Sam Waltman of Walmart

Was Sam Waltman ever the richest man in the world (the entire world)?

Did you mean Sam Walton?

Only from 1985 to 1988, as ranked by Forbes magazine.

The Walton fortune is still bigger than that of either Gates or Buffett. As noted in the Wiki article, the real difference regarding the Forbes list was that in 1988 they started crediting it partially to the children rather than all to Sam Walton. Currently, on the Forbes list of richest Americans, the five Walton heirs occupy 5 of the top 11 spots, each worth 15.<something> billion.

IT should also be noted that while Gates and Buffett occupy the number 1 and 2 slots on the current Forbes worldwide list, Carlos Slim Helu has probably passed them. He’s still a good bit short of the collective Walton fortune.

My brother told me Sam WALTON was the richest man in the world for years. I thought this was hard to believe. I’d thought the Oil Princes in Saudi Arabia were probably the richest in the WORLD.

The Wikipedia article says Walton was the richest man in the United States from 1985 to 1988–not the richest man in the world.

Has he ever been the richest man in the world?

Why?

Some of them have been on richest people of the world lists but the question is actually harder than it seems at first glance. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have a huge amount of semi-illiquid assets. As an example, if someone own $20 billion of Microsoft sock, it isn’t like that they can decide to cash it in one day like casino chips because the market for that stock will collapse instantly because there won’t be nearly enough buyers. They have to have a long-term strategy for extracting cold cash from it.

Then there is the issue of wealth that currently cannot be quantified that affects the question. A Middle Eastern Sheik may own land that contains the right to an amount of oil that is unknown. It may be 100 billion worth of oil but maybe no ones understands the full extent of it. Financial calculations are an abstraction and literally owning a gigantic amount of oil may mean that someone owns mineral rights that no one can quantify.

Finally, the Walton family decided to split assets rather early on and many of them are billionaires. Who has more money, a family where the father has 20 billion dollars or a family that has a father with 10 billion and 5 other members of the immediate family that also have 10 billion?

At one time they probably were, but due to polygamy there are so damned many of them now. Ibn-Saud, the king of Saudi Arabia (who was definitely on the short list of world’s richest men) had more than 100 children and left most of them rich, and many of his sons who are now dead had dozens of kids to divvy up their fortunes. I read recently the extended royal family of Saudi Arabia has something like 20,000 members, most of them millionaires, but the next generation will be much less wealthy as more money has been spent than invested. Osama bin Laden, whose (non-royal) father was a billionaire, had 50+ children so they’re not hurting but they don’t have megafortunes either. The Sultan of Brunei is only a moderate polygamist (2 wives, I think) so his vast fortune will remain a lot more intact.