Bill Gates has been in the public spotlight for more than 25 years. He is largely considered to be one of the lead developers of the personal computer. He pioneered revolutionary pieces of software, most notably the Windows operating system. Probably the most discussed bit of information about the man, however, is how much he's worth. Known as one of the richest men in the world with a personal fortune of well over $50 billion, the history of his riches is almost as interesting as the man himself.
Gates' rise to financial success began in the mid-1980s. Microsoft became a publicly traded company in 1986, with Gates holding onto 45 percent of the company's shares for himself. Because of this, his personal fortune skyrocketed overnight to $315 million. By 1990 his fortune had grown to $2.5 billion, thanks largely in part to the release of the Windows 3.0 operating system. For the rest of the decade, as Microsoft's stock price increased with the release of hugely successful products like Windows 95 and Windows 98, Gates' fortune also rose. Gates' wealth topped $100 billion for a brief period in 1999, but antitrust trials and tech stocks' decline saw his fortune fall to just over $60 billion the following year.
For 13 years in a row, from 1994 until 2007, Bill Gates was widely known to be the richest man in the world. All throughout the '90s Gates' rising fortune was considered to be an indicator of how well the economy, as well as technology stocks in general, were doing, as Gates made the majority of his money from the value of Microsoft stock.
Gates stepped into the public eye in the mid-1980s. He started amassing huge amounts of money in 1986, when Microsoft became a publicly traded company. His fortune continued to rise until 2000, when a few bits of negative press would decrease Microsoft's stock significantly for the first time in 15 years.
As of 2008, Gates' net worth sits at an estimated $58 billion. This is $2 billion higher than his total in 2007.
A common misconception about Gates' wealth is that he just sits back and makes money and doesn't do anything with his fortune. This is probably due to his relatively laid back and private nature. In truth, the reality is the opposite. Gates has a number of high-profile investments including Sapphire Energy, which is a company working to turn algae into fuel. Another is Cascade Investments, a private investment and holding company. With his wife, Melinda, he also created the Bill & Linda Gates Foundation, which is the largest charity in the world.
As of 2008, Bill Gates is also no longer the wealthiest man in the world. That honor now goes to investor Warren Buffet, with a fortune estimated at $62 billion.