"It's been said that politics is the second oldest profession. I have learned that it bears a striking resemblance to the first."
It seemed to be a favorite quip for Reagan, who said some version of it on several occasions since at least 1974 when he was governor of California. But I also found other politicians, including President Jimmy Carter, saying it. Curious about how long the joke had been around, I did a search through some newspaper archives for the phrase "second oldest profession." It seems that writers had been placing various jobs in that dubious position for years, but politics wasn't one of them.
Nominees for the Second Oldest Profession
- Actors - "Hobnobbing in Hollywood with Grace Kingsley" Los Angeles Times, Nov 23, 1932
- Casino Gambling - "Mont Blanc of Monte Carlo; Count Corti Tells the Story of the Principality of Chance" The Washington Post, Mar 17, 1935
- Con Men - "Berliners, Who Fell for Hitler, Still Victims of 'Con' Men" The Washington Post, Mar 15, 1952
- Counterfeiting - "Counterfeiting in America Started With Fake Wampum" Los Angeles Times, Apr 18, 1968
- Gigolos - "Exit the Gigolo! His Taking Ways Remove Glamour; Paris 'Tribe' Vanishing; Too Light Fingered" Chicago Daily Tribune, Mar 5, 1932
- Glassmaking - "Lenox Unveils Modern Glassmaking Facility With Old Techniques" Wall Street Journal, Nov 20, 1970
- Interpreters - "Meet the Second Oldest Profession" The Washington Post, Sep 1, 1964
- Journalism - a novel by Robert Sylvester, published 1950
- Moving Companies - "New Holding Company on the Move" Los Angeles Times, Feb 12, 1969
- Pharmacists - "The Second Oldest Profession" Chicago Daily Tribune, Oct 10, 1959 (mentioned again in the New York Times, Nov 17, 1963)
- Pick Pocketing - "Bookkeepers Pen Death of Pickpockets" Chicago Daily Tribune, Aug 25, 1958
- Pimpery - "The Bookshelf; 'Pimpery'" The Chicago Defender, Apr 18, 1931
- Piracy - "Prominent in a Remarkable Exhibition of Pirate Lore in the Grolier Club of New York" The Washington Post, Nov 21, 1915.
- Press Agents - "R. Maney [Dick Maney], Man and Legend" New York Times, Feb 23, 1941
- Prostitutes (Confusing, yes. According to Yale anthropologist Ralph Linton in The Tree of Culture, Medicine Men were the first professionals.)
- Spying - "British Premier Backs U.S. in Spy Incident" Los Angeles Times, May 13, 1960
- Quackery aka Fake Medicine - "Quick-Buck Quacks Are Prospering More Than Ever" The Washington Post, Oct 7, 1961
As for politics, interestingly, no results turned up earlier than the 1970s and The Consent of the Governed, and Other Deceits (1971), written by New York Times political analyst Arthur Krock, has a chapter titled "The Second Oldest Profession."
Street walkers, etched by B. Smith, from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog