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U.S. Presidents That Were Also Small Business Owners

This President’s Day, many small business owners won’t get a day off. They’re too busy keeping the books, filing their taxes, cleaning up the shop and doing all the hundreds of other tasks that need to be done to keep their businesses humming along. It takes a lot of work to be successful!

As others celebrate the long weekend with a trip to the mall or by sleeping in on Monday, small business owners and entrepreneurs might do well to remember the presidents that were one of them. At least seven former presidents also ran their own small businesses, and that experience surely influenced their time in the Oval Office.

Read on to learn about the shops and farms run by these U.S. presidents before they reached the highest office in the land:

Abraham Lincoln

Years before he became a politician, young Abe Lincoln pooled his money with a friend and bought into a general store in New Salem, Illinois. In 1832, Lincoln was back home from fighting in the Black Hawk War and wasn’t sure what to do. Blacksmith? Lawyer? He decided to try his hand at being a merchant since he loved talking to people and felt that it was a way to earn the respect of the community. Honest Abe was even known to warn people against buying inferior goods and track them down if he made an error counting change.

Andrew Johnson

Another president born in a log cabin, Andrew Johnson truly pulled himself up by his bootstraps. His family was desperately poor and sent young Andrew away to work as a tailor’s apprentice. Despite getting off to a rocky start – he ran away from his master – he eventually ran a very successful tailor shop in Greenville, Tennessee. While fitting local men for clothes, he talked politics, and he even hired readers to educate him while he sewed.

Theodore Roosevelt

Always up for an adventure, Teddy Roosevelt first went to the Dakotas in 1883 on a hunting trip. While there, he became so enamored of the cowboy’s life that he and his guide bought a cattle ranch. After his wife died at the age of just 23, T.R. bought a second ranch, which today is Elkhorn Ranch National Park in North Dakota. Ultimately, his businesses failed due to an extremely harsh winter and he sold off the ranches – but not before experiencing enough of the West to want to preserve it during his presidency.

Warren Harding

As early as his college days, Warren Harding showed a love of reporting, and he was editor of the campus newspaper. After graduating, he went back home to Marion, Ohio, and bought The Marion Star, a struggling local newspaper. With the help of his wife Florence, he turned the paper around and became a prominent member of the community. In fact, his interest in politics began in the newsroom and sparked his rise to the top of the Republican party on the road to the presidency.

Herbert Hoover

Unlike most presidents, Herbert Hoover didn’t go to college to study law; instead, he majored in geology. He also started a student laundry service there, showing the first glimmers of his entrepreneurial spirit. His degree led to work around the world in the mining industry, and eventually he founded the Zinc Corporation in Australia with a group of mining executives and investors. His deep knowledge of engineering and keen business acumen allowed him to become a very wealthy businessman before he became president.

Harry Truman

Harry "The Haberdasher" Truman is perhaps the most famous small businessman-turned-president of the bunch, but selling hats wasn’t his first operation. He got his start running his father’s farm and then ran the soldiers' canteen for his regiment during World War I. He and his partner, Eddie Jacobson, enjoyed working together so much that they went in on a menswear shop in Kansas City after the war. The Truman and Jacobson shop sold men’s ties, hats and other accessories – and the business left a permanent mark on the future president’s dapper style.

Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter grew up helping out on the family farm, and hard work was instilled in him at a young age. Always enterprising, he even bought five houses at a bargain during the Depression and rented them out, making him a landlord at the tender age of 13. After serving in the Navy in World War II, Jimmy came home to rebuild the family peanut farm, which had fallen on hard times as his father’s health declined. With hard work, he brought the farm back to prosperity before entering political life.
The hard-working attitude and can-do spirit that pushed these men to try their luck in the business world definitely helped them succeed in politics. The same skill set required to run a huge team steers the ship of state, as well. This President’s Day, think about the entrepreneurs who held the office, and say a quick thanks for their dedication. Who knows? The next president could come from the world of small business ownership, too.

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