This is part two of a five part series on the wealthiest presidents (See Part 1 Here). Somewhat unsurprisingly, this list includes what many scholars agree are the best presidents in United States history, with J.F.K. being regarded as the worst of the group. All of these men accumulated their wealth in different manners; while some amassed a good portion of their wealth through inheritance, others were self-made men. The important common theme between all of these great men, though, was their enterprising nature. This carried over into all aspects of their lives and is undoubtedly part of what made them all such great leaders of this country. For any finance readers, this is also a fairly impressive referendum on the power of the time-value of money.
Spoiler Alert – There was a lot of money in cash crops…
4. Theodore Roosevelt – $125 Million in 2010 USD
Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt might just be the coolest president in our nation’s history. He is the quintessential person who decides “You know what? I want to give that a try!” and then ends up being great at it. Not only would Teddy be great at whatever he did, but he had a magnetic nature – folklore followed him wherever he went. For example, when stories of T.R.’s refusal to shoot a captured bear on a hunting trip made its way across the nation, one cartoonist drew a picture of Teddy with the cuddly bear. This, in turn, inspired a toy maker to create a new toy – the Teddy Bear. He sent a letter asking permission from President Roosevelt to use his name in connection with the toy, and the President graciously granted him permission. The Teddy Bears blew up – women carried them around like women today carry tiny dogs in their purses. For something so trivial to spiral out of control into something as legendary as this was typical of Roosevelt’s life in the spotlight.
Roosevelt came from an extremely wealthy family, one of the few legitimate millionaires in that day and age. In today’s dollars, his inheritance and peak net worth is estimated to have been around $125 million. However, he squandered much of his inheritance in his early life, and caught a few fits of bad luck while living life as a Dakota Cowboy. He was a Harvard man who believed in public service, and became a prominent and respected politician at an early age. The man had one of the best collection of jobs I have ever heard of. His posts included – New York State Assemblyman, Rancher/Cowboy, Civil Service Commissioner, NYC Police Commissioner, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Governor of NY, Vice President, and President of the United States. He was also a prolific author, penning 18 books, including was was regarded as the pre-eminent account of the US Navy’s role in the War of 1812 for decades after its initial publication. Throughout all of this public service, he was able to amass enough wealth to purchase the 235-acre estate “Sagamore Hill,” which today sits on the most valuable real estate on Long Island.
Teddy’s life philosophy also begat a distaste for malefactors of great wealth – he was weary of wealthy businessmen who sat on their laurels and did nothing but watch their money grow. He was even more disdainful of those who lived off of great inheritances. This was all readily apparent in his famous 1910 speech in Osawatomie, KS: “No man should receive a dollar unless that dollar has been fairly earned. Every dollar received should represent a dollar’s worth of service rendered — not gambling in stocks, but service rendered.” Given this, it is not surprising that he did not sit on his wealth and was very pro-active with his inheritance.