Running the United States from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue requires many of the skills of a corporate chief executive. But few Presidents arrived at the White House with any experience in running a business.
Of the 39 men who have held the Presidency, only 10 had business experience, and for most, it was meager experience at that. A few hardly qualify, because they were gentlemen farmers. And several of the others failed miserably.
Why haven't more businessmen become President? "Businessmen are not generally American heroes," says Marvin W. Kranz, a historian at the Library of Congress. "Many businessmen don't feel comfortable in public life.For their part, many Americans still feel a certain distrust for businessmen -- that they didn't make their money with full honesty." James MacGregor Burns, the Presidential historian at Williams College, adds, "There's nothing as frustrating as the American political system. [Businessmen] suddenly find themselves without much executive power." Herewith, some Presidents who owned businesses:
Abraham Lincoln and a partner bought a small country store in New Salem, Ill., in 1832. Lincoln wasn't very good at business, or his partner at staying away from whiskey. Within a year, his partner died, and Lincoln was left owing $1,100 to his creditors, a huge sum he referred to as "the National Debt."
Andrew Johnson opened a tailor shop in Greeneville, Tenn., at the age of 17. Within 11 years, he had a staff of half a dozen journeymen tailors working for him. As he became more deeply involved in politics, Johnson employed a person for 50? a day to read to him as he worked.
Theodore Roosevelt, stunned by the death of his wife and his mother on the same day, left the New York State Assembly in 1884 to pursue his ranching interests in the Dakota Territory. Roosevelt became widely known for ordering a rough-hewn cowboy to "hasten forward quickly there" when a few head of cattle broke loose one day. He lost nearly all of his investment in the venture, and returned East two years later.
Warren G. Harding and two friends bought the Marion [Ohio] Star newspaper (then known as The Pebble) in 1884 for $300 at a sheriff's sale, and resuscitated it while doing everything from keeping the books to setting type. Harding sold it in 1923 for $550,000.
Herbert C. Hoover, working as China's chief mining engineer, organized his first food-relief program during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. Several years later, Hoover bought an 18% interest in a Burmese silver mining operation that later struck its mother lode. He opened an engineering firm in 1908 that helped finance and operate some exotic mining operations, including Nigerian tin, Transvaal coal, and Egyptian turquoise. By 1918, his net worth was about $4 million.
Harry S. Truman, of course, was a haberdasher in downtown Kansas City, Mo. He opened the store in 1919 with an old Army buddy, and it prospered at first. But a recession brought heavy losses, and the business failed in 1922. Truman lost about $28,000 on the venture.
Jimmy Carter started a family peanut business in 1954.