America's richest man gets richer

It takes more money to nab the title of America's wealthiest man.

By Kim Peterson Sep 10, 2010 1:32PM
John Kluge (© Bebeto Matthews/AP file photo)John Kluge, a billionaire who was named the richest man in America from 1989 to 1991, died Thursday, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Back when Kluge (pictured) won the Forbes annual ranking as wealthiest man, his net worth was estimated at more than $5 billion. That seems downright paltry compared with today, when it takes 10 times that amount to top the list.

The net worth of America's richest man has soared. In last year's Forbes list, the top two -- Bill Gates and Warren Buffett -- were worth $40 billion and $37 billion, respectively.

Robert Frank of the Journal has a nice list of what the country's wealthiest man has been worth over the years. I'll include it here:

1982: $2 billion
1989: $7.1 billion
1992: $7.7 billion
1995: $17 billion
1998: $63 billion
2001: $54 billion
2002: $42 billion
2009: $50 billion

The numbers were adjusted for inflation and are in 2002 dollars, so Kluge's $5 billion in 1989 became $7.1 billion on the chart. Post continues after video:
Frank notes that Bill Gates shot to the top largely as a result of Microsoft's (MSFT) stock price more than anything else (Microsoft publishes MSN Money). Gates topped the list with $63 billion in 1998.

"But we see a similar surge for the total net worth of the Forbes listers starting in the mid-1990s," Frank writes. "Their total wealth went from around $350 billion in 1994 to more than $1 trillion in 2000, rising in lock-step with the stock market."

Kluge is the third major billionaire to die this year, after George Steinbrenner and Dan Duncan. This is an unusual year in that the government collects no estate taxes, and has lost billions as a result.

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