George Washington (1789-97)
The Father of His Country held a big chunk of it, too. Shrewd business judgment and marriage to a wealthy widow allowed him to amass a considerable fortune–including hundreds of slaves. He is the only president sometimes listed among the country’s 100 richest-ever persons in relative economic terms.
Herbert Hoover (1925-1929)
A totally self-made man, the orphaned Hoover studied geology at Stanford, then adroitly applied that knowledge consulting and investing in mines. As early as 1910 he was earning $2.5 million annually in today’s dollars. His wealth allowed him to enter public service. While president, he gave his salary to charity.
Thomas Jefferson (1801-09)
For all of his famous intelligence, the core of Jefferson’s wealth was inherited from his parents. As an adult, Jefferson himself was considered among Virginia’s 30 richest. But he also lived extremely well–building his celebrated home at Monticello–and likely was poorer after the end of his presidency.
John F. Kennedy (1961-63)
His father, Joseph P. Kennedy, was a financier and wheeler-dealer who made a fortune in investing, banking and liquor. A trust-fund baby, JFK lived well and, like Hoover, donated his presidential salary to charity. But other lists putting his net worth at $1 billion are sheer fantasy. The family’s combined wealth by our estimate never got that high, JFK was just one of nine children, and his parents outlived him.
Andrew Jackson (1828-37)
He campaigned as a man-of-the-people and railed against the country’s biggest bank. But a lawyer by occupation, Jackson got rich as a U.S. Army general using insider information–buying land becoming available as Indians were forced onto reservations. As a land speculator he cofounded the city of Memphis. At various times he owned as many as 300 slaves, a key indicator of wealth.
Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)
Teddy came from an old-money New York family with manufacturing interests and benefited from inheritance and a steady income from trust funds. That allowed him to live well as a young man even after the 1880s collapse of a cattle ranch in North Dakota cost him $1.5 million in today’s dollars. Like many presidents, he earned a tidy income out of office as an author.
Zachery Taylor (1849-50)
President for only 14 months before dying of a sudden stomach ailment in 1850, Taylor hailed from a plantation family that owned thousands of acres and hundreds of slaves in Kentucky. A military hero, he later amassed substantial land and slave holdings of his own in Louisiana.
Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-45)
An only child, FDR had some of the same old-money roots as Teddy Roosevelt, a fifth cousin. He was raised in luxury, attending a fancy prep school and Ivy League universities. Although he took a job as a Wall Street lawyer, he didn’t have to, and soon quit to enter politics. His famous estate at Hyde Park, N.Y., actually was owned by his doting mother until her death in 1941.
Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-69)
It was only after entering public life as a Congressman in the 1930s that LBJ, a man from humble origins, started amassing considerable assets. The 1950s purchase–in his wife’s name–of what became for decades the only TV station in Austin, Texas, carrying programming from all national networks, allowed the family to benefit from an explosion in media values.
James Madison (1809-17)
The White House was burned on his watch, but Madison, of course, didn’t own it. What he did own was 5,000 acres of lush tobacco-growing plantation land in his native Virginia, mostly inherited. Due to mounting debts, he likely entered office far richer than he left it. During his lifetime Madison delayed publication of his Constitutional Convention notes, figuring their estimated $1.5 million value in today’s dollars would provide an annuity for his wife, Dolly.