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The paper illustrates the rapid economic ascent of the United States from 1870 to 1913 and the consolidation of the American economic leadership in the years 1914-50 despite “the lost decade” succeeded to the 1929 Wall Street crash. The advantages associated to the “frontier” in the first period, and to the great size of the American economy and the “Fordist Model of development” in the years 1908-1929 and 1934-1969, strongly contribute to explain the great success of the American economy. At the beginning of the XX° century the United States is already the major world economy and becomes also the major military, political and financial power in the following decades. At the beginning of the 1950s the leadership of the American economy is undisputed, but militarily and politically the Soviet Union represents a great adversary though having an economic size which is less than half the one of the United States. From the 1950s up to 1989 there are a harsh confrontation between the two super-powers and also the great, though partial, catching -up of Japan and of several Western European economies. Moreover, in 1978 China’s economy begins its phase of very rapid growth and a great catching -up process, and in the latest few years it exceeds the American economy as regards total GDP in purchasing power parities and the value of exports. The US thus begins a period of relative economic decline. The United States remains the richest major economic power in terms of per capita GDP, but China is rapidly diminishing the gap and it might exceed the American giant in the future. Yet, China has deep structural weaknesses, though partially different from those of the United States.