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The Quick 10: The 10 Richest People Ever

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You always hear about how rich Bill Gates is, how rich Oprah is, how rich J.K. Rowling is. But none of them even make the top 10 richest people of all time. Compiled by Forbes magazine, this a list of the wealthiest people ever (EVAR!). They ranked these bazillionaires (my term, not theirs) according to the total GDP of the nation they lived in and adjusted their net worths to account for inflation as of 2007.

rocky1. John D. Rockefeller, worth a staggering $318.3 billion. He could have funded nearly half of the bailout all on his own! He was America's first-ever billionaire (not even including inflation). He was generous with his money, though, and gave away an estimated $550 million to various charities and foundations, including the ones he founded. When he was much older, he was known for giving money away wherever he went - dimes to adults and nickels to children.

2. Andrew Carnegie's steel company earned him about $298.3 billion. Nothing to sneeze at. I recently visited his grave in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., and was surprised at how modest it was for a billionaire. Watch for more on my trip to the home of the Headless Horseman in a few weeks!

3. Nicholas II of Russia. $253.5 billion, inherited from his dad, Alexander III, who was the previous Emperor of Russia.

4. William Henry Vanderbilt, $231.6 billion, mostly thanks to the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy railroads. He inherited $100 million from his dad, but he definitely had financial chops of his own - by the time he died nine years after the inheritance, he had nearly doubled the fortune ($194 million).

5. Osman Ali Khan, Asaf Jah VII was worth $210.8 billion. He was the last ruler of Hyderabad, which was invaded and annexed by India in 1948. In 1937, Time magazine named Osman Ali the richest man in the world.

6. Andrew Mellon, $188.8 billion. Dude was destined to accumulate wealth: by 17, he had already started his own lumber company. At 17, I was working part-time as a clerk at a drug store and wearing a really sweet mauve smock (that's right: mauve). By 1889, Mellon had expanded to shipbuilding, construction, steel and oil.

7. Henry Ford, $188.1 billion, a fortune was amassed thanks to Ford Motor Company, of course.

8. Marcus Licinius Crassus, $169.8 billion. Never heard of him? That's because he lived more than 2000 years ago. He was a Roman general and politician and the man who suppressed Spartacus' slave uprising. He acquired his wealth through inheritance, slave ownership, land ownership and various mining prospects.

9. Basil II of the Byzantine Empire, $169.4 billion. He came by his by merely being his father's son. His father was Emperor Romanos II. Basil never married or had children (at least, none that are documented), so when he died, his wealth was passed on to successor Constantine VIII and the goverment. He used his financial prowess for the imperial treasury as well - at the time of his death, he had accumulated about 200,000 pounds of gold for it.

10. Cornelius Vanderbilt, $167.4 billion, courtesy of the New York and Harlem Railroad and the shipping industry.

Other notables to make the list include:
#15, Elizabeth I - $142.9 billion.
#17, Sam Walton - $128 billion.
#20, Bill Gates - $101 billion.
#22, Cleopatra "“ $95.8 billion.
#39, Warren Buffett "“ $62 billion.

#45, J. Paul Getty - $50.1 billion.
#52, Howard Hughes "“ $43.4 billion.
#83, Queen Elizabeth II "“ $43.4 billion.
#116, John Hancock, $19.3 billion.
#181, Ben Franklin, $10.3 billion.
#190, Rupert Murdoch, $9 billion.

And Oprah? Oprah is only worth about $2.7 billion. But she's only 54 "“ she's still got time to crack the top 200. J.K. Rowling is said to have $1.1 billion at the young age of 43. With three more Harry Potter movies and the theme park yet to open, I predict that she's definitely in the top 200 by the time she is 50, if not sooner.

Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
A Chinese Museum Is Offering Cash to Whoever Can Decipher These 3000-Year-Old Inscriptions

During the 19th century, farmers in China’s Henan Province began discovering oracle bones—engraved ox scapulae and tortoise shells used by Shang Dynasty leaders for record-keeping and divination purposes—while plowing their fields. More bones were excavated in subsequent years, and their inscriptions were revealed to be the earliest known form of systematic writing in East Asia. But over the decades, scholars still haven’t come close to cracking half of the mysterious script’s roughly 5000 characters—which is why one Chinese museum is asking member of the public for help, in exchange for a generous cash reward.

As Atlas Obscura reports, the National Museum of Chinese Writing in Anyang, Henan Province has offered to pay citizen researchers about $15,000 for each unknown character translated, and $7500 if they provide a disputed character’s definitive meaning. Submissions must be supported with evidence, and reviewed by at least two language specialists.

The museum began farming out their oracle bone translation efforts in Fall 2016. The costly ongoing project has hit a stalemate, and scholars hope that the public’s collective smarts—combined with new advances in technology, including cloud computing and big data—will yield new information and save them research money.

As of today, more than 200,000 oracle bones have been discovered—around 50,000 of which bear text—so scholars still have a lot to learn about the Shang Dynasty. Many of the ancient script's characters are difficult to verify, as they represent places and people from long ago. However, decoding even just one character could lead to a substantial breakthrough, experts say: "If we interpret a noun or a verb, it can bring many scripts on oracle bones to life, and we can understand ancient history better,” Chinese history professor Zhu Yanmin told the South China Morning Post.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

6 Eponyms Named After the Wrong Person
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Salmonella species growing on agar.

Having something named after you is the ultimate accomplishment for any inventor, mathematician, scientist, or researcher. Unfortunately, the credit for an invention or discovery does not always go to the correct person—senior colleagues sometimes snatch the glory, fakers pull the wool over people's eyes, or the fickle general public just latches onto the wrong name.


In 1885, while investigating common livestock diseases at the Bureau of Animal Industry in Washington, D.C., pathologist Theobald Smith first isolated the salmonella bacteria in pigs suffering from hog cholera. Smith’s research finally identified the bacteria responsible for one of the most common causes of food poisoning in humans. Unfortunately, Smith’s limelight-grabbing supervisor, Daniel E. Salmon, insisted on taking sole credit for the discovery. As a result, the bacteria was named after him. Don’t feel too sorry for Theobald Smith, though: He soon emerged from Salmon’s shadow, going on to make the important discovery that ticks could be a vector in the spread of disease, among other achievements.


An etching of Amerigo Vespucci
Henry Guttmann/Getty Images

Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci (1451–1512) claimed to have made numerous voyages to the New World, the first in 1497, before Columbus. Textual evidence suggests Vespucci did take part in a number of expeditions across the Atlantic, but generally does not support the idea that he set eyes on the New World before Columbus. Nevertheless, Vespucci’s accounts of his voyages—which today read as far-fetched—were hugely popular and translated into many languages. As a result, when German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller was drawing his map of the Novus Mundi (or New World) in 1507 he marked it with the name "America" in Vespucci’s honor. He later regretted the choice, omitting the name from future maps, but it was too late, and the name stuck.


A black and white image of young women wearing bloomers
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Dress reform became a big issue in mid-19th century America, when women were restricted by long, heavy skirts that dragged in the mud and made any sort of physical activity difficult. Women’s rights activist Elizabeth Smith Miller was inspired by traditional Turkish dress to begin wearing loose trousers gathered at the ankle underneath a shorter skirt. Miller’s new outfit immediately caused a splash, with some decrying it as scandalous and others inspired to adopt the garb.

Amelia Jenks Bloomer was editor of the women’s temperance journal The Lily, and she took to copying Miller’s style of dress. She was so impressed with the new freedom it gave her that she began promoting the “reform dress” in her magazine, printing patterns so others might make their own. Bloomer sported the dress when she spoke at events and soon the press began to associate the outfit with her, dubbing it “Bloomer’s costume.” The name stuck.


Execution machines had been known prior to the French Revolution, but they were refined after Paris physician and politician Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin suggested they might be a more humane form of execution than the usual methods (hanging, burning alive, etc.). The first guillotine was actually designed by Dr. Antoine Louis, Secretary of the Academy of Surgery, and was known as a louisette. The quick and efficient machine was quickly adopted as the main method of execution in revolutionary France, and as the bodies piled up the public began to refer to it as la guillotine, for the man who first suggested its use. Guillotin was very distressed at the association, and when he died in 1814 his family asked the French government to change the name of the hated machine. The government refused and so the family changed their name instead to escape the dreadful association.


Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel
Steve Jennings/Getty Images

The Bechdel Test is a tool to highlight gender inequality in film, television, and fiction. The idea is that in order to pass the test, the movie, show, or book in question must include at least one scene in which two women have a conversation that isn’t about a man. The test was popularized by the cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985 in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For,” and has since become known by her name. However, Bechdel asserts that the idea originated with her friend Lisa Wallace (and was also inspired by the writer Virginia Woolf), and she would prefer for it to be known as the Bechdel-Wallace test.


Influential sociologist Robert K. Merton suggested the idea of the “Matthew Effect” in a 1968 paper noting that senior colleagues who are already famous tend to get the credit for their junior colleagues’ discoveries. (Merton named his phenomenon [PDF] after the parable of talents in the Gospel of Matthew, in which wise servants invest money their master has given them.)

Merton was a well-respected academic, and when he was due to retire in 1979, a book of essays celebrating his work was proposed. One person who contributed an essay was University of Chicago professor of statistics Stephen Stigler, who had corresponded with Merton about his ideas. Stigler decided to pen an essay that celebrated and proved Merton’s theory. As a result, he took Merton’s idea and created Stigler’s Law of Eponymy, which states that “No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer”—the joke being that Stigler himself was taking Merton’s own theory and naming it after himself. To further prove the rule, the “new” law has been adopted by the academic community, and a number of papers and articles have since been written on "Stigler’s Law."


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