24/7 Wall St. has examined the finances of all 40-three presidents. This article provides net worth figures for each 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 number for each man is based on his net worth at its peak.
See the net worths of the American Presidents >
In the case of each president we have taken into account hard assets like land, estimated lifetime savings based on work history, inheritance, homes, and money paid for services, which include things as diverse as their salary as Collector of Customs at the Port of New York to membership on Fortune 500 boards. Royalties on books have also been taken into account, along with ownership of companies and yields from family estates.
The net worth of the presidents varies widely. George Washington was worth over half a billion in today’s dollars. Several presidents went bankrupt.
The fortunes of American presidents are tied to the economy in the eras in which they lived. For the first 75 years after Washington’s election, presidents generally made money on land, crops, and commodity speculation. A president who owned hundreds or thousands of acres could lose most or all of his property after a few years of poor crop yields. Wealthy Americans occasionally lost all of their money through land speculation—leveraging the value of one piece of land to buy additional property. Since there was no reliable national banking system and almost no liquidity in the value of private companies, land was the asset likely to provide the greatest yield, if the property yielded enough to support the costs of operating the farm or plantation.
Because there was no central banking system and no commodities regulatory framework, markets were subject to panics.
The panic of 1819 was caused by the deep indebtedness of the federal government and a rapid drop in the price of cotton. The immature banking system was forced to foreclose on many farms. The value of the properties foreclosed upon was often low because land without a landowner meant land without a crop yield.
The panic of 1837 caused a depression that lasted six years. It was triggered by a weak wheat crop, a drop in cotton prices, and a leverage bubble in the value of land created by speculation. These factors caused the US economy to go through a multi-year period of deflation.
The sharp fluctuations in the fortunes of the first 14 presidents were a result of the economic times.
Beginning with Millard Fillmore in 1850, the financial history of the presidency entered a new era. 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. From Fillmore to Garfield, these American presidents were distinctly middle class. These men often retired without the money to support themselves in a fashion anywhere close to the one that they had as president. Buchanan, Lincoln, Johnson, Grant, Hayes, and Garfield had almost no net worth at all.
The rise of inherited wealth in the early 20th Century contributed to the fortunes of many presidents, including Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and both of the Bushes. The other significant change to the economy was the advent of large professionally organised corporations. These corporations produced much of the oil, mining, financial, and railroad fortunes amassed at the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th. 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.
The stigma of making money from being a retired president also began to disappear. Calvin Coolidge made a large income from his newspaper column. Gerald Ford, who had almost no money when he was a Congressman made a small fortune from serving on the boards of large companies. Clinton made millions of dollars from writing his autobiography.
24/7 Wall St. performed an analysis of presidential finances based on historical sources. Most media evaluations of the net worth of presidents have come up with a very wide range, a spread in which the highest figure was often several times the lowest estimate. Most sources provided no hard figures at all. Most of these efforts have focused largely on the analysis of recent chief executives. That is because it is much easier to calculate figures in a world where assets and incomes are a matter of public record.
One of the most important conclusions of this analysis is that the presidency has little to do with wealth. Several brought huge net worths to the job. Many lost most of their fortunes after leaving office. Some never had any money at all.
(Note: This post originally appeared on 24/7 Wall St.)
Monroe's wife, Elizabeth, was the daughter of wealthy British officer. He made significant money during eight years as president, but entered retirement severely in debt and was forced to sell Highland plantation, which included 3500 acres.
Like his wife, Sarah Childress, Polk's father was a wealthy plantation owner and speculator. Polk made significant sums as speaker of the house and governor of Tennessee, and owned 920 acres in Coffeeville, Mississippi, as well as 25 slaves.
Taylor inherited significant amounts of land from his family, which at one point included property in Mississippi, Kentucky, and Louisiana. He made substantial money in land speculation, the leasing of warehouses, and investments in bank and utility stocks. Taylor owned a sizeable plantation in Mississippi and a home in Baton Rouge.
Neither Fillmore nor his wife had significant inheritance. He founded a college that is the current State University of New York at Buffalo, and his primary holding was a house in nearby East Aurora, NY.
Born in log cabin in Pennsylvania, Buchanan was one of 11 children. He was the only president never to marry. He worked for nine years as attorney, and spent 16 years in public office, including four years as secretary of state.
Johnson's father was a tailor, and his wife was a shoemaker. He served the public for 20 years, including as Governor of Tennessee and U.S. Senator. Johnson owned a small house in Greenville, TN.
Grant's father was a tanner, and his wife was the daughter of a wealthy merchant. He lost his entire fortune when swindled by his investing partner. Grant owned a modest home in Galena, Illinois. Although he died with little money, his autobiography kept family afloat.
The son of an Irish preacher, Arthur's wife came a from military family. He made substantial sums as Collector for the Port of New York. His townhouse in New York was well-appointed with furniture commission from Tiffany.
Harrison had no significant inheritance of his own or from his wife's family. He was a highly paid attorney for 18 years, and served as attorney for Republic of Venezuela. Harrison owned large Victorian home in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Taft's wife's father was a law partner of former president, Rutherford B. Hayes. Taft was president of the American Bar Association, an active attorney for nearly two decades, and only president to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Wilson received modest compensation as head of Princeton and Governor of New Jersey. He never served in any position that provided him with a reasonable income. Wilson had a stroke in office and died five years later.
Harding obtained wealth through marriage to his wife Mabel, daughter of a prominent banker. He owned the Marion Daily Star and a small home in Marion, Ohio. Most of Harding's net worth came from his newspaper ownership.
Truman was a haberdasher in Missouri and nearly went bankrupt. He served 18 years in Washington, D.C. Despite his modest income, he was able to save some of his presidential salary.
Eisenhower had no inherited wealth. He served the majority of his career in the military and five years as president of Columbia. Ike owned a large farm near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Born into great wealth, Kennedy's wife was oil heiress. His Father was one of the wealthiest men in America, and was the first chairman of the SEC. Almost all of JFK's income and property came from trust shared with other family members.
Ford had no inheritance, and he spent virtually his entire adult life in public service. Over the course of his lifetime, he owned properties in Michigan, Rancho Mirage, and Beaver Creek, Colorado. After he left the White House in 1976, he made nearly $1 million a year from book advances and from serving on the boards of several prominent American companies.
Carter was the son of a prominent Georgia businessman. He was a peanut farmer for almost two decades. Carter left office deeply in debt, but made substantial sums from writing 14 books. Part of a family partnership that owns 2,500 acres in Georgia.
Bush was the son of Prescott Bush, a Connecticut Senator and successful businessman. Aided by his friends in the financial community, he made a number of successful investments. One of his major assets is his home and 100+ acre estate in Kennebunkport, Maine.
Clinton was born with no inheritance, and he made little significant money during 20 plus years of public service. After his time in White House, however, he made a substantial income as an author and public speaker. Clinton received large advance from autobiography. His wife, the secretary of state, has also made money as author.
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