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Van Rensselaer Among Wealthiest Americans

Fortune magazine’s “Almanac of American Wealth” recently published a list of the wealthiest people to ever live in the United States, and the Institute’s own Stephen Van Rensselaer came in at number 10.

“Wealth is relative, and the value of the dollar is far from fixed. So this ranking of American plutocrats measures their total wealth as a fraction of U.S. [gross domestic product] at their time of death,” states the article.

Van Rensselaer, a member of the Erie Canal commissions and president of the state’s first board of agriculture, had amassed a fortune of $10 million or 1/194 of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) at the time of his death, according to the publication.

Others who populated the Fortune list included: oil industry pioneer John D. Rockefeller (who came in at number one with $1.4 billion or 1/65 of the GDP); businessman and steel industry influencer Andrew Carnegie (who made the cut at number six, with $475 million or 1/166 of the nation’s GDP); and Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, whose current wealth in 2006 totaled $82 billion or 1/152 of the nation’s GDP, good enough to land him at number five on the list.

Van Rensselaer graduated from Harvard and spent time in state government and as a member of the U.S. Congress from 1822-29. He was founder and supporter of a wide variety of social, educational, business, and governmental institutions.

It was Van Rensselaer’s vision and support in 1824 that enabled Amos Eaton to establish the Rensselaer School “for the purpose of instructing persons, who may choose to apply themselves, in the application of science to the common purposes of life.”

In September 1998 he was inducted into the Rensselaer Alumni Hall of Fame.

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Founder Stephen Van Rensselaer.
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Rensselaer (ISSN 0898-1442) is published in Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter by the Office of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY 12180-3590. Opinions expressed in these pages do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or the policies of the Institute. ©2007 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.