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What Did They Do Before Becoming President of The United States

Updated on May 6, 2014


How many times have you seen, heard or read about the U.S. presidents in the news? Do you sometimes wonder what these guys did in the early years before becoming president of The United States of America? They had to start somewhere or something had to happen in their lives that ultimately put them on the path to becoming the most powerful person in the country. Here I made an attempt to list some “before they became president” activities of the popular presidents as well some lesser known ones. After all, forty-four men have served as president of the United States since the early years when this country had only thirteen states.

George Washington (1789-1797)

The obvious place to start a course is the first person to become president of the United States, George Washington. He is often called the father of our nation since he was the first of many presidents to follow. He was a surveyor and help surveyed the Shenandoah Valley in the western part of Virginia when he was 16. He was also a planter since he owned several slaves. Before becoming the first president of the United States, Washington was elected Commander In Chief of the Continental Army by the Second Continental Congress in 1775. After his military career, Washington became more active in laying the foundation for the young struggling nation by pushing for a Constitutional Convention. The creation of the United States Constitution was finalized and after it was ratified the Electoral College unanimously elected Washington as the first president of the United States.

Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809)

Jefferson was the third of 10 children born in Albermarle, Virginia and at the young age of 14 he inherited 5,000 acres of land on a hill in Charlottesville, Virginia when his father died. It is here where he built his famous resident and slave plantation, Monticello. He owned over 600 slaves there. He was fluent in French and Greek, and played the violin. After college, Jefferson became a prominent lawyer in the region handling cases for the elite society there. Before becoming the third president, Jefferson held several political positions before he was elected president. He was a Virginia State Legislator, Minister to France, Governor of Virginia and Secretary of State.

Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865)

Lincoln was the son of a frontiersman. His background was very different from his predecessors. He basically taught himself everything from mathematics to law while working on the farm and splitting rails for fences. Later he kept a store while living in Salem, Illinois and served in the army during the Black Hawk War of 1832. He obtained the rank of Captain while serving. He also served on the Illinois Circuit Court as a lawyer and was later elected state legislator for the State of Illinois. He remained a legislator until he was elected the sixteenth president in 1860.

Ulysses S. Grant (1869 – 1877)

Grant was the son of an Ohio tanner and worked as a clerk in his father’s tanning business. He attended West Point Academy against his will and graduated in the middle of the class. While at West Point he set a long jump record that stood for twenty-five years. Grant originally wanted to be a professor of mathematics instead of pursuing a career in military. After graduating from West Point he returned to work with his father until the Governor of Ohio appointed him at the outbreak of the Civil War to lead a regiment. President Lincoln later gave him the rank of General-In-Chief in 1864 for his significant accomplishments in the war. He would become the eighteenth president four years after the war ended due to his popularity.

Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)

Before becoming the twenty-sixth president of the United States, Roosevelt was once a Deputy Sheriff in Dakota before accepting a position as Commissioner of New York City Police. Later he was elected Governor of New York. He was also Commissioner of Civil Service there. Roosevelt was a very busy man. He found the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the Long Island Bird Club. He gained additional political experience as Assistant Secretary of Navy and later as vice-president under William McKinley. He became president after the assassination of McKinley.

Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921)

Wilson’s path to president of the United States started as graduate student at John Hopkins University. He received a doctorate in History and Political Science while there. He would be become the only president to have a Ph.D. He was a football coach at Wesleyan University and later joined Princeton’s faulty as professor of jurisprudence and political economics. He later became president of Princeton University for eight years and moved into politics when he became Governor of New Jersey from 1911 to 1913.

Herbert Hoover (1929-1933)

Hoover started his career as a geologist and as a mining engineer for a Chinese company. He was China’s leading engineer at the time. While in China and others countries abroad, Hoover got involved with others to provide food for Belgium after it was taken over by the German army. He was later appointed head of the U.S. Food Administration because of his humanitarian experience. This experience ultimately put in him position to be appointed Secretary of Commerce by President Harding. He was Secretary of Treasury before being elected the thirty-first president of the United States. He is the first and only president to be elected while a cabinet member.

Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945)

Roosevelt followed the same footsteps of his cousin Theodore to become president. He entered politics at the local level and eventually worked his way politically to the state level. He became New York State Senate in 1910 and resigned three years later to accept the position of Assistant Secretary of Navy. Franklin Roosevelt also moved up the political ladder just like his cousin, Theodore, to become Governor of New York. Franklin did not become vice-president like his cousin, but in the end he became the thirty-second president of the United State despite his adulterous life.

Harry S. Truman (1945-1953)

After graduating from high school, Truman worked as a Timekeeper on the Sante Fe Railroad and spent his nights in hobo camps near the rail lines. Later he worked as a mail clerk for a local newspaper company. Truman later joined the army after 12 years as a farmer and became captain of field artillery. In 1940 he was elected as Grandmaster of the Masons of Missouri. He stepped into the political arena as County Commissioner in Missouri and later U.S. Senator. He was nominated vice-president in 1944 and won it in a lopsided victory. Truman became the thirty-third president after three months as vice president when Franklin Roosevelt suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died.

Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961)

Dwight D Eisenhower (1953-1961)

Eisenhower was the modern time president with the most military background. He was Supreme Commander of the Allied troops during World War I. Before joining the military Eisenhower was a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses group. At that time the group was called Student Bible. He was a football player at West Point and would later serve as the junior varsity football coach there and as a football coach at St. Louis College. After the war Eisenhower became president of Columbia University and later became the first Supreme Commander of NATO. Eisenhower became the thirty-fourth president of the United States after retiring from his position as President of Columbia University.

Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969)

Johnson started his path to presidency as a teacher and later as a principal of a school for Mexican children in Texas. He also was a teacher of public speaking at a high school in Texas. He also served as Texas Director of Youth Administration. He did have some military experience as a commissioned officer in the Navy Reserve. Johnson served as a Senator, a vice-president, and later became president after John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

Richard M. Nixon (1969-1974)

Nixon was Lieutenant Commander in the Navy in his early years. He started his political career as a Congressman and as a Senate for the state of California. Nixon became vice-president and later the thirty-seventh president. He was forced to resign after the Watergate Scandal was leaked to the news.

Gerald R. Ford (1974-1977)

Gerald R. Ford (1974-1977)

Gerald Ford came into the world as Leslie Lynch King Jr. As a boy Ford became an Eagle Scout and received two awards from the Boy Scout organization, the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award and the Silver Buffalo Award. He was a linebacker and center on the University of Michigan football team. He was offered several football spots from the National Football League (NFL) but declined them to become a football coach and a boxing coach at Yale. Ford also had military experience as a Lieutenant Commander in the Naval Reserve. His political experience included positions as Congressman, House Minority, and vice-president. He eventually became the thirty-eighth president of the United States.


You can clearly see some of the presidents had humble beginnings before they reached the highest office in the land. Some did not have college education. Some became president by a change of events and others simply took the direct path to be president by engaging in politics early in their life. What it all comes down to; is that no matter what your background is anyone can become president if they make the right moves in their career path.

© 2010 Melvin Porter


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    • melpor profile image

      Melvin Porter 4 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      Dennis, thanks for your comment on my hub. I wanted to write more about the presidents but decided to write about the thirteen I selected here based on their popularity and their historical significance in my opinion as a U.S. president.

    • Dennis AuBuchon profile image

      Dennis AuBuchon 4 years ago

      This is an interesting hub and while you could not include all of them your choices were perfect. I enjoyed reading it. I voted up, useful, awesome and interesting along with tweeting, pinning and liking.

    • melpor profile image

      Melvin Porter 5 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      Melissa, thanks for reading my hub. I wanted to write about all the presidents but I figured it would be a serious undertaking so I tried to write about the most well-known presidents to keep my hub short. Again thanks for reading it.

    • melpor profile image

      Melvin Porter 6 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      Joejagodensky, thanks for the comment. I will make the corrections right now.

    • joejagodensky profile image

      joejagodensky 6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      You only capitalize presidents when it is a title before their name. Otherwise small "p".

    • melpor profile image

      Melvin Porter 7 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      Sunnyglitter, thanks for your comment and for stopping by.

    • Sunnyglitter profile image

      Sunnyglitter 7 years ago from Cyberspace

      Very interesting. I enjoyed reading this. It's always fun to know what people did before they were president.

    • melpor profile image

      Melvin Porter 8 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      Dahoglund, thanks for your comment. That is something I have been trying to do for a long time.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Information worth knowing. Our presidents are important and we should know about them. One of my goals is to read bios of all the presidents, however it is a slow going project because it usually leads me onto other things.

    • melpor profile image

      Melvin Porter 8 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      Melissa, thanks for comment. It was major undertaking to write. It took me four days of research to compile this. Again thanks for the comment.

    • Melissa McClain profile image

      Melissa McClain 8 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Good hub. This seems like it was quite an undertaking to write. I enjoyed it mostly because I'm fascinated with the lives of the U.S. Presidents, particularly the earlier ones. Their lives were so different from ours today. Thanks for this post!