People often associate U.S. presidents with wealth. Donald Trump is a billionaire (according to him). John F. Kennedy’s family had a huge fortune. The Roosevelts were from money. The Bush family’s wealth came from investment banking. George Washington owned a tremendous amount of land. (This is where America’s presidents are buried.)
Not all presidents, however, were rich, or even middle class, by the measure of their times. Abraham Lincoln was born into poverty and never made money. And Harry S. Truman, who had been a shoe salesman before running for office, was the poorest president in history.
24/7 Wall St. reviewed historical sources in order to determine which U.S. presidents never amassed a high level of wealth. We have accounted for hard assets such as real estate and estimated lifetime savings based on work history and inheritance. We considered annual salaries, incomes earned from royalties on books, ownership of companies, yields from family estates, and other forms of income. The ranking is based on peak net worth — how much a president’s combined assets were worth at the time in his life when he was the richest.
Despite the advantage that those with money and power have in presidential campaigns, and despite the lucrative opportunities afforded to former presidents, nine presidents nevertheless never achieved a net worth of over $1 million in their lifetimes. (These are the best perks of being president of the United States.)
Many presidents who never became highly wealthy came from humble beginnings. Andrew Johnson, Lincoln, and James Garfield were born in log cabins. And while most of the wealthiest presidents inherited family money, many of the presidents born to less well-off families were never able to accrue much money since public service jobs often do not pay much.
Presidents who never became wealthy had many different reasons for not achieving greater wealth, even if they managed to overcome the obstacles that came with their origins. During the 1800s, access to education and upward economic and social mobility was extremely difficult for those living in rural areas, and yet they managed to run for president successfully.
A few of the poorer presidents struggled with their business ventures. Ulysses S. Grant invested tens of thousands of dollars in a business venture that ended up being a scam. Truman was deeply in debt after his hat shop failed to take off before becoming president.
Truman was born in Lamar, Missouri, and worked a number of odd jobs in his early life. He did not attend college and started out working on his family farm before going to work at a railroad construction company and then a bank. He did not find his passion for politics until he returned from service in the National Guard during World War I.
Truman used the contacts he made in the military to launch his career in politics, but his failed attempt at running a hat shop left him deeply in debt. His finances were in such poor shape, the presidential salary was doubled while he was in office. The 33rd president served from 1945 to 1953.
Click here to see the America’s poorest presidents
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