Many US presidents cut their teeth on business before they entered politics—but some were better at it than others. Here are a few entrepreneurial failures from our former presidents, and some successes, too.
Abraham Lincoln (presidential term 1861-1865): Too Honest for Sales
For a less than a year, Lincoln was the co-owner of a general store in New Salem, Illinois. Although he enjoyed talking with customers, he wasn’t a very good salesperson—mainly because he was frequently a little too honest about his products, and he wasn’t great at bargaining. The store failed, leaving Lincoln with debts that took years to pay off.
Warren G. Harding (presidential term 1921-1923): Media Mogul
In 1884, when Harding was still a teenager, he and two partners purchased a local Ohio newspaper, the Marion Daily Star, for $300. By the age of 21, he was the paper’s sole owner, and was in the process of turning it from struggling to financially sound. In 1923, Harding sold the paper for more than half a million dollars—the equivalent of more than $6 million today. The paper still exists today as the Marion Star and is owned by Gannett.
Herbert Hoover (presidential term 1929-1933): An Early Socialpreneur
Hoover worked for several years as a mining engineer in Australia before co-founding the Zinc Corporation in 1905. By 1914, he was worth an estimated $4 million, which he used to help the Belgian relief effort when the country was invaded by Germany during World War I. The Zinc Corporation exists today as an international mining company called Rio Tinto.
Harry Truman (presidential term 1945-1953): Retail Casualty of an Earlier Recession
In 1919, before his presidency, Truman opened a haberdashery in downtown Kansas City, which sold men’s clothing and accessories. Despite a successful first few years, the recession of 1921 led to a slowdown in sales, and the store shut for good in 1922, leaving the future president with heavy debts.
Jimmy Carter (presidential term 1977-1981): Too Trusting of Trustees
The son of a peanut farmer, Carter inherited the struggling family business after the death of his father in 1953. An income of $200 during his first year heading up the farm qualified Carter and his family to move into low-income housing, but he steadily built up the business alongside his political career. After his presidency, Carter returned to the farm only to find that his trustees had mismanaged funds, leaving him deep in debt.