Approximate Numbers of Millionaires, Decamillionaires, Centimillionaires and
Billionaires in the United States, 1848-1990

   Millionaires   Decamillionaires  Centimillionaires    Billionaires	
 		
1848	50	       1								
1875	1,000	      50			1
1892	4,047	      200			6
1910	5,000
1918	10,000					      1
1927	15,000					      2
1929	20,000					      2
1944	13,000					      --
1953	27,000	      800			      
1957					44	      1
1961/62	80,000	     2,500			      1
1965	90,000
1968/69	121,000				153	      2
1972/73	180,000					      4
1976	250,000					      2
1978	450,000					      1
1979	519,000				
1980	574,000					      ?
1981	638,000					      ?
1982		     38,885		400	      13
1983					500	      15
1984					600	      12
1985	832,000				700	      13
1986					900	      26
1987	1,239,00     81,816		1,200	      49
1988	1,500,000    100,000		1,200	    51

(1) The statistics and estimates for millionaires are drawn from multiple sources. (2) The decamillionaire data for 1982-88 comes from Thomas J. Stealey, Marketing to the Affluent. The prior numbers are estimates, save for 1848, when there was only 1 decamillionaire--John Jacob Astor. (3) The data for 1953 and thereafter are derived or estimated from the various tabultaions of Forbes and Fortune magazines. (4) The billionaire tallies come from the Forbes and Fortune surveys of the richest Americans druing the 1980s.

The entire foregoing is adapted from Kevin Phillips, The Politics of Rich and Poor (HarperPerennial:1991).

In the Second World War, C.D. Howe was Canada's minister of munitions and supply, and was responsible for all the economic management and manufacturing in aid of the war effort. As such, he periodically brought bills before Parliament asking for really enormous amounts of money to support the government's supply program.

In 1945, one such bill (called a war estimate) was for more than $1.3 billion. The opposition Conservatives rejoiced in spending day after day asking questions about the estimates, looking for patronage and corruption and anything else that might make the governing Liberal Party look bad.

Eventually, Howe lost his temper. Hansard, the official record, has him barking: "I dare say my honourable friend could cut a million dollars ... but a million dollars from the War Appropriations Bill would not be a very important matter."

The next day, future Conservative prime minister John Diefenbaker went after the Liberals again, loosely quoting Howe as having said, "We may save a million dollars, but what of it?"

Howe objected -- pretty much called Diefenbaker a liar, actually, which is strictly forbidden according to the rules of order -- and they shouted back and forth at each other.

Reporters, who'd not thought much of the original remark, found Conservatives quoting the minister as having asked, simply, "What's a million?", and the story -- false, but certainly plausible, given the government's recent behaviour -- appeared everywhere the next day. It came to represent the height of Liberal arrogance, condescension, and general lack of interest in regular folks, to whom a million dollars was a very important matter indeed.

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