It’s no surprise that the world has changed over the past 30 years. Beyond improvements in technology, transportation, and shopping, the richest people in the world are…well, a lot richer. Consider that back in 1991, the wealthiest man in the world was worth $31 billion. Today? Elon Musk is worth nearly ten times that.
Still, it’s a nice little time capsule to go back 30 years and see who was on top of the financial world. Here’s a look at the ten wealthiest people from back then.
Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’Izzaddin Waddaulah — $31 billion
The Sultan of Brunei was the richest person in the world 30 years ago, though $31 billion today would barely place on the list of the 100 richest people. A whopping 99% of Brunei’s money comes from oil and gas, which is how the Sultan has earned his fortune. He’s also an avid car collector—spending more than $1 billion on a collection of 2,500 rides—and a polo enthusiast, keeping his ponies in air-conditioned stables.
Sam Walton — $21.1 billion
The founder of Walmart and Sam’s Club owned 39.3% of the former company in 1991, which was enough to make him the second-richest person in the world and the Waltons the richest family in America. Walton died in 1992 (just three months shy of Walmart’s 30th anniversary) but the power of the company lives on. Back then, Walmart had annual sales of $32.6 billion. In the fiscal year 2021, the company made an impressive $559 billion in revenue and employs 2.2 million associates worldwide.
King Fahd Bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud — $18 billion
The King of Saudi Arabia was the king of oil back in the 1990s, using the country’s wealth of oil and gas resources to get in good with other leaders around the world. He owned multiple palaces, including a castle in Spain that was designed to look like the White House, only larger.
The Reichmann Family — $12.8 billion
Albert, Paul, and Ralph Reichmann owned 100% of Olympia & York Developments, a massive Canadian, European, and American real estate company. In the late 1980s, the company began the largest development project in the world on London’s Canary Wharf. However, thanks to a global recession, the project ran into numerous problems and, coupled with a large presence in New York (which was also experiencing a recession), Olympia & York quickly ran out of money. Paul Reichmann was forced to resign as president in March 1992; just two months later, the company filed for bankruptcy as it owed more than $20 billion to banks and investors. Today, the company has rebuilt itself as Olympia & York Properties Corporation, and though they still have a presence in Canary Wharf, they aren’t in New York City anymore.
The Mars Family — $12.5 billion
Here’s a fact that should shock no one: Americans love to eat candy. In the early 90s, the average American put away 21 pounds of candy per year. That number has grown to 22 pounds a year (perhaps in related news, our waistlines are also growing). But the country’s obsession with sweet treats has proven lucrative for the Mars family, who are worth a combined $94 billion today. The company recently acquired Kind Bar, Inc. for $5 billion, branching out into a “healthier” option for people needing to get their quick-bite fix.
Samuel and Donald Newhouse — $12.1 billion
These two sons enjoyed the wealth from the media empire their father, Samuel Newhouse Sr., helped create. Advance Publications is the umbrella company for all kinds of popular newspapers, magazines, and websites, including Condé Nast (which owns publications like The New Yorker, Glamour, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and GQ). The company also has majority shares in Reddit and Discovery Channel and has stakes in cable and internet companies Bright House Networks and Charter Communications. Samuel died in 2017 but Donald still runs the company today.
Queen Elizabeth II — $10.7 billion
Even back in the day, the Queen was perfecting her wave (of wads of cash). The Royal Family’s money comes from an extensive portfolio of real estate, art, jewelry, horses, stocks, and more. With all that money, the Royal Family can do things like spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on laundry and flowers. Of course, many British citizens felt the Royal Family should be taxed because of that, but the Crown has legal tax-exempt status.
Taikichiro Mori — $10 billion
Taikichiro Mori was the founder of Mori Building Company, then the third-largest building leasing company in Japan. Mori founded the company while working as the Dean of the Faculty of Commerce at Yokohama Commercial School. In 1992, he briefly became the wealthiest man in the world as business boomed. Mori died in 1993 and his granddaughter Miwako Date now runs the family trust.
John Werner Kluge — $7.1 billion
Kluge died in 2010 at the age of 95, but at one point in the 1980s, he was the richest man on earth. By 1991, he had fallen to the eighth-richest, but still, his wealth was nothing to sneeze at. He owned 95% of Metromedia, a company he turned into a major independent TV broadcaster. He sold most of the assets for $4 billion in 1986 to 20th Century Fox and started over. The refreshed version of Metromedia owned a majority interest in Orion Pictures and Empire Hotel in New York City.
Kenneth Thomson — $6.7 billion
Known as the 2nd Baron Thomson of Fleet in London, Kenneth Thomson was just known as “Ken” in Canada. He was a successful Canadian businessman and art collector and ran the Thomson Corporation media company. It owned several community newspapers and television stations like The Globe and Mail, The Times, and the Sports Network before pivoting to become a major financial data services player, publishing information services and academic research. At the time of his death in 2006, he was worth about $19.6 billion and was the richest person in Canada.
Gerald Grosvenor — $6.6 billion
The 6th Duke of Westminster was Chairman of the Grosvenor Group property company. The family’s first development came all the way back in the 18th century in Mayfair, Central London. Under Gerald’s leadership, the business expanded into Asia and continental Europe. Grosvenor also served as President of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation. He died of a heart attack in 2016; his son Hugh is now the 7th Duke of Westminster and inherited a fortune worth nearly $12 billion.