The men who became presidents of the United States had many jobs before ascending to the highest office in the land.
There was no one job for potential presidents. However, a few trends in pre-presidential employment are discernible.
The Lawyer Presidents
The most common profession for future presidents is the law. The lawyer presidents include:
- John Adams (F-Massachusetts)
- Thomas Jefferson (R-Virginia)
- James Madison (R-Virginia)
- James Monroe (R-Virginia)
- John Q. Adams (R-Massachusetts)
- Andrew Jackson (D-Tennessee)
- Martin Van Buren (D-New York)
- John Tyler (D-Virginia)
- James K. Polk (D-Tennessee)
- Millard Fillmore (W-New York)
- Franklin Pierce (D-New Hampshire)
- James Buchanan (D-Pennsylvania)
- Abraham Lincoln (R-Illinois)
- Rutherford B. Hayes (R-Ohio)
- Chester Arthur (R-New York)
- Grover Cleveland (D-New York)
- Benjamin Harrison (R-Ohio)
- William McKinley (R-Ohio)
- William Howard Taft (R-Ohio)
- Woodrow Wilson (D-New Jersey)
- Calvin Coolidge (R-Massachusetts)
- Franklin D. Roosevelt (D-New York)
- Richard M. Nixon (R-California)
- Gerald R. Ford (R-Michigan)
- Bill Clinton (D-Arkansas)
- Barack Obama (D-Illinois)
- Joe Biden (D-Delaware)
Moreover, at least one president, Theodore Roosevelt (R-New York) had plans to practice law if his political career failed. Plus, some of the lawyer presidents had other jobs, Lincoln worked as a postmaster, storekeeper, and surveyor before taking up the law. Wilson almost never practiced and spent most of his career as a college professor and administrator.
Soldiers and Farmers in the White House
Other common jobs for presidents are farmer/plantation owner, politician, and soldier. The professional or semi-professional soldiers to serve in the White House include:
- George Washington (I-Virginia)
- Andrew Jackson (D-Tennessee)
- William Henry Harrison (W-Indiana)
- Zachary Taylor (W-Louisiana)
- Ulysses S. Grant (R-Illinois)
- Dwight D. Eisenhower (R-Kansas)
The farmer presidents include Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson, Tyler, Taylor, Harry S. Truman (D-Missouri), and Jimmy Carter (D-Georgia). Only one president Theodore Roosevelt (R-New York) worked as a rancher. However, several presidents including Lyndon B. Johnson, Reagan, and George W. Bush lived on ranches.
Predictably, many presidents were professional politicians although, the first professional politician in the modern sense was Martin Van Buren. Van Buren served as New York State’s political boss before ascending to the White House.
Presidents with Many Jobs
Many presidents had several careers before reaching the White House.
Harry S. Truman; for example worked as a bank teller, a farmer, a clothing store owner, and a politician before the White House. In addition, Truman failed as a mining and oil entrepreneur and served as an artillery officer in the Army National Guard in peace time and World War I.
Similarly, Abraham Lincoln worked as a storekeeper, postmaster, surveyor, politician, trial lawyer, and corporate lawyer. Notably, Lincoln and Truman appear to be the only presidents who worked in retail.
Odd Jobs of the Presidents
There are some anomalies in presidential employment. For instance, only one professional educator Woodrow Wilson reached the White House.
However, a number of presidents worked in education. For example, Lyndon B. Johnson (D-Texas) once worked as a public school teacher. William Howard Taft and Barrack Obama both worked as law professors.
One president Ronald Reagan (R-California) was a professional actor. Reagan was once under contract to Warner Brothers and was a minor movie star. Interestingly enough, Reagan; who has a reputation as a union buster, was the only union official to sit in the Oval Office. Reagan served as President of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) in the 1950s and 1960s.
However, one other President Donald J. Trump (R-Florida) had acting experience (a bit part in the immortal classic Home Alone IIand several TV commercials) and was a SAG member. Trump like Reagan was a TV star, Reagan hosted GE Theater and other TV shows in the 1950s. In the 21st Century, Trump starred in The Apprentice and The Celebrity Apprentice.
Interestingly, Trump shares his principal profession; real estate developer, with George Washington. Washington was heavily involved in many real estate schemes including plans to conquer and develop Ohio, and build a new city and canal in Virginia.
Some rare professions in the White House include engineer (Herbert Hoover (R-California), Naval Officer (Jimmy Carter, he is an Annapolis graduate), journalist John F. Kennedy (D-Massachusetts), and newspaper publisher Warren G. Harding (R-Ohio).
Strangely, only five men we could regard as businessmen in the modern sense, reached the White House, The businessmen presidents were Harding, Hoover, George H.W. Bush (R-Texas), George W. Bush (R-Texas), and Trump. Oddly, only two presidents Lincoln and Truman seem have had small business experience. Lincoln worked as a small town storekeeper and Truman and an Army buddy ran a men’s clothing store.
Plus, only president could be considered a successful entrepreneur and self-made millionaire Herbert Hoover. Hoover made a fortune in the mining business with his engineering skills. Other wealthy businessmen presidents such as Trump, and the Bushes inherited their money.
Many presidents have written books and articles, but only president Theodore Roosevelt (R-New York) made a living as professional writer. Roosevelt augmented his inheritance and government salaries by writing nonfiction books and magazine articles. Kennedy, a wealthy playboy, dabbled in journalism before drifting into politics.
Jobs Presidents Never Had
Finally there are all the professions curiously absent from presidential resumes.
For instance, we have never had banker president, which is weird given the power of bankers in America. Moreover, we’ve never had a president from Wall Street, even though Wall Street is one of our most powerful institutions. Similarly, no executive from a major corporation has ever served in the White House.
All the businessmen presidents, including Trump were independent entrepreneurs. Nobody has ever gone from the corner office at a Fortune 500 company to the White House.
Working-class professions are also missing from the presidential resumes. As far as I know no president has ever worked as a factory worker, miner, construction worker, truck driver, or common laborer. Note: Hoover did work in mining as an engineer and entrepreneur not a miner. Truman was a failed mining entrepreneur Lincoln engaged in hard labor for his father on the family farm, but left as soon as he legally could.
There was however, one tailor in the White House, Andrew Johnson (D-Tennessee). Johnson worked as a tailor before drifting into politics. Hence, Andrew Johnson was the only skilled professional in the White House.
Another profession missing from presidential resumes is law enforcement, which is odd considering the high regard that some Americans have for police. The president is the nation’s top law enforcement officer, yet no president has ever worked as a police officer or sheriff’s deputy.
Theodore Roosevelt did serve as New York City Police Commissioner in the 1890s. However, in those days the Police Commissioner was a member of a civilian board that oversaw the NYPD not a law enforcement executive.
Other classes of profession missing from presidential resumes include healthcare, food service, and hospitality. As far as I know no president has worked in the restaurant business, although Trump is a hotel owner whose properties feature restaurants. Similarly, no president has actually worked in a hotel, though Trump owns them.
Nor has any president worked as a medical doctor, nurse, or hospital administrator. Thus, presidents’ only experience of healthcare is as a patient.
Many modern professions are also absent from Presidential resumes. For example, computers and software, we’ve never had president from Silicon Valley, insurance, and modern working class jobs such as warehouse.
Thus, American presidents have had a very limited experience of the world. Cynics will say the sheer number of lawyers we had in the White House shows why the country is in such a mess.
The presidential resumes are strange indeed. However, one thing is certain the presidents’ work histories do not match those of ordinary Americans. Perhaps that is the real problem.