Entrepreneurs That Became US Presidents: From Lincoln to Trump

February 15, 2018

Most of the United States of America’s 45 Presidents, are known for being lawyers, seasoned politicians, and military leaders. To help celebrate this Presidents’ Day let's take a look at 8 of the United States Presidents who were entrepreneurs before entering the Oval Office.

“Entrepreneurs and their small enterprises are responsible for almost all the economic growth in the United States.”
– Ronald Reagan

Abraham Lincoln

Not all entrepreneurs are successful. Lincoln owned a general store in Illinois, however he got out quickly after realizing that the business was struggling. Afterwards, he got stuck with his partner’s debt of $1000. Lincoln also split rails for fences and ran a law business before running against Stephen A. Douglas for Senate. He lost the election, but in debating with Douglas he gained a national reputation that won him the Republican nomination for President in 1860. He won the election of 1860 and won reelection in 1864. Lincoln was assassinated on April 15, 1865 at Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. by John Wilkes Booth.

Warren Harding

entrepreneurs-warren-harding-marion-star.jpgHarding came from a family of hard workers and he followed in their footsteps. After attending Ohio Central College, he tried his hand at teaching, law, insurance sales, and journalism for the local newspaper. In 1884, he raised $300 to purchase the Marion Star newspaper with two friends. Over the next ten years, Harding’s business prospered. In 1899, Harding won the first of two terms to the Ohio State Senate, serving as majority leader before his bid for Lieutenant Governor in 1903. After leaving office in 1905, he returned to his newspaper for five years, venturing again into state politics in a losing bid for Ohio State Governor in 1910. Harding served as a U.S. Senator from 1915 until he won the election of 1920 for U.S. President. He served as President of the United States for only two years from 1921-1923 before dying of a heart attack while in office.

Herbert Hoover

Soon after graduating college at Stanford University, Herbert Hoover worked seventy hours a week at the gold mine pushing ore carts. He was later put in touch with a firm in need of an engineer to inspect and evaluate mines for potential purchase. Hoover moved to Australia and China where he worked as a mining engineer. He started his own mining consulting business in 1904. Hoover served as Director of the U.S. Food Administration from 1917-1918 and was later appointed as the U.S. Secretary of Commerce. He served as President of the United States from 1929 until 1933.

Harry Truman

entrepreneurs-harry-truman-world-war-1.jpgAfter Harry Truman graduated high school, he worked a variety of jobs including timekeeper for a railroad construction company, and clerk and bookkeeper at two separate banks in Kansas, before returning to farming. During World War I, Truman volunteered for duty. When he returned home, he set up a hat shop in Kansas City, which failed just three years later. He was soon approached to begin a career in politics where he served as an overseer of highways, judge, and United States Senator before running for Vice President with Franklin D. Roosevelt for his fourth term in 1944. Truman became President when Roosevelt died in 1945 and served until 1953. 

Jimmy Carter

Yes, Carter was a Nobel Peace Prize winner and he founded the Department of Education, but did you know that he was also a peanut farmer? By the time Carter turned 10, he stocked produce from his family’s farm, brought it into town, and sold it. He saved his money and by the age of 13 he bought five houses around the plains which the Great Depression has put on the market at rock-bottom prices. He rented the homes to families in the area. Years later, when his father died of cancer, Carter returned home to upkeep the family farm. He soon won seats in the Sumter County Board of Education and Georgia State Senate, before serving as Governor of Georgia, then President of the United States from 1977-1981.

George H. W. Bush

George H.W. Bush served in the Navy during World War II and graduated from Yale University with a bachelor’s degree in economics before moving to Texas with his wife and first born child (who would later become the 43rd President of the United States). He began to work in the oil industry as a salesperson for Dresser Industries. A few years later, Bush and a friend formed an oil development company in Midland. Three years later, they merged with another company to create Zapata Petroleum. In 1954, Bush became president of a subsidiary, Zapata Off-Shore Company, which developed offshore drilling equipment. Bush went on to pursue a political career, by serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Republican National Committee Chairman, U.S. Liaison to the People’s Republic of China, Director of Central Intelligence, and Vice President of the United States in the Reagan administration. He served as President of the United States from 1989 through 1993.

George W. Bush

entrepreneurs-george-w-bush-texas-rangers.pngDid you know George W. Bush is the only U.S. President to receive a MBA (Master of Business Administration degree? Bush received his bachelor’s degree from Yale University and his MBA from Harvard Business School. He returned to Midland, Texas where he received a job as a landman for an oil company, researching potential drilling sites and negotiating leases with the owners. After several years, Bush struck out on his own and founded Arbusto Energy in 1977. The company focused on low-risk but low-return wells, and it discovered a relatively profitable gas field that kept it afloat. The company was succeeded by Bush Exploration, which later merged with Spectrum 7 in 1984. In 1989, Bush organized a group of investors and purchased the Texas Rangers baseball team. He sold the team in 1995 for a $15 million profit. He served as Governor of Texas from 1995 to 2000 before serving as President of the United States from 2001 to 2009. 

Donald Trump

Before he was commander in chief, Donald Trump was a real estate tycoon. He studied at University of Pennsylvania Wharton School for its real estate studies program and even invested in Philadelphia real estate while he was a student there. By the mid-1970s, he was branching into Manhattan skyscrapers and had renamed the company the Trump Organization. Trump’s first big move into Manhattan, at age 30, was to develop the Grand Hyatt Hotel from the carcass of a bankrupt Penn Central Railroad’s Commodore Hotel, near Grand Central Terminal. Trump followed by building Trump Plaza, an apartment development, and the Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, which became home to luxury stores as well as to Trump’s multi-floor, gold-gilt residence and company headquarters. In the 1980s, he got involved in casinos in Atlantic City, including Trump Plaza (originally known as Harrah’s at Trump Plaza) and Trump Castle. In 1990, he opened his so-called “eighth wonder of the world”—the Trump Taj Mahal. After several bankruptcies, he shifted into new businesses such as licensing deals in the United States and abroad, how-to books like The Art of the Deal, golf and hotel resorts, beauty pageants, and branded products from suits to bottled water. He also expanded into entertainment ventures, including what would become the hit television franchise The Apprentice. From 1996 to 2015, he was an owner of the Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, and Miss Universe pageants. By the time Trump was elected to the Presidency in 2016, he owned a dozen golf resorts in the United States and five internationally, eight hotel properties in the United States and six in foreign countries, and dozens of real estate holdings in the United States and abroad.

Despite not all of the former Presidents being successful businessmen, they all never stopped pushing forward and reaching for their goals. If you have a goal whether in the political or entrepreneurial world, remember to not let anything stop you from achieving your goal. As former U.S. President Barack Obama once said,

“The future rewards for those who press on. I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself. I don’t have time to complain. I’m going to press on.”

Happy President’s Day everyone!

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