic engine moving forward.

The Yuan’s Wild Ride So Far

In the early 1980s, the Chinese began to implement ‘Socialism with Chinese characteristics’, by opening up the state-controlled economy to the global market in very limited ways.

Since being on the world stage, the yuan has been all over the place. It’s been pegged to the U.S. dollar, unpegged, and then temporarily re-pegged again during the Financial Crisis.

Most recently, the currency was devalued sharply in 2015 to make up for slowing GDP growth. Today, it sits at six-year lows against the U.S. dollar.

The PBOC and the Chinese Yuan

The strategy used by The People’s Bank of China has not been easy to follow.

China wants its currency to matter, but it is also guilty of intervening in currency markets according to the priorities of the day.

In September 2016, for example, the country increased overnight borrowing rates and bought up the yuan in large amounts to counteract shorting from international traders.

The Fix Is In

Onshore, the yuan is allowed to trade within 2% of the PBOC reference point.

The previous day’s trading might be a factor in setting this. Then again, it may not matter. The decision is not up to the market. Value is set by unnamed officials behind the scenes.

This “flexibility” allows China to swing between different strategies for the yuan.

The Dragon’s Gambit

China can print money endlessly to keep the yuan’s value artificially low, which is good for manufacturers. This is handy in a case such as when exports fall year-over-year, and the economy is slowing.

But in other cases, China has different priorities, such as protecting the value of the yuan during times of international uncertainty. It can help to do this by securing the yuan with surprise gold holdings announcements or by dumping massive amounts of U.S. Treasuries to prop up the yuan’s price.

Sometimes these divergent strategies appear to be operating in the same week. Who’s in charge?

International currency traders ultimately don’t know how these decisions are made, or who is making them.

The Golden Hoard That Wasn’t

China’s currency manipulation has helped it to accumulate massive foreign exchange holdings. But these holdings are not a sign of economic strength or a basis for investment in the country’s future. They’re a hedge against currency flight. When the economy is sinking, the government can use these reserves to prop it back up.

RankCountryOfficial Reserve Assets (billions of USD)
1China$3,520.4
2Japan$1,321.0
3Euro Area$819.9
4Switzerland$661.2
5Saudi Arabia$580.7
6Russia$407.3
7Hong Kong$380.2
8Rep. Korea$372.6
9India$366.2
10Brazil$362.2

The Dragon Sleeps

According to the Bank of International Settlements, trading volume of the Chinese yuan has doubled over the last three years.

But the U.S. greenback and other top currencies have a huge advantage: people think they know what they are worth. The value isn’t set by government apparatchik.

For now, the Chinese yuan remains a sleeping dragon. If China ever really joins the global market in a meaningful way, watch the currency wake up and breathe fire.

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The Money Project is an ongoing collaboration between Visual Capitalist and Texas Precious Metals that seeks to use intuitive visualizations to explore the origins, nature, and use of money.

How Much Money Have Humans Created?

The dollar amounts are so staggering, that simply telling you how much money humans have created probably wouldn’t convey the magnitude.

However, by using data visualization in this video, we can relate numbers in the millions, billions, and trillions to create the context to make it more understandable.

Starting With Context

The median U.S. household income of $54,000 is a number that most people can relate to. It’s enough money to save up to buy a car, or maybe even a house depending on where you live.

Multiply that income by eight, and that number is now big enough to count as being in the top 1% of earners. People in the “one percent” make at least $430,000 per year.

Famous celebrities and businesspeople have fortunes that dwarf those of many “one percenters”. Actor George Clooney, for example, has a net worth of $180 million. Meanwhile, author J.K. Rowling is estimated to have a net worth of roughly $1 billion according to Forbes.

Zuckerberg takes things to a whole new level. His net worth worth is $53 billion, thanks to the value of Facebook stock. Lastly, Bill Gates regularly tops the “richest people” lists with a wealth of $75 billion – though lately that number has been a little higher based on stock fluctuations.

However, even the wealth of the richest human on Earth is not enough to get up to our unit of measurement that we use in the video: each square is equal to $100 billion.

The World’s Money

Some of the world’s biggest companies take up just a few squares with our unit of measurement. ExxonMobil for example has a market capitalization of about $350 billion, and the world’s largest public company by market capitalization, Apple, is at about $600 billion.

The total of the world’s physical currency – all coins and bills denominated in dollars, euros, yen, and other currencies – is about $5 trillion.

Meanwhile, if we add checking accounts to the equation, the number for the amount of money in the world goes up to $28.6 trillion according to the CIA World Factbook. This is called “narrow money”.

Add all money market, savings, and time deposits, and the number jumps up to $80.9 trillion – or “broad money”.

But that’s nothing compared to the world of Wall Street.

Wall Street

All stock markets added together are worth $70 trillion, and global debt is $199 trillion.

That’s all impressive, but the derivatives market takes the cake. Derivatives are contracts between parties that derive value from the performance of underlying assets, indices, or entities. On the low end, the notional value of the derivatives market is estimated to be a whopping $630 trillion according to the Bank of International Settlements.

However, that only accounts for OTC (over-the-counter) derivatives, and the truth is that no one actually knows the size of the derivatives market. It’s been estimated by some that it could be as high as $1.2 quadrillion, and others estimate it could be even higher.

There are many financial critics who worry about the risk that these contracts pile onto the global financial system. With the sheer size of the derivative market dwarfing all others, it’s understandable why business mogul Warren Buffett has called derivatives “financial weapons of mass destruction”.

About the Money Project

The Money Project aims to use intuitive visualizations to explore ideas around the very concept of money itself. Founded in 2015 by Visual Capitalist and Texas Precious Metals, the Money Project will look at the evolving nature of money, and will try to answer the difficult questions that prevent us from truly understanding the role that money plays in finance, investments, and accumulating wealth.

Presented by: Texas Precious Metals


The Money Project is an ongoing collaboration between Visual Capitalist and Texas Precious Metals that seeks to use intuitive visualizations to explore the origins, nature, and use of money.

In this motion graphic video, we break down the full story behind Donald Trump’s wealth.

Not only do we examine his major business successes and failures, but we even look back at real estate’s prominent role in the history of the Trump family. To conclude, the video breaks down Trump’s net worth and financial history, while highlighting some of the help he has gotten along the way in building his fortune.

Family Matters

The story started well over a century ago with Donald’s grandfather, Frederick Trump. Real estate runs deep in the blood of the Trump family, and Frederick was actually the first Trump to own a hotel. During the famous Klondike gold rush in Canada, Frederick owned an inn and restaurant that served gold miners. When he passed away, he left an estate worth just under $500,000 in today’s dollars to his heirs.

His eldest son, Fred Trump, carried on the Trump legacy by going into business with his mother, using the nest egg for seed money. Fred became a very successful builder in New York City’s outer boroughs. He built single family houses in Queens in the 1920s, helped pioneer the supermarket with the “Trump Market” during the Great Depression, and even built barracks for the Navy during World War 2.

But Fred’s real cash cow came in 1949, when he got a government loan to build Shore Haven Apartments in Brooklyn. The Federal Housing Administration paid him $10.3 million, but he was able to build the apartments for significantly less.

The government kept overpaying for houses in Brooklyn and Queens, and Fred kept building them. According to Donald, his father became “one of the biggest landlords in New York’s outer boroughs”. By the time of Fred’s death in 1999, it’s said that Fred Trump was worth between $250 and $300 million.

Donald’s Vision

Born in Queens, Donald J. Trump would join his father’s company early on in his career. His father’s cash cow was now gone, but Donald had a different vision for the Trump name anyways. He envisioned the “Trump” brand as being synonymous with luxury worldwide.

To do this, in the mid-1970s, Donald went into real estate in Manhattan. Relying on the business connections and creditworthiness of his old man, he borrowed a “small sum” of 1 million dollars to get started.

Trump’s Biggest Successes

Trump’s top three business successes include the Grand Hyatt, 40 Wall Street, and the Apprentice.

1. Grand Hyatt

In 1976, Donald Trump and Hyatt partnered to buy the rundown Commodore Hotel near Grand Central Station. At the time, the whole neighborhood was in disarray with many nearby buildings on the verge of foreclosure. Trump negotiated contracts with banks and the city in an effort to fund the hotel and rejuvenate the area.

The end result was the Grand Hyatt, a 25-story hotel, which Trump sold his share of for $142 million in 1996.

2. 40 Wall Street

Another big win for Trump was with 40 Wall Street, once the tallest building in the world. He bought it for $1 million after years of vacancy. Today, it’s prime real estate in the financial district, worth more than $500 million – a huge return.

3. The Apprentice

The Apprentice was also a financial home run for Trump. As the show’s host and executive producer, he raked in $1 million per episode for a whopping 185 episodes.

Trump’s Biggest Failures

Like many businessmen, Donald Trump’s career has also had his share of failures.

1. Atlantic City

Donald’s biggest failure may be his ill-fated venture into casinos in Atlantic City.

The bleeding started in 1988 when he acquired the Taj Mahal Casino. Funded primarily by junk bonds, the massive casino would be $3 billion in debt within just a year of opening. Trump, who racked up $900 million in personal liabilities, had the business declare bankruptcy. To stay afloat, he ditched many personal assets such as half of his stake in the company, a 282-foot megayacht, and his airline.

Things were dire, and Trump’s dad chipped in by providing a $3.5 million loan in the form of casino chips to help make a loan payment.

Trump’s casino holding company would enter bankruptcy two additional times: in 2004, after accruing $1.8 billion in debt, and in 2009, after missing a bond payment during the Financial Crisis. Each time, Trump’s stake in the company fell.

2. Other Businesses

While three of Trump’s four bankruptcies involved Atlantic City casinos, he has also struggled in other ventures outside of real estate: Trump airlines, Trump Vodka, Trump: The Game, Trump Magazine, Trump Steaks, and Trump University were all destined for failure. Trump Mortgages was launched in 2006 right before the real estate crash, and it also imploded.

Trump’s Net Worth

According to Trump’s campaign, he is worth “in excess of TEN BILLION DOLLARS”. However, he has also been accused in the past of artificially inflating his net worth. Forbes and Bloomberg News both have drastically different estimates of his wealth at $4.5 billion and $2.9 billion respectively.

Using the middle of the road figure from Forbes, here is how Trump’s wealth breaks down:

  • 48% is in New York City real estate
  • 7% is in cash and liquid assets such as investments
  • 8% is in golf courses
  • 4% is in “toys” such as helicopters, penthouse, or his Boeing 757 plane

The remainder includes other real estate assets outside of New York City, as well as the value of the licensing agreements for hotels, real estate, or other Trump products.

Trump as an Investor

So how did Donald Trump do in managing his fortune?

See Trump’s performance as an investor compared to other benchmarks in the next video for The Money Project.

About the Money Project

The Money Project aims to use intuitive visualizations to explore ideas around the very concept of money itself. Founded in 2015 by Visual Capitalist and Texas Precious Metals, the Money Project will look at the evolving nature of money, and will try to answer the difficult questions that prevent us from truly understanding the role that money plays in finance, investments, and accumulating wealth.

Presented by: Texas Precious Metals

The World's Top 50 Wealthiest Billionaires

The World’s Top 50 Wealthiest Billionaires

The Money Project is an ongoing collaboration between Visual Capitalist and Texas Precious Metals that seeks to use intuitive visualizations to explore the origins, nature, and use of money.

Bill Gates. Warren Buffett. Mark Zuckerberg. George Soros. Charles and David Koch.

On an individual level, the people that make the definitive list of the Top 50 Wealthiest Billionaires are interesting, divisive, and envied around the globe. Together, they are a real force to be reckoned with: their combined fortunes tally to $1.46 trillion, which is more money than the GDP of entire countries such as Australia or Spain.

Today’s data visualization, using the latest information from Wealth-X, takes an in-depth look at the world’s wealthiest billionaires by breaking down important data on age, location, and the source of their fortunes.

Billionaires by Geography

The lion’s share of the wealthiest billionaires still come from the United States, where 58% of the list is located. The rest are mostly in Europe (16%) and China (12%), which includes those from Hong Kong.

The Southern Hemisphere only has one billionaire – Jorge Lemann from Brazil. However, even he now lives in Switzerland.

Surprisingly, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Japan, and Russia combine to have a grand total of zero representation on the Top 50 Billionaires list.

Billionaires by Age

The youngest billionaire on the list is Mark Zuckerberg, at just 31 years of age. The oldest is Liliane Bettencourt, the principal shareholder of cosmetic giant L’Oréal. She is 93 years old.

The age of tech billionaires skewed the lowest, with an average age of 51. The age of all non-tech billionaires was far higher at 72.

Family Ties

The Walton siblings, which include Rob, Alice, and Jim Walton, are all descendants of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, and each have healthy fortunes of over $33 billion.

Meanwhile, the sons and daughters of Forrest Mars Sr., the creator of a candy empire, are not doing too bad for themselves, either. Forrest Jr., Jacqueline, and John Mars each have respective fortunes of $28.6 billion.

The divisive Koch Brothers also are high on the list, inheriting their initial wealth from father Fred C. Koch, the founder of Koch Industries. They succeeded in buying out their two other brothers, Frederick and William, after highly-publicized court battles in the 1980s and 1990s. Today the Koch Brothers have a combined fortune of $94.2 billion.

Other billionaires are connected by being from the same corporate family, sharing in the success of creating empires from the ground up. Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, and Paul Allen all worked to create Microsoft, and Larry Page and Sergey Brin built Google (now Alphabet) into one of the biggest companies in the world.

Billionaires by Industry

Technology, which brings us names such as Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Bill Gates, and Larry Ellison, has more billionaires than any other industry with 12.

The world’s largest fashion and retail brands, such as Wal-Mart, Zara, Nike, and H&M, also have helped to get many people on this list.

At the same time, other industries such as media are under-represented, with only two names with empires built in the sector making the top 50.

About the Money Project

The Money Project aims to use intuitive visualizations to explore ideas around the very concept of money itself. Founded in 2015 by Visual Capitalist and Texas Precious Metals, the Money Project will look at the evolving nature of money, and will try to answer the difficult questions that prevent us from truly understanding the role that money plays in finance, investments, and accumulating wealth.

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The World's Most Famous Case of Hyperinflation

What is Money?

All of the World's Money and Markets in One Visualization

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The World's Strangest Currencies

Infographic: The World’s Strangest Currencies

For centuries, humans from all around the world have tried to use different things as money. Some forms, which most people are familiar with today, have been effective catalysts for trade over thousands of years. Other currencies, from squirrel pelts to parmesan cheese, have had their time or place in human history, but were ultimately unsuccessful or made obsolete.

The path to finding the best money has been long and riddled with trial and error. Here are just some of the world’s strangest currencies that we discovered in our research.

Salt

The importance of salt to ancient civilizations cannot be understated. The first written record on salt appears in 2700 BCE in China.

Salt was highly valued for food preservation, but its production was very limited. As a result, in many places of the world, salt was used as currency.

  • As early as the 6th century, Moorish merchants in sub-Saharan Africa routinely traded salt and gold at the same value per ounce.
  • In what is now modern-day Ethiopia, slabs of rock salt were used as coins. Each coin was 10 inches long and two inches thick.
  • Salt was also used as pay soldiers in Ancient Rome. This became known as “solarium argentum”, from which we now derive the word “salary”
  • A soldier’s salary was cut if he was “not worth his salt”, a phrase that still exists today.

Tea Bricks

Bricks of tea leaves were used for currency in many places in Asia. However, it was the nomads in Mongolia and Siberia that actually preferred tea bricks to metallic coins.

Tea leaves, either whole or ground, would be dried and compressed into bricks using flour, manure, or blood. The bricks could be used as a means of exchange, or they could be eaten, used to make tea, or brewed for medicine.

Parmesan Cheese

In Italy, the hard, dry cheese made from skim milk is not just for pasta. It was also used as a currency.

As early as the year 1200, wheels of parmesan were used as a medium of exchange for other goods.

Even as recent as 2009, the New York Times reported some banks in the region using parmesan wheels as collateral for farmers’ loans. Each compact wheel holds the equivalent of 550 liters of milk.

Rai Stones

In the Solomon Islands, one of the world’s strangest currencies was born: the rai stone. These limestone discs with the hole in the center were up to 12 feet in diameter and weighed up to eight tons.

It was not unusual for buyers and sellers of this currency to have their boats capsize due to their sheer weight.

Animal Skins

Animal skins have a surprisingly important history as currency in different parts of the world.

In Russia and Finland, squirrel pelts were a key medium of exchange during medieval times. Even today, the Finnish word “raha”, which now refers to money, originally meant the “fur of squirrel”.

In North America, the European settlers and First Nations tribes found skins to be one commodity they both agreed had value.

In 1748, Beaver pelts became the “standard of trade” in the north. One pelt could buy two pounds of sugar.

Lastly, the use of buck skins in trade gave rise to “buck” as a slang word for currency, which we still use to describe dollars today.

Knife Money

Merging the ideas of weapons and currency is not new. Many cultures have used arrowheads as currency throughout the world.

However, Chinese “knife money” is certainly an original idea: around 600 BCE, at the time of the Zhou dynasty, these knives were inscribed with numbers or single words such as “sheep” or “fish” to determine their value.

These were used for hundreds of years, and eventually it was declared by the emperor that only circular coins with square holes could be used for Chinese currency.

What Gives a Currency Staying Power?

Currencies come and go.

Some of the world’s strangest currencies, like rai stones, did not have the staying power or value to be used universally. They would eventually fade away into the history books.

Other currencies around the world would experience hyperinflation and ultimately became worthless.

What gives a currency staying power? What makes a currency “money”?

The Money Project acknowledges that the very concept of money itself is in flux – and it seeks to answer these questions.

About the Money Project

The Money Project aims to use intuitive visualizations to explore ideas around the very concept of money itself. Founded in 2015 by Visual Capitalist and Texas Precious Metals, the Money Project will look at the evolving nature of money, and will try to answer the difficult questions that prevent us from truly understanding the role that money plays in finance, investments, and accumulating wealth.

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All of the World's Money and Markets in One Visualization

All of the World’s Money and Markets in One Visualization

How much money exists in the world?

Strangely enough, there are multiple answers to this question, and the amount of money that exists changes depending on how we define it. The more abstract definition of money we use, the higher the number is.

In this data visualization of the world’s total money supply, we wanted to not only compare the different definitions of money, but to also show powerful context for this information. That’s why we’ve also added in recognizable benchmarks such as the wealth of the richest people in the world, the market capitalizations of the largest publicly-traded companies, the value of all stock markets, and the total of all global debt.

The end result is a hierarchy of information that ranges from some of the smallest markets (Bitcoin = $5 billion, Silver above-ground stock = $14 billion) to the world’s largest markets (Derivatives on a notional contract basis = somewhere in the range of $630 trillion to $1.2 quadrillion).

In between those benchmarks is the total of the world’s money, depending on how it is defined. This includes the global supply of all coinage and banknotes ($5 trillion), the above-ground gold supply ($7.8 trillion), the narrow money supply ($28.6 trillion), and the broad money supply ($80.9 trillion).

All figures are in the equivalent of US dollars.

About the Money Project

The Money Project acknowledges that the very concept of money itself is in flux – and it seeks to answer these questions.

The Money Project aims to use intuitive visualizations to explore ideas around the very concept of money itself. Founded in 2015 by Visual Capitalist and Texas Precious Metals, the Money Project will look at the evolving nature of money, and will try to answer the difficult questions that prevent us from truly understanding the role that money plays in finance, investments, and accumulating wealth.

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