• First jobs are usually a mixed bag; they can be disastrous failures, great learning experiences, or somewhere in between.
• That’s the case even for people who go on to become the president of the United States.
• American presidents took on some memorable first roles across history.
The road to the White House isn’t always glamorous.
Sure, most US presidents throughout our history have had experience in law, politics, or the military— or some combination thereof.
But many future presidents had rather unconventional first gigs— from plucking chickens to working at a circus to selling comic books at a grocery store.
It’s definitely encouraging for anyone who suffered through a weird start to their career.
Here are the surprising first jobs held by Washington, Lincoln, Obama, and 15 other US presidents:
George Washington started working as a surveyor in Shenandoah Valley at age 16
When Washington, the first US president, was 16, Lord Thomas Fairfax gave him his first job surveying Shenandoah Valley in Virginia and West Virginia, according to the official site of Historic Kenmore, his sister’s plantation.
Surveyors measure land, airspace, and water, and explain what it looks like and how much there is for legal records.
The next year, at age 17, Washington was appointed the official surveyor of Culpeper County. By the time he was 21, he owned more than 1,500 acres of land, according to American Studies department at UVA.
John Adams was a schoolmaster
After graduating from a class of 24 students, Adams took his first job as as a schoolmaster in Worcester, Massachusetts, according to the University of Groningen’s biography of the second US president.
However, the career was not fulfilling for Adams and he was often filled with self doubt, as evidenced by the personal entries in his famous journal, which the Massachusetts Historical Society has posted online. To keep up with his own reading and writing, Adams would sometimes ask the smartest student to lead class.
Thomas Jefferson was a lawyer
Before he became the third president of the US, Jefferson handled 900 matters while specializing in land cases as a lawyer in the General Court in Williamsburg, Virginia, according to Encyclopedia Virginia.
Influenced by his political ideology, Jefferson served clients from all classes. As he wrote in his “Autobiography” in 1821, he wanted to create a “system by which every fibre would be eradicated of ancient or future aristocracy; and a foundation laid for a government truly republican.”