IN THE 50 years between the end of the American civil war in 1865 and the outbreak of the first world war in 1914, a group of entrepreneurs spearheaded America’s transformation from an agricultural into an industrial society, built gigantic business empires and amassed huge fortunes. In 1848 John J. Astor, a merchant trader, was America’s richest man with $20m (now $545m). By the time the United States entered the first world war, John D. Rockefeller had become its first billionaire.
In the 50 years since Data General introduced the first mini-computers in the late 1960s, a group of entrepreneurs have spearheaded the transformation of an industrial age into an information society, built gigantic business empires and acquired huge fortunes. When he died in 1992, Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, was probably America’s richest man with $8 billion. Today Bill Gates occupies that position with $82.3 billion.