From 24/7 Wall St.: Three years ago, 24/7 Wall St. published the net worth of every American president, from Washington to 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 now 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. George 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.
It is not surprising then to find that 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. Of course, 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. Buchanan, Lincoln, Johnson, Grant, Hayes and Garfield had modest net worths when they died.
At the end of the 19th century and 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 and both of the Bushes were driven by inherited wealth.
The net worth figures for the 10 wealthiest presidents are in 2010 dollars. Because several of the presidents, particularly in the early 19th century, made and lost huge 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.