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.
What we found:
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.
This is 24/7 Wall St.’s list of the richest U.S. presidents: