top of page

Surprising First Jobs of U.S. Presidents

Everybody Has to Start Somewhere...


Remember your first job? Most everyone does.

In honor of Presidents’ Day, let’s take a look at some of the more unusual first jobs held by our Chief Executives:


Our 20th president, James A. Garfield, found his first job as a “hoggee” at age 16. You might think he tended hogs, but a hoggee was actually someone who drove the mules that pulled boats and barges along the towpath of the Erie Canal.

James’ father had worked on the construction of the canal, and his cousin owned a canal boat. Garfield earned $8 a month for his trouble.

President Garfield served only four months in office before being gunned down by an assassin in 1881.

Court Crier

Shortly after moving to Indianapolis in 1854 (and while trying to launch a law practice), 23rd president Benjamin Harrison worked a rather obsolete side hustle as a court crier. The crier’s primary responsibilities were making official proclamations and maintaining order. In other words, he yelled for a living (as in “Oyez, Oyez, Oyez!”).

Harrison earned $2.50 a day as a court crier – about the same wage as a bricklayer in the 1850s.

He served as president from 1889 to 1893.

Shoe Shiner

Lyndon Johnson started shining shoes when he was just nine years old, and revisited the profession while in high school. Most shoe shiners of the era charged 10-15 cents per shine, which would calculate to less than $2 in today’s economy (just enough for a loaf of bread or pound of peaches).

President Johnson was in good company. Several other notables, including singer James Brown and slugger Sammy Sosa, started their careers as humble shoe shiners, too.

Johnson served as 36th president from 1963 to 1969.

Chicken Plucker

Young Richard Nixon got his start at age 15 by plucking chickens for a butcher in Prescott, Arizona. This was in 1928, so the plucking was all done by hand. It was unpleasant (and smelly) work. Nixon likely earned about $2.50 per day.

Our 37th president served from 1969 to 1974.

Circus Roustabout

In 1925, at the age of 14, Ronald Reagan worked as a roustabout for the Ringling Brothers circus -- which is not quite as glamorous as it sounds. The job primarily involved assembling and dismantling the tent, as well as tending to the animals, for 25 cents an hour.

By 1937, Reagan had begun his acting career, before finally entering the political arena in 1966.

He served as U.S. president from 1981 to 1989.


bottom of page