All about the highest and lowest presidential salaries and more.
I read yesterday that this year’s U.S. presidential campaign is going to cost an estimated $1.2 billion, which is an all-time record.
President is not a particularly well-paid job. Whomever wins this $1.2 billion campaign will have won himself a $400,000-a-year job.
(Yes, I know the perks that come with being president are worth immeasurably more than that. But we’re talking straight salary here. Just because you swipe 15 boxes of paper clips from your office’s supply closet this year doesn’t mean suddenly your salary is $42,007.50. It’s still $42,000, with perks. Those boxes of paper clips are your equivalent of Camp David, Air Force One and presidents of former Soviet republics sending caviar every Christmas.)
I thought it’d be a good time to look at some presidents and their money before, during, and after their presidencies.
1 | Highest paid president
This one’s easy: It’s your current president, fiddling Nero himself, George W. Bush. As of 2001, the annual salary of the president jumped from $200,000-a-year to $400,000-a-year.
Bush also gets a $50,000 expense account, a $100,000 travel account and $19,000 for entertainment.
2 | Highest paid president (inflation adjusted)
You’d never guess this one: It’s William Howard Taft. When he was inaugurated in 1909, the presidential salary jumped from $50,000 to $75,000. In today’s dollars, that’s a salary equivalent to $1.7 million a year, making him easily the highest-paid president in U.S. history.
Which is good, because his personal gravy budget had to be in the five-figure range.
3 | Lowest paid president
The first U.S. Congress voted to give George Washington a salary of $25,000 per year. He turned it down, because he was already rolling in cash, and asked for a salary of zero dollars.
Which easily makes him the lowest-paid president in U.S. history. (And we can call this yet another story where George Washington comes off as a better human being than anyone could ever really be. Seriously. If Jesus met Washington, he’d tells him to tone down the selflessness.)
4 | Lowest paid president (inflation adjusted)
This one goes to Bill Clinton, the final president to make $200,000-a-year. The presidential salary was $200k from 1969 until 2001. Inflation adjusted, that means, in his final year, Clinton made about $230,000 in today’s dollars. That’s easily the least of any president.
5 | Highest paid vice president
He really doesn’t need it, since his time as vice president has allowed him to use his power to become disgustingly richer… but, yeah, it’s Dick Cheney. In 2003, the vice presidential salary jumped to $198,600, its highest level to date.
The VP salary has always floated somewhere below the presidential salary… the closest it ever came was in 1994, when Clinton got $200,000 and Gore got $171,000… the furthest was in 1909, when Taft made $75,000 and his VP, James Sherman, made $12,000, or 84 percent less.
6 | Highest paid vice president (inflation adjusted)
Surprise. It’s also James Sherman here.
Even though he was making so, so much less than Taft, the $12,000 he made in 1909 adjusts to about $275,000 in today’s dollars, which is a vice presidential record.
7 | Richest president, entering office
There’s a long debate about this on Forbes, since the data isn’t all out there. They believe it’s George Washington (who came from a super-wealthy plantation-owning family… and yes, they owned slaves… I KNEW Washington would screw up eventually).
It could also be John F. Kennedy, Andrew Jackson or Lyndon Johnson. All of them came from a ton of money when they took the job.
8 | Poorest president, leaving office
When Harry Truman left office, he was completely broke. In fact, Congress was so worried that they started the presidential pension system just so he could have some money.
The pension system is now worth a ton… Bush will get almost $200,000 a year for the rest of his life, not even counting the cost of Secret Service or anything else government-funded.
9 | Most independently wealthy first lady
It would’ve been Teresa Heinz Kerry, who’s worth $750 million. (From Heinz. The ketchup people. And, in my opinion, that’s totally cool. If anyone deserves to have a fortune, it’s the person behind the greatest condiment in the history of mankind. I’ve probably contributed close to 1/750th of that to her in all the ketchup I’ve plowed through in the past 29 years.)
And it could be Cindy McCain, whose net worth from her family business is reported somewhere around $100 million.
As for who it was before, it’s believed it was Martha Washington, who came from an extremely wealthy plantation family.
(Side fact I found while researching this: Before she married George, she married another dude, Daniel Parke Curtis. She was 18, he was 38. They had four kids. He died less than 10 years later… everyone died real young back then… and she married George the next year. They had no kids together.)
10 | Highest paid confederate president
Well, since there was only one, it’s Jefferson Davis, by default. It took me forever to find out how much he was paid, but I tracked it down in the book “Jefferson Davis”, which is a collection of his letters. On page 171 he says half a year’s salary is $12,500, so I’m assuming he made $25,000, the same as Lincoln was making up north.
Of course, Jefferson Davis was paid in confederate money, so, in reality, he made zero dollars.
It’s like in “Street Fighter”, how all of M. Bison’s guys get pissed when they realize he didn’t pay them in actual money, but in the currency he created in anticipation of ruling the world. Zangief is particularly upset by this turn of events… not because of M. Bison’s confederate money, but because he wasn’t even getting paid.
11 | President I believe was the cheapest
After much deliberation, I am going to say that Dwight Eisenhower was the cheapest president. Here are my reasons.
(1) His formative years were during the Great Depression. (2) According to his bio, his military work was all low paid compared to his friends who took business jobs, so he definitely knew the value of a dollar. (3) Of all the presidents with Depression roots, he was the oldest when he was in office, and old people are cheap.
I rest my case.