In the early days of American democracy, being a wealthy, white, male landowner was a prerequisite to having a voice in how the country was run. So it should come as no surprise that many of America’s leaders have been staggeringly wealthy.
Winning a bid for the presidency requires a significant amount of hard work and good luck, but it is often helpful to have another key resource — wealth. Money and connections play a role in politics, and coming from a wealthy family can be the determining factor in whether someone’s presidential aspirations are realized. The U.S. has seen a number of political dynasties built on wealth, including the Kennedys, the Bushes, and the Adams.
24/7 Wall St. determined the net worths of every president based on all relevant sources of wealth, including incomes, properties, spouses, and inheritance. There are 12 U.S. presidents with an estimated net worth of at least $50 million.
Donald Trump, who became the richest ever U.S. president in 2017, made most of his money through real estate. But Trump still had significant advantages in becoming rich. In 1971 he took over his father’s real estate company, the Trump Organization.
Many other presidents inherited almost all of their money and, having spent most of their adult lives in public service, never expanded much on it. Founding fathers like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison came from extremely wealthy land-owning families. There was no such thing as law school as these men were growing up, so if someone wanted to pursue a career in the law they had to hire a private tutor or study under a practicing lawyer — options that are very difficult to come by for someone in poverty.
Still, not every president on this list started out wealthy. Herbert Hoover was orphaned as a small child, but he made a significant fortune as mining engineer and executive. Bill Clinton was able to leverage the power he gained as president to earn a fortune through book deals and speaking engagements.
Calculating wealth hundreds of years after many of these presidents served is a challenging task, especially given the ways that wealth and finances have changed since the U.S. was first founded. Historical sources often give a range for a president’s net worth, adjusted for today’s dollar value.
24/7 Wall St. analyzed the finances of U.S. presidents based on historical sources. The figures are adjusted for inflation to December 2018 levels, the most recent available. We have accounted for hard assets such as real estate, estimated lifetime savings based on work history, and inheritance. We also considered annual salaries, incomes earned from royalties on books, ownership of companies, yields from family estates, and other forms of income.
The ranking is based on peak net worth, or how much a president’s combined assets were worth at the time in his life when he was the richest. Many presidents became impoverished or even went into debt after their time in office.