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A long‐run view of well‐being over the last one‐and‐a‐half centuries is presented using an Augmented Human Development Index (AHDI) that combines achievements in health, education, material living standards, and political freedom. The AHDI shows substantial gains in world human development since 1870, although significant room for improvement still remains. The AHDI spread unevenly until 1960, in absolute terms, and up to 1929 in relative ones, and reversed this trend thereafter. The main relative gain went to world countries’ middle class, but the main absolute gain accrued to the top decile. AHD trends and distribution do not match, but compare favourably with, those in per capita income. The absolute gap between present‐day advanced countries and the rest of the world deepened over time, though fell in relative terms. Life expectancy has led progress in AHD, particularly until 1970, and drove the catching‐up by the rest of the world during the epidemiological transition. Political and civil liberties took over thereafter.