Jun 4, 2020

Wealthy Presidents Have Dominated US History

Genevieve Montague

The United States has a habit of choosing rich white men to lead their country, making the history of US Presidents a list of wealthy presidents. US Presidents typically earn a $400,000 salary. The current commander in chief always talks about his impressive wealth. More often than not, people roll their eyes to dismiss Trump’s claims to be the wealthiest president that has ever been in power. But is there any truth to their misgivings?


Members of the wealthiest families in America seem to always realize their dreams of becoming POTUS through political and financial dynasties — think of the Bushes and the Adams.

Still, not all Americans to ever hold the office of the president started rich. Some acquired their wealth after serving the country as its commander-in-chief.

Even so, Trump claims he beats any scale by a wide margin. Since the president enjoys telling us just how wealthy he is — while emphasizing that he has very little debt — his success is tough to miss. Without analyzing the truth to all of Trump’s claims, it is still interesting to explore whether he is the wealthiest U.S. president ever to hold the office.

Some past presidents are outstandingly far from him on the wealth scale, but founding fathers like Georgie Washington and James Madison are much closer since they all come from land-owning families.

Essentially, since the office of POTUS pays only middle-class earnings of $400,000 per year, the consistency of wealthy presidents is something that ought to baffle us. But when you take the book deals and lucrative speaking engagements the presidents are privy to, it’s easy to see why only one president post World War II — Harry Truman (1945-1953) — falls below a $5million benchmark.

Is President Trump As Wealthy As He Claims?

Wall Street has analyzed the financial strengths of past and present American presidents. The analysis considered real estate, inheritance, ownership of companies, book royalties, work savings, profits from family estates, among other sources of income.

A word of warning though — comparing wealth across generations isn’t as simple as an analyst might want you to believe. First, you’d have to adjust for inflation and make assumptions about what each property might be worth today. Of course, there’s a basic formula, but it is still challenging to get precise amounts.


Besides, there’s the “goodwill” that Trump’s net worth relies on. Essentially, the ambiguous concept promotes the value of an item based on the virtue of its brand. So if a random pair of sweatpants might cost a certain amount, it earns the right to become more expensive the minute the logo of a famous brand is stuck on it.

Trump has famously joked about the concept, saying that his net worth depends on how he is feeling. We know it’s not entirely true, but we do get his point.

Here is the list of the wealthiest presidents in American history, with the figures adjusted for inflation to December 2018 levels.

Donald J. Trump

Peak net worth: $3.1 billion

45th president (Republican; 2017- )

Every financial analyst agrees, Trump’s wealthy out-stacks anyone else’s. It turns out — Trump is actually richer than all of the other U.S. presidents combined.

Donald Trump inherited a large part of his wealth. According to the New York Times, he got at least $413 million from his father not counting his father’s real estate business that he took over afterward.

John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy – Source

Peak net worth: $1.1 billion

35th president (Democrat; 1961-1963)

Kennedy was not only born rich, he married rich. His father, Joe Kennedy, was an investment banker and was one of the wealthiest Americans in his generation. And his wife, Jackie, was an oil heiress. John F. Kennedy was a wealthy man and one of the wealthiest presidents.

George Washington

George Washington – Source

Peak net worth: $587 million

1st president (None; 1789-1797)

George Washington was the first president of America, and his salary showed it. He earned $25,000 in 1789, an impressive 2% of the total U.S. budget. However, most of his wealth was inherited from his half-brother, who willed him Mount Vernon, a lucrative plantation for one of the wealthiest presidents to govern the US.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson – Source

Peak net worth: $236.8 million

3rd president (Democratic-Republican; 1801-1809)

Jefferson is remembered as one of many wealthy presidents and a big spender who lived beyond his means, but there was a time when those means were indeed vast. Thomas Jefferson first inherited 3,000 acres from his father before adding 2,000 acres more. The land he inherited from his father was near Charlottesville, Virginia. Also, Jefferson’s showpiece home Monticello is forever a classic. Sadly, by the time he died, he was hugely in debt.

Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt – Source

Peak net worth: $139.7 million

26th president (Republican; 1901-1909)

Theodore Roosevelt was elected to the New York State Assembly when he was 23 and spent most of his life as a public servant. He inherited most of his wealth from a large trust fund and did little to increase his net worth.

Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson – Source

Peak net worth: $132.6 million

7th president (Democratic; 1829-1837)

Jackson was born poor and made a large part of his money by working in a law firm. Still, he inherited a fortune when his wealthy wife Rachel died just before he became the president of the United States of America and one of the most wealthy presidents to boot.

James Madison

James Madison – Source

Peak net worth: $113.3 million

4th president (Democratic-Republican; 1809-1817)

Madison inherited quite the fortune from his parents — several hectares of land, the famed Montpelier Estate, and a lucrative plantation in Orange County, Virginia.

Lyndon B. Johnson

Lyndon B. Johnson – Source

Peak net worth: $109.3 million

36th president (Democratic; 1963-1969)

Johnson wasn’t much financially even though he was ambitious and hardworking. But when he met his wife, Claudia “Lady Bird ” Taylor, his fortune changed. Lady Bird’s radio station was their primary source of income, but her inheritance of livestock and 1,500 acres of land from a wealthy Texas family also played an undeniable role.

Herbert Hoover

Herbert Hoover – Source

Peak net worth: $83 million

31st president (Republican; 1929-1933)

Hoover made his own fortune, literally. He was orphaned as a child but went on to graduate from Stanford and acquire several Burmese silver mines while working as a mining engineer.

Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton – Source

Peak net worth: $75.9 million

42nd president (Democratic; 1993- 2001)

A modern man, Clinton’s wealth accumulated after he had left office, making millions of dollars from his 2005 autobiography. Besides, Hilary Clinton’s book deals and speaking engagements also increase the ex-president’s net worth.

While the first several presidents feature on this list more than more recent ones, it’s still easy to see that wealthy presidents are typically the way America goes. Nevertheless, President Trump is by far the richest, almost three times richer than the next guy. It is not out of context to assume the next president will be a millionaire as well.

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