Before landing our nation's top job, some presidents held less-than-glamorous gigs.
1. Barack Obama: Ice Cream Scooper and Sandwich Maker
In the mid 1970s, a teenage Obama served ice cream at a Honolulu Baskin-Robbins. It was his first job, and it made him lose his taste for the summer treat. Other years, Obama sold souvenirs in a gift shop and prepared sandwiches at a deli. Now that’s service we can believe in.
2. George W. Bush: Oilrig Roughneck and Ping Pong Peddler Extraordinaire
George Bush Presidential Library
The summer of 1965, Bush labored as a roughneck on an offshore oilrig near Louisiana. He said, “It was hard, hot work. I unloaded enough of those heavy mud sacks to know that was not what I wanted to do with my life.” His favorite summer job, though, was working as a sporting goods salesman at Sears. He was the leading salesman of ping-pong balls.
3. Bill Clinton: Grocery Worker and Comic Book Salesman
Clinton landed his first job when he was 13, working in an Arkansas grocery store. There, he convinced the owner to let him sell comic books, and he happily grossed about $100. Another summer, Clinton worked as a camp counselor. He also spent a handful of sunny days attending band camp in the Ozark Mountains, honing his saxophone chops.
4. Ronald Reagan: Circus Roustabout and Lifeguard
In 1925, Reagan held a brief stint as a circus roustabout with the Ringling Brothers, earning $0.25 an hour. The next year, the high school sophomore started working as a lifeguard at Lowell Park in Dixon, IL. He worked 12-hour days all week. By the time his lifeguarding career ended, he had saved 77 lives. While attending Eureka College, Reagan cooked hamburgers in the cafeteria and washed tables in the women’s dorm. (He liked the second job better.)
5. Gerald Ford: Park Ranger
During summer 1936, Ford was waiting to be admitted to Yale law school. To fill the time, he worked as a seasonal park ranger at Yellowstone National Park. One of his assignments was to work as an armed guard on a bear-feeding truck. He later called it “One of the greatest summers of my life.”
6. Richard Nixon: Chicken Plucker and Barker
The summers of 1928 and 1929, little Richard visited his mother and older brother in Prescott, AZ. There, Nixon briefly worked for a local butcher, plucking and dressing chickens. Nixon’s favorite job, though, was working as a barker for a “Wheel of Fortune” gaming booth at the Slippery Gulch carnival. (He also worked as a pool boy at a country club and helped out at his father’s grocery store.)
7. Lyndon B. Johnson: Shoe Shiner and Goat Herder
To make extra dough during summer vacation, a 9-year-old LBJ shined shoes. (He buffed footwear during high school, too.) One summer, Johnson landed a gig as a goat herder and even worked in his uncle’s cotton fields. After graduating high school, he hitchhiked the Californian coast, making money as a busboy and waiter.
8. Herbert Hoover: Laundry Entrepreneur and Miner
While studying at Stanford, Hoover started his own laundry service for students and worked as a clerk in the registration office. When he graduated, the geology major worked ten-hour shifts in a gold mine near Nevada City, California.
9. James Garfield: Canal Boat Driver and Janitor
When he was 15, Garfield ventured to Cleveland, hoping to land a job as a sailor. It didn’t pan out. So he settled for a job as a canal boat driver, transporting copper ore between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. He never quite got his sea legs—he fell overboard 14 times and quit after 16 weeks. Later, while attending school in Ohio, he supported himself by working as a carpenter and janitor.
10. Ulysses S. Grant: Horse Trainer
When Grant wasn’t laboring around his father’s farm, he was riding and training horses. He was so good at taming the animals that farmers from afar would bring him their most unruly horses. By age 10, he was driving passenger carriages between Georgetown, OH and Cincinnati—a long 45-mile trek.
11. Andrew Johnson: Tailor’s Apprentice
Starting around age 14, Johnson and his brother worked as tailor’s apprentices. But within three years, they had had enough. The duo ran away to the mother, and Johnson started his own tailoring business in Greeneville, TN. It was a good decision. He met his future wife there, and she eventually educated him.
12. Abraham Lincoln: Rail Splitter and Flatboat Pilot
Lincoln split logs and built fences, earning him the nickname “Rail Splitter.” His father rented little Lincoln’s services to neighboring fathers, and Abe’s income helped keep the family going. Later, at 19, Lincoln became a flatboat pilot and steered it down the Mississippi to New Orleans. Boating was in his blood—he also worked as a ferry operator and even patented a device that helped boats float over shoals. He is the only president to hold a patent.
13. Millard Fillmore: Cloth Maker’s Apprentice
Born to a poor family, Fillmore had little schooling. So at 14, his father arranged an apprenticeship with a cloth maker. Rather than spending his income on candy, the uneducated Fillmore bought a dictionary. He’d bring it to the shop, and when his boss wasn’t looking, he’d flip it open and read.
14. Andrew Jackson: Saddler’s Apprentice and Schoolteacher
Wanting to fight in the Revolutionary War, Jackson joined the militia at 13. The war, however, eventually orphaned him. So, a veteran by 14, Jackson moved to a relative’s house and worked as a saddler’s apprentice. He only kept the job for six months, and at age 16 became a schoolteacher in his Carolina home of Waxhaws.