The Surprising First Jobs of 11 US Presidents

Ever wondered what kind of jobs American presidents had before they became President? While the vast majority of presidents were either a lawyer, worked in another department/branch of the US government, or in the military, some others took more unique roots to the most powerful job on Earth. To celebrate President’s Day, we’ve compiled a list of some of our former commander-in-chiefs and their early-career jobs.

Ronald Reagan

Likely the president most famous for having another career, Ronald Reagan was a famous actor from the late 1930s to the mid 1960s.  He starred alongside his future wife, Nancy, in several movies. His most well-known movie is called the Kings Row, where Reagan played an amputee with the famous lines, “Where’s the REST of me??”

ronald reagan pres

ronald reagan actor

Lyndon B Johnson – Teacher

lyndon johnson

lyndon johnson teacher

Lyndon B. Johnson worked as a teacher before entering politics. He taught public speaking at Sam Houston High School in Houston and coached the debate team.  Johnson points to his experiences teaching Mexican-American children as one of the primary motivators in his push for equal access in American education.


Herbert Hoover – Mining Engineer

herbert hoover mining engineer

herbert hoover

Herbert Hoover was an extremely successful mining engineer who worked on projects around the globe. He spent time in Western Australia working as both a geologist and mining engineering on gold mining operations. Later, Hoover became chief engineer for Kaiping Mines, which was the first modern mining company in China.


Warren Harding – Teacher, Insurance Salesman

warren harding writer

warren harding

Warren G. Harding explored tons of careers before becoming President! His first two jobs included being a teacher and an insurance salesman.  Later, he bought the newspaper The Marion Star. He became both a journalist and editor for this paper.


Teddy Roosevelt – Rancher and Military Historian

teddy roosevelt hunter

teddy roosevelt

Teddy’s the best. He did a bit of everything, but most prominently he was a rancher and a military historian. Before Theodore Roosevelt became president, he wrote and published the book The Naval War of 1812. It’s still relevant today and shows how gifted a scholar and historian Roosevelt was. He also owned a ranch in North Dakota, and published three more books about his experiences in ranching.

Andrew Johnson – Tailor

andrew johnson

Andrew Johnson was apprenticed to a tailor until his 21st birthday. He continued to work as a tailor and even started his own business in Tennessee!

Grover Cleveland – Sheriff

grover cleveland

The only man to be president twice began his career in law enforcement, as a sheriff in Erie County, New York.

Woodrow Wilson

woodrow wilson pres

woodrow wilson

Woodrow Wilson was a teacher and academic before beginning his political career.  Here’s a list of universities  at which he taught: Cornell University, Bryne Mawr College, Wesleyan University, New York Law School. Throughout Wilson’s career, he taught a variety of subjects including Ancient Greek and Roman history and coached the football team at Wesleyan. He was then President of Princeton University before becoming US President.

James Garfield – Janitor, Teacher




James Garfield worked as a janitor to help pay his way through his schooling, and later became a teacher in Greek and Latin. He also preached at multiple  neighboring churches! He later married his former student, Lucretia Rudolph, who would become a very influential First Lady due to his illness and incapacitation during his short presidency.

William McKinley – Postal Clerk

william mckinley young

william mckinley

William McKinley was born into a family of iron-makers. When his family’s finances declined, McKinley was unable to finish college and later took jobs first as a postal clerk and then as a teacher.


Harry S Truman – Timekeeper, Clerk, Farmer

harry truman

harry truman horse

Harry S. Truman also had a variety of careers before becoming president. He first worked as a timekeeper, who is someone that accounts for the work of a group of employees. He later worked as a clerk, which involves adminsitrative duties. Finally, he periodically worked as a farmer at his family’s farm. Truman is the most recent president without a college degree!

Joy Sun

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