Americans will go to the polls next week to elect the 45th President of the United States. While this year’s election is in many ways highly unusual, the two major party candidates share at least one characteristic with many previous presidents: extraordinary wealth. Regardless of who moves into the Oval Office, he or she will rank among the wealthiest presidents in American history.
From the founding of the republic through President Barack Obama’s tenure, U.S. presidents tend to be far wealthier than the typical American. The richest president in U.S. history was also the first. At the peak of his wealth, George Washington was worth an estimated $580 million in 2016 dollars.
The net worth of America’s presidents is often tied to the economic conditions of their time. It is not surprising, therefore, to find that the first few presidents were owners of large plantations, farmlands, and slaves. Washington, like many of the presidents of his day, made most of his money, outside of salary and inheritance, as a plantation owner.
Like many subsequent presidents, Washington was born into financial prosperity. When he was only 11 years old, Washington inherited 10 slaves from his father and, later in life, his Mount Vernon estate as well.
He also married into money. His wife, Martha Washington, inherited a sizeable estate from her first husband, Daniel Custis, when he died soon after falling ill in 1757. Custis’s estate spanned more than 17,500 acres and, as was common at the time, was run by 300 slaves.
Washington was one of the largest landowners in the country. Not including his Mount Vernon estate, Washington owned more than 50,000 acres across the country in what are now the states of Kentucky, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. In addition, Washington’s Virginia plantation, Mount Vernon, consisted of five separate farms on 8,000 acres of prime farmland run by more than 300 slaves. As president, Washington earned well more than subsequent presidents: his salary was 2% of the total U.S. budget in 1789.
After serving as president, Washington started a whiskey distillery on one of his Mount Vernon farms. At the time of his death, the distillery was the largest in the United States, producing nearly 11,000 gallons of whiskey annually.
Washington’s fortune, along with that of every other president in U.S. history, is likely dwarfed by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s net worth. Since Trump has not yet made his tax returns public, his net worth is difficult to assess. Conflicting statements from the real estate tycoon himself further complicate the accuracy of any estimate. Based on financial disclosures, 24/7 Wall St. estimates that Trump’s net worth falls between $2.9 billion and $10 billion.
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