The Quick 10: Pre-Presidential Professions

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You already know that Ronald Reagan was president of the Screen Actors Guild before he was President of the United States, and I bet you recall a joke or two about Jimmy Carter being a peanut farmer. Here are a few ways other future presidents paid the bills before they started signing bills.

1. Harry Truman, haberdasher. But not a good one. Truman opened a haberdashery (Truman & Jacobson) with his friend Edward Jacobson in 1919, but after three pretty dismal years, they declared bankruptcy. Truman worked to pay off debts incurred from the store for more than 10 years.

2. Andrew Johnson, tailor. And he loved being a tailor. Even when he started to rise in the world of politics, Johnson still had a soft spot for a spool of thread. When he was governor of Tennessee, he made a suit for the governor of Kentucky, just for fun.

3. Ulysses S. Grant, bill collector. You probably remember him for his military career, but between the Mexican-American War and the Civil War, Ulysses struggled to support his growing family. Among other things, he tried bill collecting, farming and selling leather goods and saddles.

4. Woodrow Wilson, football coach. Before he was the President of Princeton, Wilson had an academic appointment at Wesleyan University, where he also coached the football team for two years and founded the debate team.

5. Grover Cleveland, sheriff. As the sheriff of Erie County, New York, Cleveland personally hanged two convicted murderers. He had the option to hire someone else to do the physical work, but both times chose to do the deed himself.

6. Teddy Roosevelt, deputy sheriff. While TR was ranching in North Dakota, he took his appointment as Billings County Deputy Sheriff very seriously. In fact, when some thieves stole his boat right out from under his nose at the ranch, he and two cohorts spent days tracking them down and capturing them. He detailed the account in his 1888 book Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail.

7. Millard Fillmore, clothmaker. At the tender age of 14, Fillmore’s dad “apprenticed” him (it was indentured servitude) to a cloth maker more than 100 miles away from his hometown and his eight siblings. Fillmore hated it so much it’s said that he walked the entire way home after four months. He found a similar position much closer and worked there for a few years until deciding to pursue a career in law.

8. James Garfield, preacher. “Preacher President” isn’t just a clever nickname – he really was a preacher, the only POTUS to count that among his former professions.

9. Warren G. Harding, journalist. He tried selling insurance for a while, but when one of the three newspapers in Marion, Ohio, was threatening to fold, Harding raised $300 and purchased it. The burden took its toll, though, and he nearly suffered a nervous breakdown at the ripe old age of 24. The effort paid off though – later in life he sold it for a profit of what would be millions of dollars in today’s money.