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Ethan Trex
The Early Jobs of 13 Political Icons
by Ethan Trex

Last week, we looked at the jobs held by various celebrities before they hit the big time. Today, we’ll explore what some notable politicians did for cash before they ran for office. Are great leaders born, or are they made through offbeat jobs? Let’s have a look.

1. Harry Truman

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The man who succeeded FDR held a number of jobs in his youth, including working as a timekeeper on the Santa Fe railroad after he graduated from high school and a brief stint in the mailroom of a newspaper. After serving in World War I, he opened a men’s clothing store with an army buddy, but the venture went belly-up during the recession that rocked the country in 1921.

2. Warren G. Harding

Harding’s famously corrupt administration was paydirt for critics in his former profession: journalism. Harding’s father had owned a weekly newspaper in Caledonia, Ohio, and after studying journalism in college, the future president purchased the failing Marion Daily Star in Marion, Ohio, and turned it into a circulation juggernaut.

3. Herbert Hoover

Hoover became a nationally recognized figure when he helped arrange for thousands of Americans to return from Europe at the outset of World War I; he later organized food shipments to the continent. Before that, though, he had used his Stanford degree in geology to become a successful mining engineer who spent considerable time looking for gold and zinc in Australia and China.

4. Lyndon B. Johnson

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JFK’s successor was an imposing physical presence to his political colleagues, so he must have towered over the children he worked with in his first job: teaching. After going to a teachers’ college for his degree, Johnson taught at several schools around Texas, including one in Cotulla where his students were mostly impoverished Mexican immigrants. Johnson later credited his work with these students as helping advance his progressive political beliefs.

5. Henry Kissinger

When the future National Security Advisor and Secretary of State was a young man growing up in Manhattan, he went to high school at night while working a day job at the Leopold Ascher Brush Company, which made shaving brushes.

6. Gerald Ford

Ford’s stardom on the gridiron while playing for the University of Michigan’s football team is widely known, and he even eschewed several contract offers from NFL teams, including the Green Bay Packers, so he could go to law school at Yale. Before Yale accepted him as a law student, though, Ford had another job on campus: coach. He spent a few years as an assistant boxing and football coach at Yale before finally starting his legal studies.

7. Millard Fillmore

Fillmore may have been a forgettable president, but he almost didn’t go into politics in the first place. When Fillmore was 14 he went to work as an apprentice to a cloth maker and stayed in the fabrics industry until he was almost 20 years old, at which point he shifted gears and started studying law.

8. Ronald Reagan

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Everyone knows Reagan was an actor before his rise to the White House, but he held a number of interesting jobs while waiting for his big break, including calling the radio broadcast of the University of Iowa’s home football games. He later worked for a radio station in Des Moines as the announcer for Chicago Cubs baseball games. Although he didn’t actually attend the Cubs’ contests, Reagan would take wire accounts of the game and craft them into a coherent broadcast that made it sound like he was at the park.

9. Andrew Jackson

We remember him as a feisty president and fierce general, but when Old Hickory was 14, he was simply an orphaned child without any immediate family to support him. He eventually ended up spending a year and a half under the care of relatives, and for much of this time he worked as an apprentice to a saddle-maker.

10. James Garfield

Garfield only spent a few months in the White House, but he had an interesting life before his rise to power. Garfield had briefly worked as a preacher before deciding he didn’t want to be a clergyman. At that point, he became an instructor of classical languages and eventually a school principal.

11. Bob Dole

The former Senate Majority Leader and presidential candidate held a number of odd jobs in Kansas during the Great Depression, including working as a soda jerk. He later played hoops for Kansas University under the tutelage of legendary coach Phog Allen.

12. Hubert H. Humphrey

The former Senator from Minnesota lost the 1968 presidential race to Richard Nixon, but he probably knew the best medicine for dealing with defeat. From 1930 to 1937 Humphrey had worked in the family business as a pharmacist before deciding that drugs weren’t his game and returning to college to study politics.

13. Ross Perot

After a stint in the Navy following his graduation from the United States Naval Academy, the former third-party candidate went to work for IBM as a salesman. When he became frustrated that his superiors didn’t listen to his suggestions, Perot left the company to start Electronic Data Systems, which he later sold for $2.4 billion.

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