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The Forbes 400 richest Americans

One-two on the Forbes list this year, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates (R) with Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Chairman Warren Buffett.Jeff Christensen - Microsoft / Reuters file
/ Source: Forbes

The economy's recovery may be a little shaky, but you wouldn't know it from looking at this year's Forbes 400. In this, Forbes' 23rd annual ranking of the 400 richest people in America, the combined net worth of the nation's wealthiest climbed to $1 trillion, up $45 billion in 12 months.

With a $750 million admission price, 9-digit fortunes are an endangered species here: 78 percent of the people on this year's list are billionaires.

Leading the pack is Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, who holds the number one spot for the 11th straight year. Taking up half the slots in the top ten are the Walton family, widow and children of Sam Walton, legendary merchant who opened first discount store in 1962. Since it went public in 1970, Wal-Mart has grown into the world's largest retailer.

But while the creation of wealth marches on, the preservation of it is a chancy affair.

Disney boss Michael Eisner is gone from the list, capping a bad year of shareholder revolts and lackluster releases. Also gone: long-time Forbes 400 member and buyout king Theodore Forstmann, who took large stakes in XO Communications and McLeodUSA before they went bust.

Those left behind made room for 45 new names, 10 of them members of Chicago's Pritzker clan, whose intergenerational squabble resulted in the carving up of the family's $17 billion hotel and manufacturing fortune.

But not all the new names stem from old family fortunes. Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page prove a good idea can still make a bundle; bond guru William Gross' steady hand on volatile markets created his $1 billion fortune; and Kenneth Hendricks shows a guy can still make a buck in the unsexy trade of building supplies.

High oil and gas prices also helped: T.Boone Pickens, a perennial suspect for two decades, finally makes an appearance on the list, but his $750 million pile is dwarfed by the $4.2 billion net worth of Houston pipeline maven Daniel Duncan.

Work on next year’s Forbes 400 has already begun .