Who Was History’s Richest President?
Of the men who have served as President of the United States, the majority of them have been wealthy, both in comparison to the average American voter, and in terms of absolute dollar amounts, both the money of their time and in today’s money, adjusted for inflation. Getting a foot in the door of presidential politics requires backing from wealthy donors as well as a pretty secure private bank account, due to the high costs of running a campaign. Further, the skills that make for a career in politics can also translate into the private sector, and many politicians throughout history were already wealthy — money earned or inherited — before they started dabbling in lawmaking.
But who was the wealthiest president? That’s a difficult question to answer. For one thing, the ranking is largely based on guesswork and estimation, sometimes in cases of men who died centuries ago. Further, though modern presidents have generally revealed their private financial statements, not all have been quite so forthcoming.
Here is the best guess we have as to who was the richest president in American history.
Donald Trump was probably the richest president
The wealthiest president, by far, is Donald Trump, according to multiple sources. The reality TV star and real-estate mogul had a peak net worth of $3.1 billion, according to both USA Today and Voice of America News. If this estimate is true, that would make him six times richer, when accounting for inflation, than the runner-up. Further, in October 2020, Forbes noted that, at the time, Trump was on the hook for hundreds of millions of bad debt. However, the financial publication noted that even if Trump paid off all of that debt tomorrow, he’d still be worth $2.5 billion.
The second-richest President may not be surprising, either. Like Donald Trump, John F. Kennedy was born into wealth and privilege. When accounting for inflation, according to both USA Today and Voice of America, his peak net worth would have been $1.1 billion in today’s money.
In third place was George Washington, who, according to both sources, was worth $587 million, adjusted for inflation, at his peak wealth.
Who was the poorest president?
Not all of the men who served as president were born into wealth and privilege, and not all who were born in poverty were successful by the time they left office. Some were born poor and stayed there.
For example, Ulysses S. Grant and Andrew Johnson both came from little and left office with little, living quiet lives in small homes for the rest of their lives. Grant spent his last days in significant pain, dying from throat cancer, yet writing his memoirs (published by Mark Twain) so that he would not die and leave his family destitute (the plan worked, per Biography).
But perhaps no former chief executive is as symbolic of a challenging financial situation as Harry S. Truman. Once his career in the Oval Office was over, the Missouri native was living off a small military pension, according to Forbes. He moved back to his home in Independence, Missouri, and refused a number of offers to capitalize on his presidential career. Forbes quotes him this way: “I could never lend myself to any transaction, however respectable, that would commercialize on the prestige and dignity of the office of the presidency.” He did, however, publish his memoirs, which produced some income for him.
The only other living former president at the time was Herbert Hoover, a self-made millionaire, and so it was Truman’s financial situation that motivated Congress to pass the Former Presidents Act of 1958 which, among other things, provides for a pension for former chief executives.
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