These Are the Presidents Who Came From Poverty (and How Donald Trump Compares)
Donald Trump routinely brags about being a billionaire. And he definitely tops the list of the richest men to ever serve as president. But not every American president was wealthy. In fact, quite a few were born into poor families, or at least families with very modest means.
Below, discover which presidents came from poverty. And check out page 15 to see how Donald Trump compares.
1. Andrew Jackson
- 7th president of the United States
History reports that Andrew Jackson — like Donald Trump many generations later — “positioned himself as a man of the people.” But he was actually far wealthier than his fellow American citizens. Jackson grew up in poverty. But “despite his hardscrabble, impoverished childhood, Old Hickory became a prominent lawyer and famous military commander, which, along with extensive landholdings allowed him to amass a $119 million fortune,” History explains.
Next: This president came from a family that didn’t have much money, but still owned slaves.
2. Martin Van Buren
- 8th president of the United States
Next on the list? Martin Van Buren, whom the Miller Center characterizes as a president with a “modest upbringing.” His family lived in Kinderhook, New York, near Albany. And as the Miller Center explains, “The Van Burens were a struggling family with six children in the household, Martin being the fourth oldest.” Though the family was “not rich by any means,” the Van Burens did own six slaves, which the Miller Center characterizes as not unusual for a family in Kinderhook.
Next: This short-lived president didn’t have much chance to accumulate wealth.
3. William Henry Harrison
- 9th president of the United States
Investopedia reports that Harrison’s short lifetime “left him little chance to accumulate wealth.” Until his death just a month after his inauguration, he depended on the modest income of his farm. The problem? Bad weather destroyed his crops, and he struggled to meet his creditors’ demands even as he pursued the presidency.
Next: This president was born in a log cabin.
4. Millard Fillmore
- 13th president of the United States
History reports that the 13th president of the United States “rose up out of extreme poverty.” He was born in a log cabin, and spent much of his youth clearing land and raising crops on a farm that his father leased in the Finger Lakes region in New York. Fillmore received only minimal schooling, but educated himself and eventually became a school teacher. He also took an interest in the law, and became a lawyer, which enabled him to make a good living.
Next: This president received little formal education.
5. Abraham Lincoln
- 16th president of the United States
Borgen Magazine reports that Abraham Lincoln also numbers among the presidents who had very modest upbringings. His family moved west when he was a toddler and built a homestead farm in southern Illinois. There, the future president received very little formal schooling. “His financial situation went from bad to worse in his early 20’s, when he purchased a general store, which later went bankrupt after the death of his business partner.” Lincoln had thousands of dollars in debt and lost most of his assets — and turned to studying the law out of desperation.
Next: This president was raised by a single mother.
6. Andrew Johnson
- 17th president of the United States
Biography reports that Andrew Johnson was born in a log cabin in Raleigh, North Carolina. His father died when Johnson was just 3 years old, leaving the family in poverty. His mother worked as a seamstress to provide for her family. But as Biography reports, “As a young boy, Andrew felt the sting of prejudice from the higher classes and developed a white-supremacist attitude to compensate, a perception he held all his life.”
Next: This president struggled to find financial stability.
7. Ulysses S. Grant
- 18th president of the United States
The Miller Center reports that Ulysses S. Grant’s father worked as a tanner, making a good living but laboring in terrible conditions. But as Investopedia notes, America’s 18th president died broke. He and his wife spent more money than they had on travel and fine dining. And Grant lost $100,000 when he was defrauded by his son’s business partner. It wasn’t until the posthumous publishing of his Civil War memoirs, which earned almost half a million dollars, that Grant could provide some financial security for his family.
Next: This president worked odd jobs to get through college.
8. James A. Garfield
- 20th president of the United States
Investopedia reports that James A. Garfield was born into poverty. (And Investor’s Business Daily characterizes him as “the poorest man ever to be president.”) He grew up in a log cabin in Ohio, and was raised by his single mother after his father died in a fire. Garfield worked a variety of odd jobs — ranging from carpenter to janitor — to pay his way through college. He passed the Ohio bar exam, but decided to dedicate his career to public service. He never made much money, and was basically penniless at the time of his assassination.
Next: This president was orphaned, but still became a millionaire.
9. Herbert Hoover
- 31st president of the United States
History also places Herbert Hoover on its list of “presidents born poor who became rich.” Hoover was orphaned at age 9. (The Miller Center notes that his father, a blacksmith and farm equipment salesman, suffered a heart attack and died when the future president was just 6 years old. And then the boy’s mother developed pneumonia and passed away three years later.) But Hoover rose from poverty and actually became a self-made millionaire. In fact, Hoover used his Stanford geology degree to amass a fortune as a mining executive.
Next: This president struggled to make ends meet, even after his presidency.
10. Harry S. Truman
- 33rd president of the United States
Investopedia reports that Harry S. Truman “spent most of his life in financial turmoil.” Truman had a modest upbringing. And as an adult, he made bad investments, and carried debt from poorly-performing businesses. (However, he did narrowly avoid having to file for bankruptcy.) After his presidency, Truman and his wife moved into his mother-in-law’s home, and they depended on Truman’s pension of $25,000 annually to keep them afloat.
Next: This president grew up poor.
11. Lyndon B. Johnson
- 36th president of the United States
History reports that Lyndon B. Johnson grew up poor. “What little money his father had was lost when LBJ was young, and he worked as a rural school teacher,” the publication reports. But the future president’s marriage to Lady Bird Johnson “boosted his wallet” and turned his fortunes around, according to History. The couple made savvy investments in Texas-based TV and radio stations. They also began buying tracts of land, which enabled them to amass a sizable fortune.
Next: This president’s family didn’t have much.
12. Richard Nixon
- 37th president of the United States
Richard Nixon also lands on the list of presidents who grew up in poverty. As Biography reports, Nixon’s father worked as a service station owner and a grocer. The family also owned a small lemon farm in Yorba Linda, California. But as Nixon later said of his early life, “We were poor, but the glory of it was we didn’t know it.” Nixon was offered a scholarship to Harvard when he graduated from high school, but his family couldn’t afford the travel and living expenses.
Next: This president grew up in a family of modest means.
13. Bill Clinton
- 42nd president of the United States
PBS reports that Bill Clinton “grew up in an extended family of modest means” in Arkansas. The future president was born three months after his father died in a car accident, and his widowed mother left him in the care of her parents to study to become a nurse anesthetist. When Clinton was 4 years old, his mother married car salesman Roger Clinton. As a teen, Clinton had to intervene in violent arguments between the two adults, according to the Miller Center. Clinton attended Georgetown University and covered his expenses with scholarships and part-time work.
Next: Here’s how Barack Obama’s upbringing compares.
14. Barack Obama
- 44th president of the United States
History notes that Barack Obama was also born poor. Obama was born in Hawaii just two years after it became a part of the United States. According to the Chicago Tribune, his mother was “a young, iconoclastic white woman who had defied the social mores of the day by marrying a dashing black man from Kenya.” Obama’s father left the family to study at Harvard. The future president and his mother lived in Hawaii until Obama was 6, when his mother met and married an Indonesian student and the family moved to Indonesia. They moved back to Hawaii for Obama to attend an elite prep school.
Next: Here’s how Donald Trump compares.
15. Donald Trump
- 45th president of the United States
The Christian Science Monitor reports that “despite the rags-to-riches mythology,” many American presidents have come from wealthy families. One easy example is Donald Trump. Though Trump routinely brags about his net worth, Investopedia notes that the president was born into a wealthy family, as his father made his fortune building and selling housing for American soldiers and their families during World War II. Trump “made a few successful real estate investments in the Manhattan market in the 1980s before transitioning to self-marketing in the 1990s,” the publication notes.
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