8 U.S. Presidents Who Were Also Entrepreneurs

America’s leaders have a long tradition of pursuing success in the world of business.
African-American Mother Daughter July 4th Independence Day
America’s leaders have a long tradition of pursuing success in the world of business. (Photo: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock)

The “American Dream” has stirred in the hearts of hundreds of thousands who chose to make the U.S. their home and who have helped build this country to what it is today. In fact, independently owning and running a business is an American tradition.

Over the years, a number of U.S. presidents have started their own companies — from small, mom-and-pop shops to large, successful enterprises. To celebrate the Fourth of July this year, NCR Silver compiled this list of some of the most entrepreneurial presidents our country has had in our history as a nation.

George Washington

George Washington Family

In addition to a successful military career and presidency, George Washington pursued a wide variety of business ventures. (Photo: Everett Historical/Shutterstock)

You may know that George Washington was a successful landowner and farmer, but the first U.S. president was also a serial entrepreneur and experimented with a wide variety of business opportunities. From growing tobacco and wheat to milling flour, breeding horses, surveying land and more, Washington had quite a diverse entrepreneurial portfolio.

As his second presidential term came to a close, the 65-year-old founding father opened a whiskey distillery next to his flour mill — even though he had no personal experience in distilling. Within its first two years, Washington’s startup venture became one of the largest distilleries in the country. Unfortunately, there was no clear succession strategy for the business, and after his death in 1799, the enterprise was shut down.

Related: How to Find a Successor for Your Small Business

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln Gettysburg Address

Abraham Lincoln earned his nickname “Honest Abe” while working at a general store in New Salem, Illinois. (Photo: Everett Historical/Shutterstock)

As a young man, Abraham Lincoln’s first job as an adult was working as a clerk for a general store in New Salem, Illinois. It’s believed that here is where he earned the nickname “Honest Abe,” for travelling long distances to return pennies to accidentally shortchanged customers.

When the store closed in 1832, Lincoln was without a job, so he and a friend, William F. Berry, became business partners and took out personal loans to buy their own general store. Unfortunately for the Berry-Lincoln General Store, New Salem saw a decline in growth, and the store failed, pushing him to more aggressively pursue an existing interest in politics in order to secure a more consistent source of income.

Related: The Benefits of Failure and How to Learn From It

Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson

17th president of the United States Andrew Johnson was well known for his skill as a tailor. (Photo: Zack Frank/Shutterstock)

Growing up in an impoverished home, Andrew Johnson and his brother, William, became tailor apprentices at an early age. As a teenager and young adult, Johnson moved around a lot, working for local tailors wherever he went. Eventually he established his own tailoring business out of his home in Greeneville, Tennessee, which was prosperous enough for him to hire staff and invest in real estate.

Related: Solo No More: When it’s Time to Bring on Your First Employee

Warren G. Harding

Warren G. Harding

Warren G. Harding purchased a struggling newspaper and built it to become a successful regional publication in Ohio.(Photo: Everett Historical/Shutterstock)

Before becoming the 29th president of the United States, Warren G. Harding spent most of his career as a newspaper owner and editor. At 18, Harding raised $300 to purchase the failing publication “The Marion Star,” which he was able to revive as the rural Ohio town’s population grew and eventually launch a political career.

Related: Press Pass: 5 Tips for Talking to Reporters

Herbert Hoover

Herbert Hoover

Herbert Hoover spent much of his professional life as a mining engineer and consultant living abroad. (Photo: Harris & Ewing/Library of Congress)

As a mining engineer, Herbert Hoover lived and traveled all over the world, directing mining operations in Australia, China, South Africa and Wales. In 1908, he struck out on his own as an independent mining consultant, and was so successful he had offices in San Francisco, New York, London, Paris, St. Petersburg, Mandalay and Burma.

Harry S. Truman

Harry S Truman's Men's Clothing Store

Harry S. Truman as a young man in the clothing store he and Eddie Jacobson owned.(Photo: Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum)

In 1919, Harry S. Truman opened the Truman and Jacobson Haberdashery, a men’s clothing store, with wartime buddy Eddie Jacobson in Kansas City, Missouri. The two had operated their regiment’s canteen during World War I, and it was so successful they decided to go into business together.

Due to financial difficulties, the store closed in 1922, but Truman was not deterred. For the next 20 years he was a travelling salesman for men’s clothing and eventually opened up his own store in 1945, Westport Menswear.

Related: Microbusiness vs. Small Business: What’s the Difference?

George H.W. Bush

George H.W. Bush

President George H.W. Bush made his mark on the business world by starting several oil development companies. (Photo: Mark Reinstein/Shutterstock)

George H.W. Bush came from a long line of politicians, but after graduating from Yale in 1948, he got into the oil business. In 1951 he and John Overbey founded the Bush-Overbey Oil Development Company in Midland, Texas, quickly followed by a number of other oil enterprises, such as the Zapata Petroleum Corporation and several subsidiaries.

By the age of 40, the oil tycoon had become a millionaire and began his political career. His entrepreneurial spirit was also passed down to his son, George W. Bush, who became the 43rd president of the United States.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump

Before his presidency, Donald Trump was a successful real estate mogul with numerous side ventures. (Photo: Michael Candelori/Shutterstock)

The 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump, had high visibility in the public eye long before his political career as a successful real-estate mogul and television personality. He got his start working for his father’s company, Elizabeth Trump and Son, which he renamed The Trump Organization in the 1970s.

In addition to his real estate success, Trump has also started numerous side ventures, including licensing the Trump name for branding consumer products, founding the for-profit education company Trump University and owning the Miss Universe pageants.

Related: Spinning Plates: How to Structure Multiple Business Ventures

America has a long history of entrepreneurship, so this list is by no means exclusive. But as you celebrate Independence Day this year, we hope these stories will bring you inspiration and help you continue to dream about building your own successful small business.

Want A Demo?

Sign up for a POS demo from NCR Silver today.

Let’s Connect

Have a direct line of communication with NCR Silver and get the latest news on the social media site of your choice.