It’s no secret that this family amassed the largest private fortune in modern history, making its inner members some of the greatest billionaires who ever lived. But could the Rothschilds have been the only trillionaire family in history? Certainly the extent of their wealth deserves exploring a little deeper; at one point, their fortune was thought to be larger than the equivalent of the $6.4 trillion accrued by today’s 1,645 billionaires combined. How much larger? We have been busy tracking down our contacts and informants, and we can reveal that at one point there is thought to have been as much as $500 trillion in the pockets of just this one family. One thing is for certain, the Forbes’ rich list would have been dominated by Rothschilds if it existed in the 1800s and early 1900s.
A lack of precise accounts makes it difficult to pinpoint their exact wealth, but sufficient data on the Rothschilds exists to suggest that they are ahead of their rivals the Rockefellers when it comes to being the richest family in the world. And just what was the secret to becoming the richest family in history? “Concordia, Integritas, Industria” or “unity, integrity, industry”, according to the family motto. History would show that the first two were mere formalities when it came to making money. In the case of the third, they have never been matched.
Mayer Amschel Rothschild, who started the dynasty, was the son of a money lender and goldsmith who settled in a marginalised Jewish ghetto in Frankfurt during the 1740s. He left the city to be an apprentice at a small bank, but returned to start a business selling rare coins, antiques and curiosities, which would become pivotal to the world’s banking system.
The business really took off when he started extending credit to his customers, and he then moved into foreign currency trading and in government loans. By the beginning of the 19th century he was a banker and a very rich one.
The operation was steeped in secrecy, which worked well when acting as the bank of choice for the world’s governments and pulling off deals, which included financing both sides in the Napoleonic wars (it’s thought that the family fortune increased 20-fold by speculating on the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, when Napoleon was defeated by an Anglo-Prussian coalition).
Information was crucial and informants used fast boats, coded letters, flag systems and carrier pigeons to help the family find out what was going on ahead of official sources. The integrity wasn’t matched both ways, however, and Nathan Rothschild’s ability to depress stock prices by using the network of agents to spread rumours, true or false, and then buy the stock up after people panicked was legendary.
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