Meet the Trumps: How America's first family arrived in New York on a steamship from Germany in 1885 and built a sprawling empire in 4 generations

Meet the Trumps: How America's first family arrived in New York on a steamship from Germany in 1885 and built a sprawling empire in 4 generations
Trump family
Donald Trump stands with his children Ivanka and Donald Jr., during Trump's press conference at Trump Tower in New York on January 11, 2017.TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images
  • Donald Trump's grandfather moved to the US from Germany in a steamship in 1885.

  • In the 137 years since then, the family has produced real-estate magnates, one federal judge, and the former president of the United States.

  • Trump is one of five children born to Fred Trump and Mary Anne McLeod. His siblings are Maryanne, Fred Jr., Elizabeth, Donald, and Robert.

  • Trump himself has five kids: Donald Jr., Eric, and Ivanka from his marriage to Ivana Marie Zelníčková; Tiffany from his marriage to Marla Maples; and Barron from his marriage to Melania Knauss.

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Donald Trump's grandfather, Friedrich Trump — born Friedrich Drumpf — emigrated to the US from Germany in 1885 at the age of 16.

Friedrich Trump
Friedrich Trump.Wikimedia Commons

Friedrich Trump was born in Kallstadt, Germany, and came to New York on a steamship, according to Post reporter Kristine Phillips

"He didn't know English. He couldn't possibly have known English. He didn't have anything like a high school diploma. He was literate, but in German," Gwenda Blair, the author behind the 2000 book "The Trumps: Three Generations That Built an Empire," told the Washington Post.

Friedrich Trump's family in Germany had modest means and ran a small vineyard, per Phillips. He lived with his older sister on the Lower East Side in Manhattan after coming to New York.

A few years later, Friedrich moved to the Pacific Northwest, where he ran multiple businesses, like restaurants and hotels, across the region in former mining towns during the Gold Rush.

For years, the family said they were Swedish, but the family's roots have been traced back to Germany.

An aerial view of the Salvator Church of Kallstadt, Germany, 11 January 2018.Uwe Anspach/picture alliance via Getty Images

Per a 2016 New York Times story, the Trump family for years said they were Swedish.

Jason Horowitz, the author of the Times story, noted that this is said to have been born of a desire to make good with their Jewish friends and customers.

"He had a lot of Jewish tenants and it wasn't a good thing to be German in those days,'' John Walter, Donald Trump's cousin, said of Fred Trump, Donald Trump's father, talking about the time between World War II and the 1980s.

The Trump family's roots can be traced back to Kallstadt, a small German hamlet. The town also produced Johann Heinrich Heinz whose son Henry J. Heinz is the man behind Heinz ketchup, according to Sally McGrane of the New Yorker.

In 1902, Friedrich Trump, Donald Trump's grandfather, married Elisabeth Christ, a former neighbor in Germany.

Friedrich Trump Donald Trump deportation letter
Friedrich Trump wrote an obsequious letter, practically begging the Prince Regent for a residence permit.BILD

Elisabeth, who was 11 years her husband's junior, met Friedrich during one of his visits home in 1901.

Elisabeth moved to America with her husband after their wedding. By then, Friedrich was an American citizen. He shuttered his businesses on the West coast and turned his attention to Queens, according to Jason Horowitz of The Times.

In 1904, the family went back to Germany only to be deported shortly thereafter.

Government officials ruled that Friedrich be deported as he had never fulfilled his mandatory military service and had failed to notify authorities of his move to the US. Friedrich wrote a letter to the prince regent of Bavaria in 1905 requesting that he be allowed to continue to live there, but his petitions were rejected.

Upon their return to the US in July of 1905, they lived in the South Bronx neighborhood of New York City.

Friedrich Trump died of the Spanish Flu in 1918.

nurses masks spanish flu 1918
Women working for the Red Cross make masks during the pandemic flu in 1918.Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Friedrich Trump was 49 years old when he fell sick in May 1918. He started feeling ill in the afternoon and died "almost immediately" according to the Washington Post and biographer Gwenda Blair.

Per estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 675,000 people died of the Spanish Flu pandemic in the US.

Friedrich and Elisabeth had three children: Elizabeth, Fred, and John.

John Trump MIT
Donald Trump's uncle John, an expert in the early days of high-voltage energy.Courtesy MIT Museum

Elizabeth, Friedrich's oldest child and only daughter, served as a bookkeeper for her younger brother Fred during his early years in the real estate business. Her son, John Walter, was a self-appointed Trump family historian, according to Gwenda Blair.

Friedrich's youngest son, John, has received significant media coverage over the past few years, in part because of President Trump's repeated mention of his uncle throughout his presidency. At one point, he called his uncle "a great super genius."

John Trump had a storied career as an engineer, working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for over 40 years. Among some of his most noted contributions was a breakthrough in X-Ray technology that advanced cancer treatment and research.

Frederick Christ Trump, Donald Trump's father, was born in 1905 shortly after his parents were forced to move back to the US from Germany.

Fred Trump and son Donald Trump
Donald Trump with his father, Fred.AP/MediaPunch Standard

Per a 2018 Independent story, Fred Trump's first business venture was adding garage extensions to houses as a teenager.

Fred Trump built his career as a real estate mogul in the mid-1900s through construction projects in Brooklyn and Queens and parts of Pennsylvania and Virginia during World War II.

His July 1999 New York Times obituary called him a "self-made man" who built "27,000 apartments and row houses in the neighborhoods of Coney Island, Bensonhurst, Sheepshead Bay, Flatbush, and Brighton Beach in Brooklyn and Flushing and Jamaica Estates in Queens."

According to The Times, the Justice Department sued the Trump Management Corporation in 1973 for "discrimination against [B]lacks in apartment rentals." Fred and Donald were both named as defendants on the suit. Donald Trump called the charges "absolutely ridiculous."

At the time of his death, his estate was estimated to be somewhere between $250 million and $300 million.

A 2018 New York Times investigation found that President Trump has received over $400 million from his father's real estate empire, adding that "much of this money came to Mr. Trump because he helped his parents dodge taxes."

Responding to the Times investigation, the Trump family said, "All appropriate gift and estate tax returns were filed, and the required taxes were paid. Our father's estate was closed in 2001 by both the Internal Revenue Service and the New York State tax authorities, and our mother's estate was closed in 2004. Our family has no other comment on these matters that happened some 20 years ago, and would appreciate your respecting the privacy of our deceased parents, may God rest their souls."

In 1936, Fred Trump married Mary Anne McLeod, a Scottish immigrant.

Donald Trump Mary Trump
Donald Trump with Mary McLeod Trump.Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

The couple met and fell in love at a dance.

McLeod had immigrated to the US from the Scottish Hebrides in 1929 as a teenager, Mary Pilon of The New Yorker reported in 2016. Like Friedrich Trump, she already had family in the US. She became a naturalized US citizen in 1942.

Fred and Mary Trump had five children: Maryanne, Fred, Elizabeth, Donald, and Robert.

Trump's oldest sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, 83, is a retired federal judge.

Maryanne Trump Barry
Maryanne Barry Trump.Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

Barry has degrees from Mount Holyoke College and Columbia University. She has a son, David Desmond, who is a clinical psychologist.

According to Town & Country magazine, she was nominated to the US District Court by President Ronald Reagan 1983 and the US Court of Appeals by President Bill Clinton in 1999.

"I knew better even as a child than to even attempt to compete with Donald. I wouldn't have been able to win. He was building models when he was very young. Huge buildings," Barry told New York Magazine in 2002.

On August 22, the Washington Post released a number of voice notes where Barry can be heard being critical of her brother. In the recordings, Barry refers to Trump as "cruel" and comments on "the phoniness of it all."

"His goddamned tweet and the lying, oh my God. I'm talking too freely, but you know. The change of stories. The lack of preparation. The lying. Holy shit. But he's appealing to the base. What they're doing to the kids at the border, I mean," Barry could be heard saying in the recording.

"Every day it's something else, who cares. I miss my brother, and I'll continue to work hard for the American people. Not everyone agrees, but the results are obvious. Our country will soon be stronger than ever before," the White House said on behalf of Trump in a statement shared with Business Insider, referencing his late younger brother, Robert Trump.

Fred Trump Jr.'s career was a mixture of aviation, entrepreneurship, and joining the family business.

Fred Trump Jr
Mary Trump's father, Fred Trump Jr., is pictured in 1966.Louis Liotta/New York Post Archives /NYP Holdings, Inc. via Getty

A Washington Post article referred to Fred Jr. as "tall, blond and movie-star handsome" and "the opposite of Donald Trump — soft-spoken, playful, and often joking."

Fred died in 1981 at the age of 46. He struggled with alcoholism, and President Trump has said that Fred's death has had a "tremendous impact" on him.

Fred had two children with his wife Linda Lee Clapp — Fred Trump III and Mary Trump, both named after his parents.

On July 28, Mary Trump published a tell-all book about the president. The book, titled "Too Much and Never Enough," documents the president's childhood and includes anecdotes of him and his siblings as kids.

She also wrote that Trump disparaged and ignored his father as Fred's health condition grew progressively worse due to Alzheimer's disease and that her side of the family was cut off from the family health insurance after they contested Fred Trump's will after his death.

Prior to the book's release, the late Robert Trump filed a motion to block Simon and Schuster from publishing the book, with the primary objective being that in writing the book, she was violating a confidentiality agreement that her branch of the family had entered into while settling a contentious dispute over the estate of Fred Trump Sr. Judge Hal Greenwald of Dutchess County, New York, issued a temporary restraining order barring the book's publication. This later was overruled by an appellate judge.

Elizabeth Trump Grau, 80, has stayed out of the family business.

Elizabeth Trump Grau
Elizabeth Grau and nephew Donald Trump Jr. attend the Andrea Bocelli concert at The Mar-a-Lago Club on February 28, 2010, in Palm Beach, Florida.Lucien Capehart/Getty Images

In "The Art of The Deal," President Trump called Elizabeth "bright but less ambitious."

Elizabeth attended Southern Virginia University and went on to work at Chase Manhattan Bank, although there are conflicting reports of her exact role at the financial institution.

She's married to producer James Grau.

Robert Trump, the youngest Trump sibling, died on August 15 at the age of 71.

Robert Trump Donald Trump
Donald Trump and Robert Trump in the crowd after speaking during an election rally on Wednesday, November 09, 2016.Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Robert Trump, a former top executive at The Trump Organization, told Page Six in 2016 that he supported his brother running for president "one thousand percent."

On August 15, Trump shared that Robert had died and released a statement saying, "He was not just my brother, he was my best friend. He will be greatly missed, but we will meet again."

Donald Trump married his first wife Ivana Marie Zelníčková, a former skier and model, in 1977. Born and raised in Czechoslovakia, Ivana became a US citizen in 1988.

trump ivana children
Family portrait of Ivana Trump, Eric Trump, Donald Trump, and Ivanka Trump at Mar-a-Lago in 1998.Davidoff Studios/Getty Images

Ivana and Trump were married for 14 years and have three children together: Donald Jr., Eric, and Ivanka. The couple broke up amid reports of infidelity on Trump's part.

During their marriage, Ivana was involved in her husband's business in varying capacities — running various hotels and casinos, and designing the interiors of properties.

In 2017, Ivana said that President Trump had made her an offer to be the ambassador to the Czech Republic. She turned it down because "it's four years in Prague, so bye-bye to Miami, bye-bye to New York in spring and fall, bye-bye to Saint-Tropez in summer," she told The New York Post.

Ivana published a book titled "Raising Trump" in 2017 about raising her children. "Donald might not have been the greatest husband to me, but he was a good father to the kids," she wrote.

Ivana died at age 73 in July of 2022. The medical examiner ruled her death an accident.

"I am very saddened to inform all of those that loved her, of which there were many, that Ivana Trump has passed away at her home in New York City," Donald Trump said in a post on Truth Social at the time. "She was a wonderful, beautiful, and amazing woman, who led a great and inspirational life."

Ivanka Trump, Trump's oldest daughter.

Ivanka Trump
President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he believed his daughter, Ivanka Trump, would make a "dynamite" ambassador to the UN.Carlos Barria/Reuters

Named Ivana after her mother, she goes by her nickname, "Ivanka."

Ivanka, 41, attended Georgetown University for two years. She transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, where she secured a degree in economics.

Ivanka started modeling as a teenager and walked the runway for Versace, Business Insider previously reported.

She's also dabbled with helping the Trump Organization in deals and negotiations, as well as starting her own lifestyle brand — The Ivanka Trump Collection.

After assuming her role in the White House, she stepped down from both the Trump Organization and her fashion line. When Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, and others dropped her fashion line, citing poor sales, she shut down her brand in 2018.

She's married to real estate developer Jared Kushner, former senior advisor to Trump. They have three children: Arabella, Joseph, and Theodore.

Ivanka, who was also an advisor while her father was in office,  recently announced that she is stepping away from politics to focus on her family.

"I love my father very much. This time around, I am choosing to prioritize my children and the private life we are creating as a family. I do not plan to be involved in politics," she said in a statement.

Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, Trump's sons, have taken charge of running the Trump Organization.

don jr and eric trump
Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. speak during a ribbon-cutting event at Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point in The Bronx.Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Donald Jr., 44, and Eric, 38, went to the University of Pennsylvania and Georgetown University, respectively. They're both executive vice presidents at Trump Organization.

Donald Jr. was married to actress and model Vanessa Trump for 13 years and has five children with her. He's currently engaged to former Fox News television host Kimberly Guilfoyle. Guilfoyle was formerly married to the Democratic governor of California, Gavin Newsom.

Eric is married to television producer Lara Trump and has two children with her. In 2018, E News called them "the most normal, least controversial couple" in the Trump family. He has made media appearances on networks like Fox and CNN to defend statements made by his father.

Eric was involved with his father's 2020 reelection campaign, specifically in establishing a rapport with high-profile donors and campaign finances, as Business Insider previously reported.

Per a Wall Street Journal story, Eric called 2019 a very profitable year for Trump Organization. In a statement to WSJ, Trump called Eric "an outstanding young man who has never let [him] down."

Brian Spegele and Rebecca Ballhaus reported for the WSJ that after the economy recovers and once Trump has left public office, the organization will focus on expanding its luxury hotel business.

Trump married Marla Maples in 1993 after divorcing TKTKT inTKTK. The two separated after four years of marriage, according to a 1999 New York Post story.

tiffany trump marla maples
Marla Maples and her young daughter Tiffany Trump in November 1995.Paul Hurschmann/AP

Their daughter, Tiffany, was born in October 1993. Two months later, the couple got married at the Plaza Hotel in New York City.

Vanity Fair's Gabriel Sherman wrote that "where Ivana was the austere European with royal aspirations, Maples was a beauty queen from the Bible Belt."

After separating from Trump in 1997, Maples raised Tiffany in California. Tiffany, now 26, graduated from Georgetown Law School in May 2020.

Speaking to the Times in 2019, Marla said, "I'm not in the White House. I have friends on both sides. I will just walk in the middle. I'll do everything I can to remind people that any type of anger or judgment can truly have such a negative impact on ourselves, and absolutely on our environment."

Tiffany, 29, the former president's lesser-known daughter

Tiffany Trump
Tiffany Trump, right, arrives with Michael Boulos for the funeral of Ivana Trump, Wednesday, July 20, 2022, in New York. The life of Ivana Trump is being celebrated at a funeral Mass at a Manhattan church following her death last week. The 73-year-old Ivana Trump died at her Manhattan home. Authorities say the death was an accident, with blunt impact injuries to her torso as the cause.AP Photo/John Minchillo

Tiffany Trump, the child of Trump and Marla Maples, was born in West Palm Beach, Florida, in 1993.

After separating from Trump in 1997, Maples raised Tiffany in California. Tiffany, now 29, graduated from Georgetown Law School in May 2020.

Tiffany, who is more-low profile compared to her half-siblings, recently married businessman Michael Boulos in Mar-a-Lago.


Trump married to Melania Trump in TKTK after divorcing TKTKT inTKTK.

melania trump
First lady Melania Trump visits the historical site of the Giza Pyramids in Giza, near Cairo, Egypt. Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018.Carolyn Kaster/AP

Melania Trump was born in Slovenia and moved to New York in 1996 when she was 26 years old. Her White House profile says she appeared in "high profile ad campaigns and [worked] with some of the best photographers in the fashion industry."

Per a Brides story, Melania and Trump met when he was on a date with another woman. Guests at their wedding included Bill and Hillary Clinton.

One of her most widely-known efforts as the former First Lady is the "Be Best" initiative focused on "major issues facing children today."

Washington Post correspondent Mary Jordan published a book titled "The Art of Her Deal" in June 2020 that includes accounts of Melania renegotiating the terms of her prenup after Trump's 2016 election win and a contentious relationship between with Ivanka.

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