14 Presidents With Surprising Former Jobs, Because There's More Than One Way To Get To The Top

After months of assumption and days of Internet anticipation, Sunday's announcement made it official: Hillary Clinton is running for president in 2016. If she wins, she'd obviously be the first First Lady — an under-compensated, but arguably very important figurehead — and eighth Secretary of State, to become president. This got me thinking about the pre-presidential lives of all of our fearless leaders who went on to occupy the Oval Office... what occupations have prepared our commanders-in-chief? There are of course a long line of lawyers, soldiers, and congressmen — even several schoolteachers — but there have been some interesting outliers, as well. So I present to you the surprising former jobs of American presidents, because it turns out there are a lot of different ways to get to the top.

Abraham Lincoln, Postmaster

Future president Lincoln was appointed postmaster of New Salem, Illinois, in May of 1833, and held the position until the office was closed three years later. The job wasn’t especially well-paid, but he could send mail for free and receive a complementary daily newspaper, which aided in the self-education he is famous for.

Image: Wikipedia

Andrew Johnson, Tailor

Johnson, along with his older brother, first apprenticed for a nearby tailor at the age of 14. A few years later, he set up shop as a tailor in Greeneville, Tennessee, during which time he slowly began to immerse himself in local politics.

Image: National Archives

Chester Alan Arthur, Tax Collector

After working as a young lawyer in New York City and then serving in the Civil War, Arthur was appointed tariff collector for the Port of New York in 1871 — a position which he held until 1878, overseeing the collection of 75 percent of the country’s import duties during his time at the post.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Grover Cleveland, Sheriff

At age 33, Cleveland won the election for a two-year term as Sheriff of Erie County. During his stint in law enforcement, he even acted as executioner on at least one occasion.

Image: Wikipedia

Theodore Roosevelt, Rancher

Roosevelt had already begun dabbling in buffalo hunting and made his initial investment in cattle stock, but after both his first wife and his mother died within hours of each other at their family home, ranching became an almost obsessive diversion and source of reinvigoration for him after the tragedy.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Warren G. Harding, Newspaper Editor

There have been a number of writers in the presidential ranks, but Harding was the first newspaper editor. He had brief tenures as a teacher and an insurance salesmen before purchasing the failing Marion Daily Star and revamping it into a popular local paper. Unfortunately, the stress led to multiple nervous breakdowns at the age of 24, from which he had to spend several weeks at the Battle Creek Sanitarium to recover.

Image: Wikipedia

Herbert Hoover, Engineer

Hoover graduated from Stanford with a degree in geology, and then became a mining engineer, traveling worldwide for his work. But despite his great success as an engineer, it was ultimately his philanthropic work that led to his first appointment in the federal government.

Image: Library of Congress

Harry S. Truman, Haberdasher

Between his time in the army and his segue into elected office, Truman co-owned a men’s clothier in Kansas City. When the business went under in 1922 due to a recent economic downturn, he refused to file for bankruptcy and instead chose to pay off his portion of the store’s debts over the next 15 years.

Image: Harry S. Truman Library & Museum

Jimmy Carter, Peanut Farmer

The son of two peanut farmers, Carter was given his own acre to farm as a teenager before eventually taking over the family farm when his dad died. He maintained the farm throughout his time in the state Senate, as governor of Georgia, and in the White House, returning to it after his presidency.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

John F. Kennedy, Journalist

Let’s be honest, scion to one of the wealthiest men in America, handsome devil JFK never had to work a day in his life. However, after publishing his senior thesis from Harvard and a collection of essays in homage to his older brother’s recent death, Kennedy accepted a special correspondent position for the Chicago Herald-American, and wrote there for a couple months before he began the political ascent we remember him for today.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Ronald Reagan, Lifeguard and Movie Actor

Reagan’s first job was working as a lifeguard at Lowell Park in Dixon, Illinois. He spent seven summers supervising swimmers, and is credited with saving 77 lives over his tenure. After moving to Hollywood in his mid-20s, he became a movie actor and then served as the President of the Screen Actors Guild. Interestingly, it was during his gig as corporate spokesman for General Electric that he became interested in politics.

Image: National Archives

George H.W. Bush, Oil Executive

Bush Sr. ascended from lowly sales clerk at Dresser Industries (a job he procured thanks to his father’s business connections) to oil tycoon in his early days. He later held a number of notable political appointments, including almost a year as Director of the CIA, during which he is credited with restoring the agency’s morale after a series of scandals.

Image: Getty


George W. Bush, Sports Team Owner

Yes, Bush Jr. continued his father’s legacy as an oil exec and later President of the United States of America, but he also carved out his own niche as part owner of the Texas Rangers, only resigning as the Major League Baseball team’s Managing General Partner to become Governor of Texas.

Image: Getty

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Barack Obama, Baskin-Robbins Employee

Oft-touted for his time as a community organizer, Obama held an even more thankless position on his road to becoming the leader of the free world: shilling ice cream at a Honolulu Baskin-Robbins. I would have been 31 flavors of thrilled to have a teenage Obama scooping up my rocky road!

Image: Getty

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