The surprising jobs that launched 15 US presidents on a path to the White House
The road to professional success looks different for everyone. Some people are born into wealth and power -- others start from the bottom and work their way up.
In honor of Presidents Day, we took a look at the career paths of 15 US presidents to learn where they started.
Here are the surprising first jobs held by Nixon, Clinton, Obama, and 12 other US presidents:
George Washington started working as a surveyor in Shenandoah Valley at age 16.
When Washington, the first US president, was 16, Lord Thomas Fairfax gave him his first job surveying Shenandoah Valley in Virginia and West Virginia, according to kenmore.org.
Surveyors measure land, airspace, and water, and explain what it looks like and how much there is for legal records.
The next year, at age 17, Washington was appointed the official surveyor of Culpeper County. By the time he was 21, he owned more than 1,500 acres of land, according to virginia.edu.
John Adams was a schoolmaster.
After graduating from a class of 24 students, Adams took his first job as as a schoolmaster in Worcester, Massachusetts, according to a biography of the second US president on the University of Groningen website.
However, the career was not fulfilling for Adams and he was often filled with self doubt, as evidenced by the personal entries in his famous journal. To keep up with his own reading and writing, Adams would sometimes ask the smartest student to lead class.
Thomas Jefferson was a lawyer.
Before he became the third president of the US, Jefferson handled 900 matters while specializing in land cases as a lawyer in the General Court in Williamsburg, Virginia, according to encyclopediavirginia.org.
His time spent serving his clients, ranging from lower to upper class, greatly influenced his political ideology. As he wrote in his "Autobiography" in 1821, he wanted to create a "system by which every fibre would be eradicated of antient or future aristocracy; and a foundation laid for a government truly republican."
Abraham Lincoln worked as a clerk in a general store.
Lincoln's first job was as a clerk in a general store in New SalemIllinois, according to millercenter.org.
This may seem like a menial job, but it actually worked to Lincoln's advantage because the store acted as the unofficial town meeting spot. Lincoln, who would later become the 16th president of the US, got to meet and build relationships with nearly everyone in town. "He delighted people with his wit, intelligence, and integrity," millercenter.org reports.
He quickly became known as a friendly and intelligent man around town and six months later he launched his first political campaign for a seat in the Illinois state legislature.
Andrew Johnson was an apprentice tailor for his mom.
Johnson -- who was vice president at the time of Abraham Lincoln's assassination, and became the country's 17th president as a result -- started off as an apprentice tailor for his mother while he was still a teen, according to CNN.com. Later, he moved up to a tailoring position in South Carolina and Tennessee.
James Garfield was a boat driver and Christian preacher.
Garfield, who was assassinated 120 days into his term as the 20th US president, started his professional journey at age 15 when he dreamed of becoming a sailor in Cleveland, according to theweek.com -- but had to settle for a gig as a canal boat driver.
In his sixteen weeks working as a driver picking up and delivering copper from Cleveland to Pittsburgh, he fell overboard 14 times. So he quit.
Later, Garfield worked as a preacher at a Christian church while studying at the Eclectic Institute at Hiram and continued to preach until he entered congress, according to therestorationmovement.com.
Herbert Hoover worked in the geology and mining field.
Hoover -- the 31st president of the US -- worked as a geologist and mining engineer to pay for his living while he explored the Western Australian gold fields in the late 1890s, according to CNN.com.
At the tender age of 23, he was promoted to mine manager and worked in various gold fields until taking a well-earned less physical job as an independent mining consultant.
Franklin D. Roosevelt was an apprentice lawyer at a respected firm.
At the age of 25, Roosevelt became an apprentice lawyer with Wall Street firm Carter, Ledyard and Milburn, according to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum website.
Although it was a prestigious firm, it was the custom to not receive a salary for the first year, and then to slowly build your salary over the following years.
Roosevelt would later become the 32nd president of the US.
Lyndon B. Johnson worked as a shoe shiner, goat herder, and later, as a teacher for just $1,530.
When Johnson was just 9, he shined shoes during summer vacation for extra pocket change and later used these skills to buff shoes in high school, as well, theweek.com reports. Later, Johnson worked as a goat herder and in a cotton field of his uncle's farm.
While he was in college, the 36th president excelled at student teaching, which he did at a small school in an underprivileged area in Cotulla, Texas, according to millercenter.org. He pushed the students to realize their full potential and received high praise for his dedication to their education.
However, his job search after graduating in 1930 coincided with the Great Depression and he could only manage to land a salary of $1,530 for his first real job as a teacher.
Richard Nixon worked as a chicken plucker and ran a game booth.
While visiting family in Prescott, Arizona, in 1928 and 1929, Nixon — the 37th president of the US — plucked and dressed chickens for a local butcher, according to theweek.com. Later, he worked a "Wheel of Fortune" gaming booth at the Slippery Gulch carnival and said it was his favorite job.
Gerald Ford was a park ranger.
The 38th president of the US said working as a park ranger at Yellowstone National Park was "one of the greatest summer of my life," according to ypf.org.
The feeling is mutual: his supervisor at the park, Canyon District Ranger Frank Anderson, said Ford was "a darned good ranger."
His most dangerous duty was working as an armed guard on the truck that fed the bears in the park. This high-risk job later became fodder for impressive stories to share with his kids.
Ronald Reagan was a circus worker and a superstar lifeguard.
At age 14, Reagan briefly worked for the Ringling Brothers circus as an unskilled laborer for $0.25 an hour, according to theweek.com.
A year later, he took a summer job as a lifeguard at Rock River outside of Dixon, Illinois, according to pbs.org. There he worked 12 hour-days, seven days a week, for seven summers.
The "lean, tall, and tan" teenager became somewhat of a hero here after pulling 77 people from the danger of the swift river over the course of those seven summers, according to heritage.org.
In 1981, he became the 40th president of the US at age 69.
Bill Clinton was a grocer and a comic book salesman.
At age 13, Clinton started working as a grocer in Arkansas. Ever the businessman, he persuaded his boss to let him sell comic books at the store, too, and was able to rake in an extra $100 for his tenacity.
In 1993, Clinton became the 42nd US president.
George W. Bush was a landman in the oil industry.
After graduating with his MBA from Harvard, George W. Bush, the 43rd president of the US, took a job as a landman for an oil company, in which he scouted potential sites to drill for oil, according to millercenter.org.
It wasn't glamourous, according to theweek.com: "It was hard, hot work," he said. "I unloaded enough of those heavy mud sacks to know that was not what I wanted to do with my life."
Barack Obama was an ice cream scooper.
Life used to be a lot simpler for the 44th president of the US.
President Obama told New York Magazine that he used to be an ice cream scooper for a Honolulu Baskin-Robbins. But not every job is as easy as it seems. "Chocolate ice cream gets real hard," he told the magazine. "Your wrists hurt." Although the current president has been photographed eating ice cream many times over his two terms, he insists that he ate too much of it during this first summer job to really like it anymore.
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