It’s often said that politics won’t make you rich. Fortunately, a few presidents have been able make a decent living from their political careers. Many more have failed to do this, so who were the poorest presidents?
There are two main ways that we could measure this: before their presidency and after their presidency. For the purposes of this article, we will look at both, but it will be primarily after their presidency.
All of these president’s net worths are accounted in modern dollars (all adjusted for inflation).
15. Millard Fillmore
Today, Millard Fillmore is remembered for being among the worst presidents in history, having succeeded the similarly inept Zachary Taylor, after he died in 1850. He is also remembered for being one of the poorest presidents in history too!
Originally born in a log cabin in New York state, it’s fair to say that Fillmore didn’t come from a wealthy family like many of his contemporaries did. His wife, Abagail, similarly came from a relatively poor family as well.
Fillmore was taught by his parents, rather than through formal education. He was also a self-taught lawyer before entering politics, practicing in areas that didn’t require him to sit the BAR exam (as he didn’t have the money to fund the admission fee).
Upon entering politics, Fillmore purchased a home in his hometown of Aurora, New York. After the presidency, he would found a college, which is today part of New York State University at Buffalo.
All in all, through his real Estate Holdings and college, Millard Fillmore’s net worth is estimated at well over $4 million.
14. Rutherford B. Hayes
Similarly to Millard Fillmore, Rutherford B. Hayes is remembered as one of the worst presidents in history. On top of this, he is generally considered to be among the poorest presidents, although he is one the richer end of the scale.
Rutherford B. Hayes was born to Rutherford Hayes Jr. and his wife, Sophia in 1822. Rutherford Hayes Jr. was a well respected shopkeeper in the Delaware, Ohio area, owning a family-ran shop that did quite well.
This funded Rutherford B. Hayes’ education, with him going to an elite prep school in Connecticut. Hayes father’s shop would also pay for his education as an attorney, which led him down the road as a politician.
Through his position as both a politician and an attorney, Hayes was able to buy a 10,000 square feet mansion that sat on a 25 acre plot of land. Hayes referred to his home as “Spiegel’s Grove”.
All in all, through his real estate holdings, savings and sizeable inheritance from his father, Rutherford B. Hayes’ net worth is estimated to be at around $3 million.
13. William Howard Taft
Taft and Hayes are in fact connected, not only for being among the worst and poorest presidents in history, but because there was actually a connection. Taft’s father-in-law was a partner at Hayes law firm!
Like his father-in-law, Taft was also a lawyer, becoming one of the best in Ohio within only a few years of graduating. This allowed him to become a judge whilst he was still in his twenties!
As a judge, Taft was paid handsomely for his time. Using this income, he was able to purchase a large home, whilst still managing save a large portion of it, which was invested for him.
Taft’s home was mostly custom-made and designed, this allowed it to account for his large size. Hallways were larger, doorways were larger, and he even had a custom-made bathtub in both the White House and his house.
All in all, through real estate holdings, savings and earnings as a judge, Howard Taft’s net worth is estimated at being roughly $3 million.
12. Franklin Pierce
Franklin Pierce is often remembered for being the president who fanned the flames for the American Civil War, even if he was only trying stop it. Pierce is also remembered for being one of the poorest presidents in history as well!
Pierce was born in a log cabin, similarly to many other presidents. However, fortunes would soon improve for the Pierce family, when his father’s farm began to produce more than it had previously.
Upon his father’s death, Pierce would inherit a sizable inheritance, which he used to continue to make money, long after his death. This would’ve been inherited by his son, Benny, but he died two months before Franklin was sworn in as president.
Using some of his father’s inheritance money, Pierce was able to buy a large family house Concord, New Hampshire. This house still exists today, and acts as a tourist attraction, although no relatives of Pierce own it.
All in all, mostly through his real estate holdings, Franklin Pierce’s net worth is estimated to be around $3 million, although some sources put it as low as $2.5 million.
11. William McKinley
Today, William McKinley is remembered for having done a lot in his short presidency, notably the victories in the Spanish-American War as well as keeping the US on the Gold Standard. He was also among the poorest presidents in history too!
William McKinley didn’t come from a wealthy family. His homeschooled education allowed him to become a well respected lawyer. This, in turn, allowed him to meet his wife, Ida.
His wife was the daughter of a prominent banker. Upon their marriage, his father-in-law paid a rather large dowry. Using this money, McKinely was able to purchase a large mansion, which sat on a large plot of land.
McKinley famously went bankrupt in 1939, when the Great Depression hit. This happened whilst he was still governor of Ohio. However, using his salary as governor, and later as president, he was able to make a lot of it back.
All in all, mostly through his real estate holdings, William McKinley’s net worth is estimated to be around $1.5 million, although sources conflict, with some placing it as low as $1 million.
10. Warren G. Harding
Warren G. Harding is remembered for a lot of things, but mostly for being one of the shortest lived presidents in US history. It also happens that he was one of the poorest presidents in history as well!
The vast majority of Harding’s net worth was as a result of his marriage to his wife Mabel. His wife was the daughter of a prominent Ohio banker, so when Warren married her, his father-in-law paid a sizable dowry.
His father-in-law’s dowry allowed Harding to buy the burgeoning The Marion Star, based in Marion, Ohio. Over the course of several years, Harding was able to grow the paper into one of the largest in the local area.
Using the income generated from The Marion Star, Harding was able to buy his home in Marion, Ohio. This is the house he would live in before and after his presidency.
All in all, mostly thanks to his ownership of The Marion Star and his real estate holdings, Warren Harding’s net worth is estimated at roughly $1 million.
9. James Buchannan
James Buchannan is remembered for being the worst president in history. Due to his inability to resolve conflicts between the North and the South, thousands of men would die in the American Civil War. He was also comparatively poor.
As with a few other of the poorest presidents, James Buchannan was born in a log cabin to a large family. Although his parents were Scots-Irish immigrants (flowing in with other Irish immigrants) they soon became well off.
Buchannan’s father established himself as one of the local area’s wealthiest residents, owning one of the largest farms in Pennsylvania at the time. Upon his father’s death, James Buchannan inherited much of his father’s fortune.
James Buchannan would later enter politics, becoming Minister to the UK and Russia, Secretary of State. Over the course of his lifetime, Buchannan would save much of his income to build a large nest egg.
All in all, James Buchannan’s net worth was estimated to be at a little over $1.2 million, although sources conflict one another, with some claiming it was as little as $900,000.
8. Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln is famous for many things: freeing all black slaves (inadvertently creating so-called “black conservatives“) as well as founding the Republican Party. He is also remembered for being one of the poorest presidents ever.
Before becoming a politician, Abraham Lincoln was known for being one of the more entrepreneurial presidents. He worked a series of odd jobs in his home state of Kentucky, mostly as a manual laborer.
He also ran an unsuccessful general store. Lincoln was an avid inventor, inventing and patenting more things than all current or former presidents combined!
For much of his pre-politics life, Lincoln was an attorney. Here, he moved to Illinois and bought a modest single-family home in Springfield, Illinois. Here, he would live until his presidency, where he would be assassinated in 1865.
All in all, through his real estate holdings and patents, Abraham Lincoln’s net worth is estimated to be a little over $1.2 million.
7. Andrew Johnson
In 1856, John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. With this, his vice president, Andrew Johnson, was sworn in as president. His presidency was rather controversial, however, he did manage to purchase Alaska from Russia.
However, one thing he had in common was his predecessor is the fact that he was actually among the poorest presidents ever. Besides that, the two presidents had almost nothing in common.
Johnson’s father was a tailor and his wife was the daughter of a wealthy shoe maker. When Johnson married his wife, his father-in-law paid Johnson a sizable dowry, which he used to buy a small house in Greenville, Tennessee.
For much of his life, Johnson worked as a public servant, mostly famously as Governor of Tennessee, before becoming president after Lincoln’s assassinations. As such, he never had a truly “high paying” job.
All in all, mostly through his real estate holdings, Andrew Johnson’s net worth is estimated at roughly $1.1 million. Although some sources do claim that it was roughly $1 million.
6. Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant is famous for a lot of things, including being the general who led the Union to victory during the American Civil War and inventing the process of lobbying. He is also among the poorest president in history too!
Grant’s father was fairly well off, having been both a merchant and a tanner (leather maker). Grant’s wife was the daughter of one of Ohio’s most prosperous merchants, when the pair got married, his father-in-law paid a sizable dowry.
Grant used this money to invest in a large house which sat on a large plot of land. However, a business partner swindled him from his money later on in life, leaving him almost penniless.
After leaving the presidency, Grant chose to write his memoirs that covered his life as both a soldier and as president. This came with a large book advance that kept him afloat until his death.
All in all, due mostly to his book advances, Ulysses S. Grant’s net worth is estimated to be slightly more than $1 million.
5. Chester A. Arthur
Two months after President James A. Garfield was shot in 1881, his vice president, Chester A. Arthur was sworn in as president. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Garfield wasn’t froma remotely rich family whatsoever.
By the time Chester had been born, his father had emigrated from Ireland only a few years previously. For much of Chester’s life, his father was a preacher at the local church, naturally not earning a lot of money.
The overwhelming majority of Chester’s money came from his marriage to his wife. His wife came from a strong military family, who had served in the US military since before its founding.
Several members, including Chester’s father-in-law, were high ranking officers. Upon Chester’s marriage to his wife, his father-in-law paid a substantial dowry, that allowed Chester to purchase his family home.
All in all, thanks to his sizable real estate holdings, Chest A. Arthur’s net worth is estimated at around $1 million. Some estimates are more, whilst others are less.
4. James A. Garfield
James A. Garfield was by far the poorest president when he was born. Whilst many of his contemporaries were similarly born in log cabins, they weren’t born into abject poverty. Garfield was.
When he was born, he was the youngest of five children. As a child, Garfield was forced to work in order to help his family survive. Using some of this money, he was able to send himself to school (where he’d meet his future wife).
His father-in-law was a well off farmer, who paid a large dowry to Garfield. This helped him to buy “Lawnfield”, a large mansion in Mentor, Ohio, which the Garfields would make their home before the White House.
Due to the fact he was assassinated very early on into his life (and presidency), Garfield was never truly able to amass the wealth many of his contemporaries did. As such, he is featured here.
All in all, mostly due to Garfield’s real estate holdings, his net worth is estimated at approximately $1 million. Although, several sources do claim it is under $1 million.
3. Woodrow Wilson
Woodrow Wilson is famous for being the president who led the US through WWI. He is also known for being among the world’s best and most beloved presidents. However, people don’t realize he was actually one of the poorest presidents!
Wilson was born into a mostly well to-do Southern Democrat family. Here, his father was able to send him to an elite school, where his classmates would become the likes of Chief Justices and Secretary of State.
Unlike every other president in history, Wilson never had a high paying job before the presidency. Prior to the presidency, Wilson was primarily the governor of the prestigious Princeton University.
Before entering the White House, Wilson also served as Governor of New Jersey. Through this job, Wilson was able to buy a large seven bedroom home in Princeton, New Jersey.
All in all, by most estimates, Woodrow Wilson’s net worth sits comfortably at just above the $1 million mark. Although, this isn’t by very much, mostly owing to his lack of assets.
2. Calvin Coolidge
Throughout his presidency, Calvin Coolidge was defined by his business-friendly, fiscally conservative policies. This created what we know today as the Roaring Twenties– a period of unparalleled economic growth around the world.
From this, you’d assume that Coolidge came from an incredibly wealthy family, or somehow stood to gain from his policies financially. However, he actually didn’t.
Coolidge’s father was a simple farmer and grocery store owner, which, whilst prosperous, was only a local, family-ran business. Calvin Coolidge himself was an only attorney, who’d spent 20 years as a politician.
In this time, he was governor of Massachusetts, where he earned a fairly large salary. This helped him to buy his house, nicknamed “The Beeches”, in Northampton, Massachusetts.
After his time as president and governor, Coolidge decided to write his autobiography. This was met with a book advance, as well as a weekly syndicated newspaper column, which set him up for life.
All in all, Calvin Coolidge’s net worth is estimated at slightly less than $1 million.
1. Harry S. Truman
President Truman is remembered for being one of the best presidents in history, alongside his predecessor, FDR. Unlike his predecessor, however, Truman didn’t come from a wealthy family, he didn’t even earn a college degree!
As a child, Truman acted as a Shabbos goy for his Jewish neighbors. Here, he would do the basic tasks that they couldn’t do on Shabbat, due to their religion. This was a profitable side business for the young Truman.
Once he had reached adulthood, Truman decided to move to Kansas City, Missouri. Here, he would establish himself as the local haberdasher and would initially do very well for himself.
Nevertheless, this sadly wouldn’t last for Truman, and in an attempt to keep his business alive, he was forced to take on several personal debts. All of these would be paid off once he entered the presidency over a decade later.
All in all, Harry S. Truman’s net worth is estimated to be well below $1 million, with some even going as far to put it at a mere $100,000.
Which of the poorest presidents are your favorite? Tell me in the comments!