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America’s Richest (and Poorest) Presidents

America’s Richest (and Poorest) Presidents



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You have to go all the way back to America’s first president to find one almost as wealthy as our current one. Estimated to have been worth a cool $525 million, George Washington built his fortune through a mix of inherited wealth, land speculation (thanks to an advantage he gained as a government surveyor) and diverse business holdings that included everything from hemp production to one of America’s most successful distilleries. He also raked in the bucks through his presidential salary, which was equal to 2 percent of the entire U.S. budget in 1789.

Like Washington, many of America’s earliest presidents made their fortunes off the land (and the slaves who worked it), but not all were as fiscally prudent as GW. Thomas Jefferson, inherited much of his fortune from his father, and expanded it through land speculation and a series of government positions. TJ, however, was the ultimate spendthrift, blowing his $234 million nest egg on lavish entertaining and fine food. Jefferson was also a collector on a massive scale, with a particular passion for books. In 1815, he helped the government—and his bank account—when he sold his personal collection to the Library of Congress following a devastating fire. He used the money to pay off some creditors—and then promptly began buying more books to replace them. Unsurprisingly, he died deeply in debt.

Jefferson’s close friend and fellow Virginian, James Madison was the largest landowner in Orange County, Virginia, thanks in part to his 4,000-acre Montpelier plantation. But “Little Jemmy” left the White House a poorer man than he entered, thanks to a collapse in the value of his tobacco-producing lands. It didn’t help matters that his stepson, Payne Todd, was a profligate spender whose personal problems drained the Madison’s financial—and emotional—coffers. Before his death in 1836, Madison had gone through much of his estimated $101 million fortune, forcing his widow Dolley to sell Montpelier and its remaining slaves. She lived in relative poverty for the rest of her life, before finally receiving a cash influx when Congress purchased her husband’s papers a year before her 1849 death.

Andrew Jackson, like President Trump, positioned himself as a man of the people, but they were both far wealthier than their fellow citizens. Despite his hardscrabble, impoverished childhood, Old Hickory became a prominent lawyer and famous military commander, which, along with extensive landholdings allowed him to amass a $119 million fortune.

By the mid to late-19th century, however, many of America’s presidents, like many Americans themselves, could no longer count on land ownership and agriculture to provide financial success. So it’s perhaps no surprise that this time period saw some of the nation’s poorest presidents, relatively speaking. Presidents Buchanan, Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Hayes and Garfield may have been prominent attorneys and politicians before they entered the White House, but none were worth more than $5 million in today’s dollars. Ulysses S. Grant struggled to hold a job before winning fame on Civil War battlefields, and then lost what little money he had thanks to an unscrupulous business partner. Grant was only able to provide for his family’s financial future by writing a best-selling autobiography shortly before his death.

Theodore Roosevelt inherited a fortune built on his family’s shrewd investments in the industrial sector, then spent most of it on unsound investments of his own, including buying up large, unsuccessful tracts of land out West. He recouped some of his losses, however, on other real estate deals, placing him in the top 10 richest presidents with an estimated net worth of $125 million.

Herbert Hoover may have presided over the early years of the Great Depression, but he himself was in good financial shape during the worst of it. Despite being orphaned at a young age, he parlayed a mining degree into a $75 million fortune, serving as a prominent company executive and investor. He was also one of the first presidents to forgo his salary, donating it and much of his wealth to charity.

Like his fifth cousin Teddy, Franklin Roosevelt inherited great wealth, and married even more through wife Eleanor (TR’s niece). Unlike Teddy, though, he had someone who tried to restrain his spendthrift ways. For much of his adult life, his domineering mother Sara held the purse strings on his $60 million fortune. He did, however, later spend significantly on his passion project, the polio treatment center (and southern White House) at Warm Spring, Georgia.

One of the richer presidents in American history was followed by the person who was almost certainly the poorest. Harry Truman failed at nearly every business venture he tried, and only narrowly avoided declaring bankruptcy when a Missouri haberdashery business flopped. Politics provided a steady, but relatively unimpressive, salary, and he was worth considerably less than $1 million.

Which brings us to the big *asterisk in the list. The Kennedy family wealth and mystique has led many to believe that our 35th president was also our wealthiest. Not so fast. While JFKs legendary father, Joe Sr., had amassed a fortune of nearly $1 billion through Wall Street, rum-running and Hollywood movies, it was held in a family trust for Jack and his (many) siblings. Kennedy certainly lived well, however, with access to a $10 million trust fund and a father willing to foot the bill for many of Jacqueline Kennedy’s designer frocks.

Given his rough exterior and lack of social graces, it’s perhaps surprising that the richest president of the last 50 years (before Donald Trump, of course) was Lyndon Johnson. What little money his father had was lost when LBJ was young, and he worked as a rural school teacher. His marriage to Claudia “Lady Bird” Taylor helped turn his personal—and political—fortunes around. The savvy Lady Bird invested in a Texas-based radio and television station that she used to pay the bills and, some say, promote Lyndon’s career. The Johnsons also began buying extensive tracks of land, allowing them to amass a $98 million fortune.

The late 20th century saw a succession of presidents who may not have had much money before their presidencies, but cashed in after leaving the White House. Despite resigning in scandal, Richard Nixon made millions through real estate and post-presidential book and TV deals. Same goes for Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.

Ronald Reagan made his money not through his Hollywood film career, but as a longtime pitchman for General Electric, then added to it with his post-presidential autobiography. George and George W. Bush were bought born into wealth, then made millions more in Texas oil fields. And though they were both born poor, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton have made (and will continue to make) money through book deals and the lucrative speaking engagement circuit.


Who Was History's Richest President?

Of the men who have served as President of the United States, the majority of them have been wealthy, both in comparison to the average American voter, and in terms of absolute dollar amounts, both the money of their time and in today's money, adjusted for inflation. Getting a foot in the door of presidential politics requires backing from wealthy donors as well as a pretty secure private bank account, due to the high costs of running a campaign. Further, the skills that make for a career in politics can also translate into the private sector, and many politicians throughout history were already wealthy — money earned or inherited — before they started dabbling in lawmaking.

But who was the wealthiest president? That's a difficult question to answer. For one thing, the ranking is largely based on guesswork and estimation, sometimes in cases of men who died centuries ago. Further, though modern presidents have generally revealed their private financial statements, not all have been quite so forthcoming.

Here is the best guess we have as to who was the richest president in American history.


The Net Worth of the U.S. Presidents: From Washington to Obama

To figure the comparative net worth of the U.S. presidents, we took into account hard assets such as land, estimated lifetime savings based on work history, inheritance, homes, and money paid for services -- which includes anything from a salary as collector of customs at the Port of New York to membership on a Fortune 500 board. We also took into account royalties on books, along with ownership of companies and yields from family estates.

The resulting values vary widely. George Washington was worth more than half a billion in today's dollars. Several presidents went bankrupt.

Of course, the fortunes of American presidents are vastly dependent on the economy at the times when they lived. For the first 75 years after Washington's election, presidents generally made money on land, crops, and commodity speculation. A president who owned hundreds or thousands of acres could lose most or all of his property after a few years of poor crop yields. Wealthy Americans occasionally lost all of their money through land speculation -- leveraging the value of one piece of land to buy additional property. Since there was no reliable national banking system and almost no liquidity in the value of private companies, land was the asset likely to provide the greatest return on investment, if the property yielded enough to support the costs of operating the farm or plantation.

Because there was no central banking system and no regulatory framework for commodities, markets were subject to panics in ways unknown today. The panic of 1819 was caused by the deep indebtedness of the federal government and a rapid drop in the price of cotton. The country's immature banking system was forced to foreclose on many farms. And the value of the properties that were foreclosed on was often low, because land without a landowner meant land without a crop yield. The panic of 1837 caused a depression that lasted six years. It was triggered by a weak wheat crop, a drop in cotton prices, and a speculation-induced leverage bubble in the value of land. These factors caused the U.S. economy to go through a multi-year period of deflation.

As a result of such factors, we see sharp fluctuations in the fortunes of the first 14 presidents.

Beginning with Millard Fillmore in 1850, the financial history of the presidency entered a new era. Most presidents were lawyers who spent years in public service. They rarely amassed large fortunes and their incomes often came almost entirely from their salaries. From Fillmore to Garfield, these presidents were distinctly middle-class. They often retired without the money to support themselves in anywhere near the fashion they were accustomed to while in office. Buchanan, Lincoln, Johnson, Grant, Hayes, and Garfield had almost no net worth at all.

The rise of inherited wealth in the early twentieth century contributed to the fortunes of many presidents, including Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and both the elder and younger Bush. Another significant change to the economy was the advent of large, professionally organized corporations. These corporations produced much of the oil, mining, financial, and railroad fortunes amassed at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. The Kennedys were wealthy because of the financial empire that Joseph Kennedy built. Herbert Hoover made millions as the owner of mining companies.

The 20th century also saw the stigma of making money as a retired president begin to disappear. Calvin Coolidge made a large income from his newspaper column. Gerald Ford, who had almost no money when he was a Congressman, made a small fortune from serving on the boards of large companies. Clinton made millions on his autobiography.

We analyzed presidential finances based on historical sources. Most media evaluations of the net worth of presidents have come up with a very wide range, a spread in which the highest figure was often several times the lowest estimate. Most sources provided no hard figures at all. Largely, we have focused on the analysis of recent chief executives -- because it is much easier to calculate figures in a world where assets and incomes are a matter of public record.


America's 9 Poorest Presidents

The majority of presidents in U.S. history have been fairly wealthy. Adjusting each president’s net worth for today’s dollars, most would be considered multi-millionaires. Each of the last five presidents have a net worth of at least $20 million, adjusting for inflation.

Recent presidents have received multi-million dollar offers for the rights to their memoirs about life in the Oval Office. Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, reportedly inked a deal worth over $60 million for the rights to their book.

Despite the advantage that those with money and power have in presidential campaigns, and despite the lucrative opportunities afforded to those with of “ex-president,”” there are nevertheless nine presidents who never achieved a net worth of over $1 million in their lifetimes.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed historical sources in order to determine which U.S. presidents never amassed a high level of wealth.

Many presidents who never became highly wealthy came from humble beginnings. Andrew Johnson, Abraham Lincoln, and James Garfield were born in log cabins. Most of the wealthiest presidents inherited family money and were able to live comfortably before going into public service. Many of the presidents born to less well-off families, however, 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. 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 successfully run for president.

Others struggled with their business ventures. Harry S. Truman was deeply in debt after his hat shop failed to take off before becoming president. Ulysses S. Grant invested tens of thousands of dollars in a business venture that ended up being a scam.


The 10 Richest Presidents in American History

Hillary Clinton has released her tax returns. She and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, had income of $10.6 million last year and paid $3.24 million in federal income tax. The Clinton’s wealth puts Bill Clinton on the list of the 10 richest in American history.

24/7 Wall St.’s study of the wealth of American presidents is the gold standard on the subject. Earlier this year, our editors looked at the top 10.

Presidents in the 19th century were regularly middle class or even poor. They were far wealthier in the 20th century. Each of the last four presidents, including President Barack Obama, is a millionaire.

Current presidential candidates are also far richer than the average American. Though President Bill Clinton likes to point out that he was the poorest president elected in the 20th century, his great success as a public speaker after his term in office has made him among the wealthiest presidents of all time. After resigning from office, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has enjoyed similar success, amassing a fortune from book deals and speaking engagements.

The net worth of U.S. presidents varies widely. George Washington’s estate was worth more than half a billion in today’s dollars. On the other hand, several presidents went bankrupt.

The fortunes of America’s presidents are often tied to the economy of their time. As the focus of the economy has changed, so has the way the presidents made their money.

It is not surprising then to find that the first few presidents — from Washington’s election to about 75 years later — were large landowners. They generally made money from land, crops, and commodity speculation. This left them also highly vulnerable to poor crop yields, and they could lose most or all of their properties because of a few bad years.

By 1850, the financial history of the presidency entered a new era. Beginning with Millard Fillmore, most presidents were lawyers who spent years in public service. They rarely amassed large fortunes, and their incomes were constituted almost entirely of their salaries.

These American presidents were distinctly middle class, and they often retired without the means to support themselves in any way close to the presidential lifestyle. James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, and James Garfield had modest net worths when they died.

At the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, there was another significant change in the economy. Large, professionally organized corporations in the oil, mining, financial, and railroad sectors allowed individuals to amass large fortunes.

John F. Kennedy was wealthy because of the financial empire built by Joseph Kennedy. Herbert Hoover made millions of dollars as the owner of mining companies. Since the early 20th century, the fortunes of many presidents, including Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Kennedy, and both George W. and George H.W. Bush were driven by inherited wealth.

The net worth figures for the 10 wealthiest presidents are in 2010 dollars. Because several of the presidents, particularly in the early 19th century, made and lost huge fortunes in a matter of a few years, the net worth of each president is for the peak time. The exception to the 2010 rule are the presidents who are still living and have more recent earnings. In the case of each president, we have taken into account hard assets such as land, estimated lifetime savings based on work history, inheritance, and homes. We also considered wages earned for services as varied as collector of customs at the Port of New York to royalties on books, as well as ownership of companies and yields from family estates.


2 Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran - $3,000

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been the President of Iran since August 2005. He is the leader of a coalition of conservative groups in his country called the Alliance of Builders of Islamic Iran. A teacher by profession, he became active after the Islamic Revolution of 1979 when he joined the Office for Strengthening Unity. After a stint as a provincial governor, he went back to teaching, only to return to the limelight after getting elected as Mayor of Tehran in 2003. He ran as President in 2005 espousing a hard line and extremely conservative stance, winning the elections by attaining up to 62 percent of the vote in runoff elections. He survived domestic protests over his economic policies and international criticism over his belligerent stance to win a second term in 2009, though the results were widely disputed.


5 Ulysses S. Grant

This is another United States president that allowed an onslaught of corruption within his political circle. He is most often referred to as a president who had a not-so-fruitful term in office and he lacked a lot of the admirable qualities most of us look for in a presidential candidate. Ulysses S. Grant did not exhibit stellar public-speaking skills, nor was he quite dominant in politics (in fact he did not even like political affairs) and he was more quiet and under the radar. These qualities could have contributed to his lack of presidential prowess and thus landed him on our list.


The Richest American Presidents Of All Time, Inflation-Adjusted

Starting with George Washington in 1789 and going up to Donald Trump, there have been 44 different Presidents of the United States. Fun fact: Donald Trump is technically the 45th Presidency because Grover Cleveland held the office for two non-consecutive terms, first from 1885 to 1889 and then from 1893 to 1897. But there have only been 44 individual Presidents in the history of the United States.

As you may have noticed, our Presidents have not been a particularly diverse group of people. Every single President has been male, and only one wasn't white. But that doesn't mean every President has been extremely rich–at least not before they got elected. In fact, in terms of wealth and net worth, American Presidents have come from very wide and diverse backgrounds. We've had Presidents who were extremely wealthy and some who had no money at all. We've had Presidents who died penniless and others who have earned fortunes after leaving office thanks to book deals, consulting jobs, speaking events, and more.

Side note: We want to acknowledge the morbid (but true) fact that some early Presidents owned slaves and those slaves were counted as assets when accounting for their wealth. Whenever we publish an article about early Presidential wealth, we receive a handful of complaints from people who think we are making light of slavery by including it as part of someone's net worth. We are not making light of slavery. The reality is that owning hundreds of slaves was an extremely valuable asset, sometimes the most valuable asset someone had in the 1700s and 1800s.

Being the President of the United States is definitely one of the greatest jobs in the world. Not only are you the most powerful person in the free world, but you get paid a hefty salary plus incredible perks like access to Air Force One, Camp David, and of course, The White House. Since 2001, The President has been paid an annual salary of $400,000. He also has access to a $200,000 travel and entertainment expense account. Between 1789 and 1873, the President's salary was $25,000 which is equal to $673,000 in today's inflation-adjusted dollars. In 1873, the salary was increased to $50,000 ($992,000 today). In 1909 it was bumped up to $75,000 ($1.9 million), then in 1949 it was raised to $100,000 ($967,000), and then in 1969 the salary was set at $200,000 ($1.2 million).

A final perk of being President is that once you leave office, you are paid an annual pension of $199,000. You are also entitled to Secret Service protection for life plus $100,000 per year for staff, an office space, and medical insurance. This last perk only became available to Presidents after 1958. Enough dilly-dallying, let's take a look at the inflation-adjusted net worth of each American President, listed from richest to poorest!

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Richest Presidents Of All Time, Inflation-Adjusted:

#1: Donald J. Trump – $4.5 billion (Real estate investments, reality television, endorsments, licensing)

#2: George Washington – $525 million (Owned 8,000 acres of Virginia farmland and 300 slaves)

#3: Thomas Jefferson – $212 million (Owned 5,000 acres of Virginia farmland plus dozens of slaves. Technially speaking though, Jefferson was flat broke when he died after living far beyond his means for over a decade. Jefferson was known to spend inflation-adjusted $1 million per year just one wine. He also spent lavishly on art, books and musical instruments, racking up large personal debts. At the time of his death, Jefferson's debts far exceeded the value of his estate Monticello, which was also his primary source of wealth.)

#4: Theodore Roosevelt – $125 million (Inherited large trust fund and more than 200 acres of land on Long Island)

#5: Andrew Jackson – $120 million (Real estate, 300 slaves, inheritance plus he married into money.)

#6: James Madison – $100 million (Owned 5,000 acres of Virginia farmland and dozens of slaves)

#7: John F. Kennedy – $100 million (Father Joseph was worth $1 billion from liquor importation, real estate, and more)

#8: Lyndon B. Johnson – $100 million (Owned a radio and TV station plus a 1500 acre ranch in Texas)

#9: Bill Clinton – $80 million (Bill's net worth was just $700,000 on his first day in office. Since re-entering private life, Clinton has earned more than $100 million from speaking engagements alone. He also has made a fortune from book sales)

#10: Herbert Hoover – $75 million (Made millions in the mining industry, owned millions in valuable real estate)

#11: Franklin Delano Roosevelt – $60 million (Inherited millions, owned hundreds of acres of valuable real estate on the East Coast)

#12: John Tyler – $50 million (Owned thousands of acres of tobacco plantations)

#13: Barack Obama – $40 million

#14: George W. Bush – $35 million (Texas Rangers, oil investments, stocks, book sales, and speaking engagements)

#15: James Monroe – $30 million

#16: Martin Van Buren – $25 million

#17: George H. W. Bush – $25 million

#18: Grover Cleveland – $25 million

#19: John Adams – $20 million

#20: John Quincy Adams -$20 million

#21: Richard Nixon – $15 million

#22: Ronald Reagan – $13 million (This was Reagan's net worth at the time of his death in 2004. When his wife Nancy died 12 years later, the value of their estate had grown to $25 million, thanks mostly to the appreciation of their Bel Air mansion.)


The Richest And Poorest Presidential Candidates: From Hillary's Millions To Marco Rubio's Debts

Republican presidential candidate, businesswoman Carly Fiorina, right, speaks as, from left, Donald . [+] Trump, Jeb Bush, and Scott Walker look on during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015, in Simi Valley, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

When Donald Trump decided to throw his hat in the ring as a contender for the Presidency in 2016, it put a huge spotlight on the issue of the candidates’ personal wealth. At Forbes, we’ve been tracking Trump’s net worth, and sparring with him over it, since 1982, but for the first time we decided to put together a comprehensive list of each candidate’s individual fortune. We learned many things, starting with the fact that they are almost all quite wealthy, boasting an average net worth of more than $13 million when Trump, who skews the figures with his $4.5 billion fortune, is excluded.

Leaving out Trump, the 19 candidates from both major parties that we tracked have a cumulative net worth of $254 million, with all but four of them claiming the title of multi-millionaires. Eight of the presidential hopefuls are sitting on 11-digit fortunes, with Lincoln Chafee, Hillary Clinton, and Carly Fiorina’s wealth valued at more than $30 million each, along with the Donald.

How, exactly, did they get so rich? One common thread is the use of their political capital for personal gain. Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee are emblematic cases. The third Bush to seek the Presidency left the governorship of Florida in 2007 with a declared net worth of less than $1.3 million, which he’s multiplied nearly 16-fold on the back of his prestigious last name, extensive network, and executive experience. Consulting, richly rewarded speaking engagements, and private equity deals helped him gross $29 million through 2013, the last year for which he released tax returns. In Huckabee’s case, he leveraged a failed 2008 presidential bid into a highly successful media career that included a TV show and appearances on Fox News, radio gigs, books and speeches. He’s now worth $9 million. And then there’s Hillary Clinton.

As my colleague Dan Alexander explains in his well-researched piece, Bill and Hillary left the White House essentially broke in 2001 (note that our valuations include spouses’ assets as well), only to make an incredible $230 million over the next 14 years through speaking engagements, book deals, and consulting gigs. To our own astonishment, their latest public disclosure lists a maximum of $53 million in assets (we valued them at $45 million). The Clintons make it crystal clear that despite disclosure requirements by the Federal Election Commission and the Office of Government Ethics, and even adding voluntarily revealed tax filings, the relationship between money and power remains fraught with obscurity. To a certain extent, financial transparency is an illusion in Washington. Leaving the highest offices a public servant can aspire to, such as the Presidency or the State Department, can be exceptionally fruitful.

Which takes us to the opposite end of the spectrum. Only three candidates had a net worth that didn’t crack a million bucks: Bernie Sanders, Marco Rubio, and Martin O’Malley.

We pegged Democratic hopeful Martin O’Malley’s net worth at , the lowest of any candidate in the race. O’Malley’s latest filings show he and his wife earned more than $600,000 during the last reporting period, yet, like many Americans, he’s been crushed by student debt, as he tries to put his four children through school. With Rubio, his financial mismanagement has been well documented, including the acquisition of a pricey boat and an expensive lease on a luxury car, as liabilities mounted. We valued Rubio at $100,000. The frugal Sanders ($700,000) is a case apart, accumulating very few assets in his lifetime and deriving the bulk of his net worth from his homes in Vermont and Washington, D.C.

Once again, we learned that our valuations are much more than a vain contest of egos. Rather, they provide a financial snapshot of our political class, pointing a light on their substantial wealth while unearthing a clear trend of using legislative or executive experience to build a profitable career in the public sector.