Computer software inventor and college dropout Bill Gates replaced entertainment mogul John Kluge atop the Forbes annual list of richest Americans, the magazine said Sunday.
At 36, Gates becomes the youngest person to reach the No. 1 ranking. The founder of Microsoft Corp., the world's largest personal computer software company, makes money from each machine that uses MS-DOS, the most widely used personal computer software.
Gates' $6.3-billion fortune grew by $1.5 billion this year, while Kluge's net worth dropped about $400 million to $5.5 billion, the magazine estimated.
Kluge, 78, had held the top spot on the magazine's annual list for three years--since Wal-Mart stores founder Sam Walton split his wealth among his family in 1989.
Five members of the Walton family, whose patriarch died in April, occupied spots 3 through 7 with $5.1 billion each.
Presidential candidate Ross Perot, 62, who built his fortune providing computer services, landed in 19th place on the list with an estimated net worth of $2.4 billion. That's up from the magazine's $2.2-billion estimate last year.
Others have estimated Perot's net worth at $3.3 billion, a figure his campaign staff has called accurate. Forbes said it believes that the higher estimate is inflated.
The magazine has been compiling the list for 11 years.
Overall, the richest Americans got an average of $31 million richer last year, Forbes said. Net worth of the top 400 rose 4.3% to $300.7 billion, it added. By comparison, wages and salaries for Americans in general rose 2.9% the past year, slightly less than inflation, according to the Labor Department.
Some of the richest felt the recession, though. Of those on this year's list, 122 are worth less than the year before. But don't expect many to sift through bargain bins--the minimum level to even make the list was $265 million.
Michael Milken is still on the list, but his 30 cents an hour prison labor wage hasn't helped the net worth estimate of the one-time junk-bond king. Milken, 46, paid hundreds of millions in civil settlements in the past year, cutting his net worth in half from last year's $700-million estimate.
Milken, who pleaded guilty to six felonies stemming from the Wall Street insider trading scandal of the 1980s, is to be released early next year after serving two years. His term was reduced for his cooperation with government prosecutors.
Milken's 43-year-old brother, Lowell, appeared on the list for the first time this year, with a net worth of $275 million. The brothers have extensive junk bond holdings that appreciated the past year.
Forty-three people dropped off the list.
Richest of the Rich
Here is a list of the 20 richest individuals in the United States as reported by Forbes magazine. Figures are in millions of dollars. 1. William Henry Gates III: $6,300 2. John Werner Kluge: $5,500 3. Helen Walton: $5,100 4. S. Robson Walton: $5,100 5. Jim C. Walton: $5,100 6. John T. Walton: $5,100 7. Alice L. Walton: $5,100 8. Warren Edward Buffett: $4,400 9. Samuel I. Newhouse Jr.: $3,500 10. Donald E. Newhouse: $3,500 11. Sumner Murray Redstone: $3,250 12. Ronald Owen Perelman: $2,900 13. Ted Arison: $2,850 14. Paul Gardner Allen: $2,800 15. Keith Rupert Murdoch: $2,600 16. Richard Marvin De Vos: $2,500 17. Jay Van Andel: $2,500 18. Henry Lea Hillman: $2,400 19. Henry Ross Perot: $2,400 20. Edgar Miles Bronfman Sr.: $2,350 Source: Forbes Magazine