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The Early Jobs of 9 World Leaders

Long before they won elections, shaped foreign policy, or presided over massive economies, these heads of state wielded their influence on a much smaller scale, earning a living (or just pocket money) in bars, restaurants, and more. (World leaders: They really are just like us.)

1. ANGELA MERKEL // BARMAID

As a student of quantum physics at East Germany’s University of Leipzig, the research scientist-turned-chancellor worked as a barmaid. “I got an extra 30 pfennig for each sold glass,” Merkel told a biographer. “That added up to 20 to 30 marks a week, which almost paid my room. ... At 7 a.m. classes began, the disco lasted until midnight. In between I was always on the run to get cherry liquor, because that was the drink of the moment.”

2. BARACK OBAMA // WAITER

In addition to scooping ice cream at a Baskin Robbins in Honolulu—a fact he would share with future wife Michelle before they kissed for the first time outside one of the chain's Chicago locations—Obama worked as a waiter at an assisted living facility. “It was a great job, although the folks there sometimes were cranky because they were on restricted diets,” he recalled to Parade last year. “Mr. Smith would want more salt, and you’d say, ‘I’m sorry, Mr. Smith. You’re not allowed.’”

3. JOHANNA SIGURDARDOTTIR // FLIGHT ATTENDANT

Iceland’s ex-prime minister held a job as a flight attendant on Icelandair before she shifted her focus to labor rights, working as a union organizer for the airline.

4. SILVIO BERLUSCONI // CRUISE SHIP SINGER

The (now-disgraced) former prime minister of Italy credits his days performing on cruise ships with teaching him, as The Telegraph put it, “everything he knows about working a crowd.”

5. DMITRY MEDVEDEV // STREET CLEANER

The Russian prime minister likes to boast that he made just 120 roubles, including bonuses, cleaning streets when he was a student. “I loved this period of my life,” he said in 2012.

6. STEPHEN HARPER // MAILROOM ASSISTANT

After dropping out of the University of Toronto in 1978, Canada’s current head of government landed a job at Imperial Oil. Later, his boss there would remember Harper as a bright, hardworking young man, eager to make an impression. "My office boy was Stephen Harper," he said. "He did very well in a very entry level job. He sort of checked the cash, delivered mail and that sort of thing. He wasn't above doing anything."

7. MICHAEL HIGGINS // WAITER

Ireland’s president was born into a poor family, but hoped to attend University College Galway. Against his family’s wishes, he relocated to Sussex, England, where he worked as a wine waiter to save money for school. A journalist friend who knew the young Higgins at the time described him as “a very pleasing, radical, clever and intelligent sensitive person.”

8. ELLEN SIRLEAF JOHNSON // DRUGSTORE CLERK

At the age of 17, the current president of Liberia—who had been an ambitious and accomplished high school student—stunned her family when she wed a man seven years her senior. She followed him to Madison, Wisc., where he was enrolled in a graduate-level agriculture program. Johnson, meanwhile, signed up for undergraduate classes at a local business school and worked in a drugstore to help pay the bills—something her husband, who by then had become increasingly violent, didn’t approve of. (Johnson divorced him several years after the pair returned to Monrovia.)

9. POPE FRANCIS // NIGHTCLUB BOUNCER

Yes, you read that correctly. The leader of the Catholic church worked as a bouncer in his native Buenos Aires. What’s more, he used to go dancing—and had a girlfriend. "She was one of a group of friends I went dancing with,” he explained to his biographers in 2010. “But then I discovered my religious vocation." It’s a shame, because we would have loved to have seen him do the tango.

All images via Getty 

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The Lincoln Library May Have to Sell the President's Hat and Blood-Stained Gloves to Pay Off a Loan
Alexander Gardner, U.S. Library of Congress/Getty Images
Alexander Gardner, U.S. Library of Congress/Getty Images

Two of the most valuable artifacts in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum may be shut away from the public for good if the institution can't pay off its debt. As the Chicago Tribune reports, the presidential library's foundation took out a $23 million loan in 2007 to acquire a collection of items that once belonged to the 16th president. Over a decade later, the Springfield, Illinois institution has yet to pay back the entirety of the loan—and it may have to auction off some of the very items it was used to purchase to do so.

The 2007 loan paid for most of the $25 million Barry and Louise Taper Collection, which before moving to the library was the largest private collection of Lincoln memorabilia compiled in the last half-century. It features 1500 items, including many of Lincoln's personal belongings and writings.

The foundation still owes $9.7 million on the loan, which comes up for renewal in October 2019. In order to avoid financial trouble and retain the majority of the artifacts, the foundation is considering auctioning off two of the most valuable pieces in the collection: A stovetop hat thought to have belonged to Lincoln and the blood-stained gloves he wore on the night of his assassination.

As long as they're in the museum's possession, the artifacts are available for the public to view and researchers to study. If they end up on the auction block they will likely go home with a private buyer and become inaccessible for the indefinite future.

While the Lincoln library is run by the Illinois government, the foundation is privately funded and run independently. The foundation appealed to Governor Bruce Rauner for financial assistance earlier this month with no success. Springfield-area Representative Sara Wojcicki Jimenez, however, tells the Chicago Tribune that she is looking into ways to relieve the museum's financial burden.

If the state doesn't follow through with funding, the foundation does have a backup plan. The Barry and Louise Taper Collection also includes a handful of Marilyn Monroe artifacts sprinkled in with the Lincoln memorabilia and some of those items are going up for auction in Las Vegas on June 23. Revenue from a dress worn by Monroe, pictures of her taken by photographer Arnold Newman, and a bust of poet Carl Sandburg that once belonged to the icon will hopefully offer some relief to the foundation's outstanding debt.

[h/t The Chicago Tribune]

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Jimmy Carter
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Central Press/Getty Images

Bridging the gap between the often-maligned Gerald Ford and the drug-busting Ronald Reagan was Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States and one of the most esteemed humanitarians ever to hold the office. Carter is 93, and while a nearly-century-long life is hard to summarize, we’ve assembled a few things that may surprise you about one of our most fondly-remembered elected officials.

1. HIS CHILDHOOD DIDN’T INVOLVE MANY AMENITIES.

Born in Plains, Georgia on October 1, 1924, James Earl Carter’s early years didn’t involve a lot of the rapid technological progressions that were taking place around the country. His family relocated to Archery, Georgia—a town that relied chiefly on mule-drawn wagons for transportation—when Carter was 4. Indoor plumbing and electricity were rare. To pass time, Carter typically listened to entertainment shows on a battery-operated radio with his father.

2. HE DREW CRITICISM FOR REJECTING RACIST BELIEFS.

After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy, Carter served in the military, during which time he married and had three sons. (A fourth child, daughter Amy, was born in 1967.) After his father died in 1953, Carter was honorably discharged and settled on the family peanut farm in Plains, where he found that the South’s deeply-rooted racial biases were in direct conflict with his own progressive views of integration. When Plains residents assembled a “White Citizens’ Council” to combat anti-discrimination laws, Carter refused membership. Soon, signs were pasted on his front door full of racist remarks. But Carter held to his views: By the 1960s, voters were ready to embrace a politician without biases, and Carter was elected to the Georgia State Senate.

Unfortunately, Carter found that his liberal views could only take him so far in the state. When he ran for governor in 1970, he backed off on many of his previously-publicized views on racial equality, leading some to declare him bigoted. Once in office, however, Carter restored many of his endorsements to end segregation.

3. HE CAUSED A STIR BY DOING THE PLAYBOY INTERVIEW.

Few, if any, presidential candidates have attempted to stir up support by submitting to an intensive interview in the pages of Playboy, but Carter’s 1976 bid was an exception. Just weeks before he won the election, Carter admitted to having “committed adultery in my heart” many times and that he “looked on a lot of women with lust.”

4. HE NEVER LIKED THE PAGEANTRY OF THE PRESIDENCY.

When Carter entered the office of the presidency in 1977, he made it clear that he considered himself no more elevated in status than his voters simply because of political power. He sold the presidential yacht, thinking it a symbol of excess; he also carried his own briefcase and banned workers from playing “Hail to the Chief” during appearances.

5. HE MAY HAVE SEEN A UFO.

Prior to taking office, Carter filed an interesting report with the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena, or NICAP. In 1969, Carter wrote, he spotted a strange aircraft in the sky over Leary, Georgia. It appeared to hover 30 degrees above the horizon before disappearing. Carter promised to release every sealed document the government had collected about UFOs if elected, but later walked back on the promise, citing national security concerns.

6. HE INSTALLED SOLAR PANELS AT THE WHITE HOUSE.

Carter spent considerable time and effort promoting renewable energy sources as the world struggled with an ongoing fuel crisis. To demonstrate his commitment, Carter ordered that solar panels be installed on White House grounds in 1979, decades before such a practice became commonplace. The panels were used to heat water on the property. Ronald Reagan had the panels removed in 1986 during a roof renovation.

7. HE WATCHED OVER 400 MOVIES WHILE IN OFFICE.

Carter was a movie buff who, as president, enjoyed early access to many films—and he averaged a couple of movies a week while in office. Among those viewed: 1969’s Midnight Cowboy, 1976’s All the President’s Men, and 1980’s Caddyshack. Carter also screened 1977’s Star Wars with Egyptian president Anwar Sadat.

8. HE BOYCOTTED THE 1980 OLYMPICS.

After Soviet forces failed to heed Carter’s mandate to pull their troops out of Afghanistan, Carter committed to a radical step: He prevented American athletes from competing in the 1980 Games in Moscow, the first time the nation had failed to appear in the competition. Canada, West Germany, Japan, and around 50 other countries followed Carter’s lead. When the Games moved to Los Angeles in 1984, it was the Soviet Union's turn to refuse to appear.

9. HE WAS ATTACKED BY A RABBIT.

Before running for (and losing) re-election in 1980, Carter decided to take a little time for himself and go fishing near his home in Plains. While in his boat, a wild rabbit that was being chased by hounds jumped into the water and swam toward the boat. Carter shooed the animal away with a paddle. Although it was a minor incident, a photo snapped of Carter flailing at the bunny and numerous editorial cartoons gave some voters the perception he was a less-than-ideal adversary for the powerful Soviet Union and may have led to an image of Carter as ineffectual.

10. HE WON THE NOBEL PEACE PRIZE IN 2002.

After decades of philanthropic work, including a longstanding association with Habitat for Humanity, Carter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. It was actually a quarter-century overdue: The Nobel committee wanted to award him the prize in 1978 after he helped broker peace talks between Israel and Egypt, but no one had nominated him before the official deadline had closed.

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