The big biz market for ex-presidents


February 17, 2020

As holidays go, Presidents Day is a freakin’ Frankenstein. It officially honors George Washington’s birthday — February 22, 1732. Almost 250 years later, the feds moved it to the third Monday in February, to give government workers another Monday off (nice work, if you can get it!). These days, it’s mostly known as a bonanza for retail sales.

This holiday, we’re putting a presidential spin on business and entrepreneurship.

  • We’ll test your knowledge of some lesser-known entrepreneurial presidents.
  • You’ll discover how presidents make money after their time in office.
  • And our small biz of the week tells the story of a president’s fashion failure.
president on peanuts background
Quiz Time

How well do you know your entrepreneurial presidents?

President Trump is hardly the only entrepreneur to occupy the Oval Office. But how familiar are you with the others?

Test your knowledge by tackling this quiz (answers at the bottom of the email).

We’ll start with an easy one.

1️⃣ Call him Mr. President, not Mr. Peanut. His family owned thousands of acres of Georgia peanut-farming land, plus a warehousing business. The biz was placed into a blind trust during his presidency — it was $1m in debt by the time he left office.

2️⃣ Maybe he should’ve stuck to fashion. He cut his teeth as a tailor’s apprentice, starting as a teenager. His shop in Tennessee is a national historic site. He was the first president to be impeached, in 1868.

3️⃣ El Bloombito ain’t the only media mogul who wants to be prez. In 1884, this president and friends bought a struggling Ohio newspaper for $300. The turnaround catapulted him into state politics and then the White House.

4️⃣ How’s this for a cool nickname? Some experts call him a “doctor of sick mines,” from his days as an engineer in the late 19th and early 20th century. No, he’s not related to the first director of the FBI, who shares his last name.

5️⃣ “The chief business of the American people is business.” That’s a somewhat famous quote attributed to this president, who spent time in banking. He served as Veep for another president in this quiz, and took over when his running mate died in office.

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Bill Clinton playing a saxaphone image
Oval Office Opportunists

How do presidents make money after they leave office?

Since presidents command a fairly hefty salary (today, it’s $400k) while they’re in office, you might assume they’re flush by the time they leave the White House.

But that’s not always the case. 

In fact, several presidents actually went into debt after they left the Oval Office: Most recently, Bill Clinton walked out of the White House with $16m of debt.

Presidents do earn annual lifetime pensions (today’s are $213.6k/year), but Ol’ Billiam dug himself out of the hole by going big on the speaking circuit and inking book deals. 

But Bill wasn’t the original Oval Office opportunist 

For most of history, ex-presidents who continued giving public speeches did so for free: Rutherford B. Hayes, Teddy Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, and Harry Truman all delivered numerous speeches but refused compensation for doing so.

But that all changed with President Gerald “Jer Bear” Ford. He wasn’t so shy about cashing in on his commander-in-chief experience.

Ford figured: ‘Why not take a post-Prez victory lap?’

When Ford left office in 1977 (after serving as president for just 895 days), he began giving paid speeches across the country — collecting a cool $25k per speech. 

But as it turned out, Ford’s going rate for his speeches was chump change compared to the spendy speeches sold by his successors.

Bill Clinton playing a saxaphone image

And he talked his way into more than just speeches 

Ford was an Oval Office opportunist from start to finish: In addition to cashing in on paid speeches, Ford also collected fees for appearing at events ranging from big conventions to the opening of a shopping center.

And he didn’t stop there.

Ford also served on a number of corporate boards — including 20th Century Fox and American Express — and was known for taking presidential power naps in board meetings.

Thus began the era of the Capitalist-in-Chief 

By cashing in on events, speeches, and corporate board seats post-presidency, Ford managed to increase his net worth by more than 400%. 

But some other presidents have done even better. 

Here are the modern presidents (Nixon and beyond) whose net worth increased most dramatically after their election:

Bill Clinton playing a saxaphone image
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Sponsored

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  • Products personalized to your needs, whether that’s sensitive skin, acne, or wrinkles
  • Flexible purchase options so you can get just the products you want, when you want

Hell, one of their co-founders even personally handles most customer service requests. If that’s not care, I don’t know what is. 

Point is, it’s time to start giving your skin the care it deserves. Get your face hands on a 30-day Geologie trial set for just $37, plus save 30% with code HUSTLE30. (You’ll thank them later.)

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Abraham Lincoln with a pie image
Startup Founding Fathers

And don’t worry: The founding fathers got their pieces of the pie, too

Since recent presidents have made their fortunes from speeches at shopping centers and book deals with multinational publishers, it may seem like their predecessors in the olden days may not have had as many opportunities to strike it rich. 

But early presidents did pretty well financially, too: Of the 10 richest presidents in history, more were born in the 1700s than in the 1900s (inflation adjusted, of course).

That’s right… George Washington was a startup founder

After leaving the nation’s highest office, George Washington started a commercially successful whiskey distillery. 

As the website for Washington’s estate, Mount Vernon, explained: 

“Always keen to enterprises that might earn him extra income, Washington was intrigued by the profit potential that a distillery might bring in.” 

President Lincoln was a tech nerd, too

It’s true: Honest Abe was the first (and remains the only) president to receive a US patent. 

Sadly, the invention — a device for lifting riverboats over sandbars — was never produced (you might say it never got past its Kickstarter phase).

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Truman & Jacobson haberdashery image
Out of Style

Small business of the week: Harry Truman’s fashion flop

Hope you enjoy this throwback special in place of our regularly scheduled small biz feature.

Shirts, belts, gloves, hats. You could find it all at Kansas City’s Truman & Jacobson haberdashery, which opened its doors on November 28, 1919. Harry Truman launched the men’s clothing store with a wartime pal, Eddie Jacobson.

Jacobson had 10 years of experience in the clothing biz, so at first, the store was a success. But when the economy tanked in the early 1920s, the cash stopped pouring in. The store held a going out of business sale in September 1922, leaving Truman on the edge of ruin.

Jacobson declared bankruptcy in 1925, but Truman never did. The presidential historian Michael Beschloss wrote that Truman’s business failure had a major influence on his handling of the nation’s finances as president.

  • Founders: Harry Truman, Eddie Jacobson
  • Years in business: 3
  • Funding methods: Sold holdings in family farm (including hundreds of hogs), loans
  • 1st-year revenue: an estimated $70k in 1920 (about $900k today)

Want your modern-day story featured? Fill out our Small Business survey. See financials of 700+ companies by subscribing to Trends.

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Quiz Answers

1️⃣ Jimmy Carter

2️⃣ Andrew Johnson

3️⃣ Warren Harding

4️⃣ Herbert Hoover

5️⃣ Calvin Coolidge

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