Frederick Trump: How Donald Trump's grandfather made him millions

Frederick Trump: How Donald Trump's grandfather made him millions

We often wonder about what it takes to make someone president. How does someone go from an average Joe Blogs to one one of the most powerful men or women on the face of the Earth? The answer lies in genetics. We might not like to admit it, but almost every one of us owes much of our success to our ancestors, and Donald Trump is no different. After all, it takes a lot of help to become a billionaire, and even more to become president, and it wasn't just blind luck.

A lot of Republican supporters like to think of their beloved leader as being a self-made man - someone who rose from humble beginnings to become one of the most successful and celebrated businessmen ever. But the truth is a little bit more complicated than that. To get to the root of the Trump Dynasty's millions, we have to go back in time a whole century and examine the biography of the one man that history has almost forgotten: Donald Trump's grandfather, the man who kickstarted it all in the early 20th century.

Frederick Trump was born on March 14, 1869, in the little town of Kallstadt in the former kingdom of Bavaria. The Palatinate region was famed for its vineyards and produced juicy, delicious grapes in the hot summers. The Trump's were not particularly rich at this time, but were not impoverished either. However Frederick Trump's father Johannes was chronically unwell, and sickness and infirmity seemed to plague Frederick also.

Johannes suffered from emphysema, also known as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease - a condition in which the lungs are inflamed and airways narrowed, resulting in shortness of breath and coughing fits. Johannes died as a result of his condition on July 6, 1877, and left his family in severe debt as a result of the cumulation of medical expenses. Five out of six of the Trump children worked in grape fields, while Friedrich stayed indoors - too unwell for the work.

In 1883, when he was 14-years-old, he was sent by his mother to become a barber’s apprentice. After two years of training, Frederick returned home, but there were no jobs for a barber in Kallstadt. By then, Trump was almost of age to sign up for national service, and his mother, worried that he would be killed in the army, decided that it would be best if he immigrated to America.

He arrived in the United States on board the steamship Eider, pitching up at the Castle Garden Emigrant Landing Depot in New York City on October 19. After only a few hours, he was employed by a fellow German who needed a barber. He moved in with his older sister Katharina, who had herself emigrated back in 1883 with her husband Fred Schuster. He spent six years working as barber, carefully scrimping and saving until he had $1000 worth of assets.

Once he had amassed that, he moved to Seattle, where he bought a cafe in the red light district called 'Poodle Dog', which he renamed 'The Dairy Restaurant'. Due to its proximity to the risqué part of town, the Dairy Restaurant was an instant success, and after three years Frederick was able to sell the establishment for a tidy profit. Already you can see the same sense of entrepreneurship that his grandson would become famous for.

But America in the 1880s was a nation gripped by the Gold Rush, and Frederick Trump was not one to rest on his laurels when there was money to be made. To that end, Trump travelled to the snowy Yukon in search of riches, buying up land that prospectors would be panning for gold on, and profiting from their often fruitless searches. Trump opened yet more brothels and restaurants and made vast sums of cash off the back of those in search of the gold.

Wherever they went, he would follow, selling his land almost as fast as he bought. Among the people of Bennett, where Trump built the Artic hotel, he was known as "the man who mined the miners." His choice to work as a hotel manager was shrewd. After all, nobody, least of all the prospectors, seemed to know who would strike gold and where. But land in the regions where the prospectors worked was cheap, and easy to develop on, and Trump was prepared to take a significant cut of their money in the few instances where they made any.

By 1901, Trump had made a name for himself as a property developer. But the gold rush bubble had long since burst and Trump's business partner's alcoholism had led to a lot of antagonism between the two men. Trump decided to return to his hometown after more than 15 years abroad. There he quickly met and married Elisabeth Christ, who was eleven years his junior -  a match his mother reportedly disapproved of because she was from a lower class.

The couple moved back to New York City, but Elisabeth's extreme homesickness forced them to return to Germany. Just when it seemed like Frederick was there to stay, the German government discovered that he had avoided the draft as a teenager, and exiled him back to the US. Trump resumed work as a hotel manager, and his and Elisabeth's son Fred was born in 1905 - Donald Trump's father.

Frederick Trump died suddenly at the age of 49 in 1918 as a result of Spanish flu. At his death, his total assets included a seven-room home in Queens, five vacant lots, $4,000 in savings and $3600 in stocks. All told, in 1918 Trump's net worth was $31,359 - approximately half a million dollars in today's money.

That might not sound like the foundation of an empire nowadays, but it was a start, and as history tells us, Trump's family were just as shrewd as he was. His wife and son used his real estate to develop the Elizabeth Trump & Son - which later came to be known as the Trump Organisation - the same multinational company which later went on to employ 22,000 people, and was valued at $9.5 billion.

It sounds like the archetypal story of the American dream - an immigrant coming to the United States in search of wealth and opportunity, who worked hard and raised a fortune through legitimate enterprise. But it just goes to show that even the tallest among us have to stand on the shoulders of giants - and President Donald Trump is no exception.