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. Despite the advantage that those with money and power have in presidential campaigns, and despite the lucrative opportunities afforded to those with the title 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.
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. All nine of the poorest U.S. presidents were worth less than $1 million when adjusted for inflation.
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