Some Creative Ways of Thinking About Bill Gates' Hoarded Wealth

200 Tons of $100 Bills!

(This is the original, unedited version of the letter that appeared in the 3/31/97, Monday Business Section of the Washington Post.)

Since the time that I read the best-selling book "Innumeracy" a few years ago I've had a lot of fun thinking creatively about large numbers. Regrettably, with all the Federal cutbacks there are fewer and fewer large numbers to be found here in Washington DC. But looking elsewhere in the country, one number that continues to grow at exponential rates is Bill Gates' personal worth.

Just how big is $20 billion? Here are two creative ways of visualizing the size of this wealth. First let's weigh the money. To make the weight more interesting, lets weigh $100 bills. A friend of mine with a scientific scale tells me that $100 bills weigh about one gram each. It takes just a few steps to calculate how many tons of $100 bills there are in $20 billion.

There are 200,000,000 one hundred dollar bills in $20 billion. For simplicity sake, let's say that 500 grams equals one pound. Dividing 200,000,000 by 500 gives 400,000 pounds of $100 bills. Dividing this by 2000 pounds/ton gives 200 tons of $100 bills.

Now if this is not a vivid enough picture of the quantity of this wealth, picture this. Remember the times when you played the game Monopoly as a kid and one player accumulated huge piles of money on his or her side of the playing board? Just for fun, let's figure out how high Bill Gates' stack of money rises up if he stacked all his wealth in five even piles of $100 bills?

Here again we start with 200,000,000 one hundred dollar bills. (I always like starting with 200,000,000 one hundred dollar bills - - - don't you?) Let's assume that it takes 2000 one hundred dollar bills to measure a stack of bills one foot tall. That gives us 100,000 feet of one hundred dollar bills. Divide this by 5280 to arrive at the number of miles of $100 bills. (18.9). Now divide 18.9 miles into five equal piles. Doing the math gives me five equal piles of $100 bills, with each pile stacked 3.78 miles high.

Now don't let it ever be said that Bill Gates is a stingy person. With 18.9 miles of hundred dollar bills to his name, he has been known to dig down deep into his pocket to give 100 one hundred dollar bills to various community organizations around the country. As I calculate this, this would be equivalent to subtracting two inches from 18.9 miles of $100 bills. Please join with me in applauding the magnitude of such gifts.

He gives us two inches, but we'll take a mile. (Leaving him 17.9 miles of $100 bills for him to make it to the end of the month.) Will he make it, do you think?

Phil Shapiro

(Do you have creative ways of thinking about Bill Gates' hoarded wealth? Send them over my way and I'll include some of the best of them here on this web page. Make sure you check the math, because I will deduct points from your grade if you don't show your work. Also, if anyone out there can't offer a hard copy record of their math notes from college, I'm afraid they're going to have to return the $20 billion dollars - - - and stay after class to think more about their behavior.)

Thanks are owed to Ellen Pennington, of Cincinnati, Ohio, for playing a major role in making this web page happen.

The opinions expressed on this web page are my own, and not necessarily those of the Community Technology Centers' Network, a national nonprofit organization I work for. Nor do these opinions have anything to do with the wonderful Kidsphere community of online educators, where the 200 tons of $100 bills is currently being vivaciously discussed as a message thread by thousands of educators around the world. Neither are the above opinions in any way a reflection of the views of the Washington Apple Pi or Capital PC Users Group or Berkeley Macintosh User Group, three computer user groups that I'm a member of. These views are not a reflection of the One World Media Center and have nothing to do with the Computer Assisted Literacy Center of DC. Neither do these views reflect the policies of the Friends of Chevy Chase DC Public Library, nor the Potomac Knowledgway or the Washington DC Area New Media Society. And these opinions have nothing to do at all with the Capital PC Users Group Internet Special Interest Group or The National Trust for the Development of African American Men or CapAccess. Does it even bear mentioning that these opinions have nothing to do with Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility or NetAction or Electronic Privacy Information Center or American Civil Liberties Union or Institute for Global Communications or HandsNet or Benton Foundation?

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