Presidents’ Net Worth

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Oct 7, 2010    •    645 Views

Who was wealthier George Washington or John F. Kennedy? You’ll find the answer in a fascinating Atlantic article that describes, from Washington through Obama, presidential affluence.

George Washington was very rich. Including his land, savings, inheritance, slaves, and other assets, Washington’s net worth, in today’s dollars, would have been a whopping $525 million! Yes, he did marry the wealthiest widow in Virginia. But perhaps more importantly, Washington’s papers indicate his interest in running his estate.

Moving through the article’s slide show and descriptions, trends emerge. Until the middle of the 19th century, presidents had considerable land wealth. Then, net worth plunges as attorneys and other salaried professionals became president. At the end of the century, with Grover Cleveland, we again start seeing some very wealthy men. During the 20th century, the Roosevelts, the Bushes, and JFK had inherited wealth while Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Harry Truman were not rich.

The Economic Lesson

We can divide our economic history into 5 major eras: 1) An agricultural era during which a transport network started to develop (1st half of 19th century). 2) An era dominated by capital goods formation and railroad expansion (second half of 19th century). 3) A consumer goods series of decades that was characterized by the onset of the automobile (first third of 20th century). 4) A depression era when government became more economically active (1930s). 5) An era when production of services surpasses manufacturing (1950s-now).

Each president’s wealth reflects the economic era in which he lived.


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