Abstract Income and wealth inequality rose over the first 150 years of US history. They rose in Britain before 1875, especially 1740–1810. The first half of the 20th century equalized pre-fisc incomes both in Britain and in America. From the 1970s to the 1990s inequality rose in both countries, reversing most or all of the previous equalization. Government redistribution explains part but not all of the reversals in inequality trends. Factor-market forces and economic growth would have produced a similar timing of rises and falls in income inequality even without shifts in the progressivity of redistribution through government. Redistribution toward the poor tends to happen least in those times and polities where it would seem most justified by the usual goals of welfare policy.