Bill Clinton, seen here in Pittsburgh, campaigned frequently for President Obama in 2012.
(Photo: Jeff Swensen, Getty Images)
Three years ago, 24/7 Wall St. published the net worth of every American president, from George Washington to Barack Obama. We have updated our numbers to reflect the earnings of the still-living presidents. One thing remains clear: it pays to be president, especially after leaving office. 24/7 Wall St. examined the finances of all 43 presidents to identify the richest.
In our updated list, the only currently living president who makes the wealthiest list is Bill Clinton, who has an estimated net worth of $55 million. Clinton continues to make millions of dollars in speaking fees. This January, following an email from Bill Clinton to supporters, Hilary Clinton’s 2008 campaign debt was paid off.
President Obama is not one of the wealthiest presidents of all times. Yet his net worth increased from $5 million in 2010 to an estimated $7 million, primarily from his book sales. If Bill Clinton is any indication, Obama can expect to make much more money in speaking engagements once he exits office in 2017.
The net worth of the presidents varies widely. Washington amassed over half a billion in today’s dollars, while other presidents went bankrupt. The fortunes of America’s presidents are often tied to the economy of their time. Over time, as the focus of the economy has changed, so has the way the presidents made their money.
The first few presidents — from Washington’s election to about 75 years later — were large landowners. They generally made money from land, crops and commodity speculation. 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 often came almost entirely from their salaries. These American presidents were distinctly middle class and often retired without the means to support themselves in anyway close to the presidential lifestyle. James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, Lyndon B. Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes and James A. Garfield had modest net worths when they died.
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, George and George W. Bush were driven by inherited wealth.
The net worth figures for the 10 wealthiest presidents are in 2010 dollars. For the presidents who made and lost fortunes in a matter of a few years, the net worth of each president is for the peak time. The exception to the 2010 rule are the presidents who are still living, who have more recent earnings. In the case of each president, we have taken into account hard assets, such as land, estimated lifetime savings based on work history, inheritance and homes. Wages considered were earned for services as varied as collector of customs at the Port of New York to 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:
1. George Washington, first president from 1789 to 1797
— Net worth: $525 million In office
His Virginia plantation, Mount Vernon, consisted of five separate farms on 8,000 acres of prime farmland, run by more than 300 slaves. His wife, Martha Washington, inherited significant property from her father. Washington made well more than subsequent presidents: his salary was 2% of the total U.S. budget in 1789.
2. Thomas Jefferson, third president from 1801 to 1809
— Net worth: $212 million
Jefferson was left 3,000 acres and several dozen slaves by his father. Monticello, his home on a 5,000-acre plantation in Virginia, was one of the architectural wonders of its time. He made considerable money in various political positions before becoming president, but was mired in debt towards the end of his life.
3. James Madison, fourth president from 1809 to 1817
— Net worth: $101 million
Madison was the largest landowner in Orange County, Va. His land holding consisted of 5,000 acres and the Montpelier estate. He made significant wealth as Secretary of State and president. Madison lost money at the end of his life due to the steady financial collapse of his plantation.
4. Andrew Jackson, seventh president from 1829 to 1837
— Net worth: $119 million
While he was considered to be in touch with the average middle-class American, Jackson quietly became one of the wealthiest presidents of the 1800s. “Old Hickory” married into wealth and made money in the military. His homestead, The Hermitage, included 1,050 acres of prime real estate. Over the course of his life, he owned as many as 300 slaves. Jackson entered considerable debt later in life.
5. Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president from 1901 to 1909
— Net worth: $125 million
Born to a prominent and wealthy family, Roosevelt received a sizable trust fund. He lost most of his money on a ranching venture in the Dakotas and had to work as an author to pay bills. Roosevelt spent most of his adult years in public service. His 235- acre estate, Sagamore Hill, now sits on some of the most valuable real estate on Long Island.
6. Herbert Clark Hoover, 31st president from 1929 to 1933
— Net worth: $75 million
An orphan, Hoover was raised by his uncle, a doctor. He made a fortune as a mining company executive. He had a very large salary for 17 years and had extensive holdings in mining companies. Hoover donated his presidential salary to charity. He also owned “Hoover House” in Monterrey, Calif.
7. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd president from 1933 to 1945
— Net worth: $60 million
Roosevelt’s wealth came through inheritance and marriage. He owned the 800-acre Springwood estate, as well as properties in Georgia, Maine and New York. In 1919, his mother had to bail him out of financial difficulty. He spent most of his adult life in public service. Before he was president, Roosevelt was appointed assistant secretary of the Navy by President Wilson.
8. John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th president from 1961 to 1963
— Net worth: $1 billion (never inherited his father’s fortune)
Born into great wealth, Kennedy’s wife was an oil heiress. His father was one of the wealthiest men in America and was the first chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Almost all of JFK’s income and property came from a trust shared with other family members.
9. Lyndon Baines Johnson, 36th president from 1963 to 1969
— Net worth: $98 million
Johnson’s father lost all the family’s money when LBJ was a boy. Over time, the 36th president accumulated 1,500 acres in Blanco County, Texas, which included his home, called the “Texas White House.” He and his wife owned a radio and television station in Austin, Texas, and had a variety of other moderate holdings, including livestock and private aircraft.
10. William Jefferson Clinton, 42nd president from 1993 to 2001
— Net worth: $55 million
Unlike many presidents, Bill Clinton did not come from a wealthy family, nor did he have lucrative employment before his presidency. But since leaving office we estimate that Clinton has earned more than $125 million before taxes, with the vast majority of that coming from speaking fees. Clinton’s net worth was reduced in 2008 when his wife, Hillary Clinton, wrote off more than $13 million she loaned her campaign for her own presidential bid. Her campaign debt, once over $25 million, was just retired in January.
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