After months of speculation, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney recently confirmed that he is worth roughly $200 million — give or take a million or more. 24/7 Wall St. examined the finances of all 43 presidents to identify the richest. In addition to being worth more than 99.9% of Americans, if elected president, Romney would also be wealthier than any president except one.
While the other Republican candidates are also millionaires, their wealth does not come close to that of Romney’s. Still, judging from the net worth of all presidential nominees, politicians need to be wealthy to run for high office.
The other GOP candidates still in the running made their money more directly from their politics before entering the race. Libertarian candidate Ron Paul, worth between $2.5 and $5 million, has published a number of best-selling books over the past few years, each of which explores his political ideology. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich became a consultant and political analyst after he resigned from office. According to estimates, he has earned at least $6.5 and as much as $31 million. Rick Santorum, who worked as a consultant and contributor to Fox News, is worth more than $1 million.
Unlike today’s candidates, the net worth of the presidents varies widely. George Washington was worth over half a billion in today’s dollars, while other presidents went bankrupt. The fortunes of America’s presidents are tied to the economy of their time. As the focus of the economy changed, so has the way the presidents made their money.
It’s not surprising then to find the first few presidents — from Washington’s election to about 75 years later — as large landowners. They generally made money from land, crops and commodity speculation. Of course, this left them highly vulnerable to poor crop yields, and they could lose most or all of their properties because of a few bad years. Similarly, they could lose all of their money through land speculation — leveraging the value of one piece of land to buy additional property.
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 often almost entirely from their salaries. These American presidents were distinctly middle class and often retired without the means to support themselves anywhere close to the presidential lifestyle. Buchanan, Lincoln, Johnson, Grant, Hayes and Garfield had modest net worth when they died.
Read the The Net Worth of the American Presidents: Washington to Obama
At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, there was another significant change to the economy. Large, professionally organized corporations in the oil, mining, financial and railroad sectors allowed individuals to amass large fortunes. The Kennedys were wealthy because of the financial empire built by Joseph Kennedy. Herbert Hoover made millions of dollars as the owner of mining companies. Indeed, since the early 20th century, the fortunes of many presidents, including Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and both of the Bushes, were driven by inherited wealth.
The net worth figures for the 10 wealthiest presidents are in 2010 dollars. Because a number of presidents, particularly in the early 19th century, made and lost huge fortunes in a matter of a few years, the net worth for each president is for the peak time.
In the case of each president, we have taken 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 salary as Collector of Customs at the Port of New York to membership on Fortune 500 companies’ boards. The net worth includes 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.