When it comes to institutions that people trust, surveys show that dramatically few people trust the government and elected officials, while small businesses are trusted at a level right up there with Mom and apple pie. (No wonder politicians, despite continuously displaying they are clueless about the impact their actions have on small businesses, claim to be the friend of small business whenever and wherever they can.)

While plenty of governors and members of Congress come from a small business background, a surprisingly small number of U.S. presidents have family businesses in their background.

Here are 8 presidents and the businesses they started.

1. George Washington, distiller


(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

In addition to being Father of the Country in his time off from farming and other business interests, Washington not only put down the Whiskey Rebellion, but he also started a distillery during his retirement, making him the Founding Father of the craft distillers movement. (For more about Washington’s Distillery, see: 10 Amazing Facts About George Washington’s 2nd Most Successful Startup)

2. Abraham Lincoln, general store owner


Lincoln was a successful lawyer for railroad clients at a time rail roads were like Silicon Valley tech firms today. However, some earlier business attempts, like buying a general store with a partner, ended in failure. Indeed, for some, he’s become a symbol of perseverance and rising above failure.

3. Warren G. Harding, newspaper owner


(Photo: WikiMedia Commons)

When he was 19, Harding and two partners scraped together the $300 necessary to purchase the failing Marion (Ohio) Daily Star. Soon he owned 100% of the paper. Due, in large part, to the business acumen of his wife, Florence, Harding eventually turned the Marion Daily Star into a profitable business.

4. Herbert Hoover, mining engineer


(Photo: Wikipedia)

Recognized as a gifted mining engineer early in his career, Hoover opened a mining consulting business in 1908 that soon made him a wealthy man. His wealth also grew from mining-related investments and ventures ranging from ownership of Burmese silver mines to earning royalties from writing the leading textbook on mining engineering. Of course, since the debut of the Broadway musical “Annie,” Hoover has been known primarily as the president who engineered the economy into the Depression.

5. Harry Truman, haberdasher

Harry Truman Habedasher

(Photo: Truman Library)

The word haberdashery would be long gone from American English were it not for the brief stint spent by Harry Truman and a partner running a men’s clothing store.

6. Jimmy Carter, peanut farmer


(Photo: Carter Library)

While many presidents before him had been farmers, Jimmy Carter’s southwest Georgia peanut-producing background caught the nation’s post-Watergate fancy. However, during his presidency the best-known Carter business venture became his service-station-owner brother’s endorsement of “Billy Beer.”

7. & 8. The George Bushes, oil and gas barons, baseball team owners

Screen shot 2013-09-27 at 12
(Photo: Wikimedia commons)

While presidential politics was the actual family business, the Bushes, father and son, started various oil- and gas-related ventures independent of one another. And while he didn’t start it, George W. Bush’s 2% ownership stake in the Texas Rangers provided a return on his investment that was worth a lifetime supply of peanuts and Cracker Jacks.

This article first appeared on SmallBusiness.com on February 16, 2014


(Featured image: Truman Library)

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