Business

This Is the Poorest President in History

When people think about presidents, they often think about wealth. Donald Trump is a billionaire (or so he says). John Kennedy’s family had a huge fortune. The Roosevelts were from money. The Bush family had money from investment banking. George Washington owned a tremendous amount of land.

Not all presidents are rich, or even middle class by the measure of their times. Lincoln was born into poverty and never made money. Harry Truman had been a shoe salesman.

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.

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 run for president successfully.

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.

24/7 Wall St. analyzed the finances of the presidents based on historical sources. We have accounted for hard assets such as real estate, estimated lifetime savings based on work history and inheritance. We also 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, or how much a president’s combined assets were worth at the time in his life when he was the richest.

The poorest president was Harry S. Truman. Here are the details:

  • Term: 1945 to 1953 (33rd president)
  • Other occupations: Farmer, hat shop owner, judge
  • Birthplace: Lamar, Missouri

Harry S. Truman worked a number of odd jobs in his early life. Truman, who did not attend college, started out working on his family farm, before going out 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’s failed attempt at running a hat shop left him deeply in debt. He later used the contacts he made in the military to launch his career in politics, but his finances were in such poor shape, the presidential salary was doubled while he was in office.

Click here to read about the nine poorest presidents in American history.