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

  • President Donald Trump's grandfather moved to the US from Germany in a steamship in 1885.
  • In the 135 years since then, the family has produced real estate magnates, one federal judge, and the current president of the United States.
  • Mary Trump, President Trump's niece, released a book about the Trump family on July 28. The book catalogs many stories about Trump and his siblings while they were growing up and their "toxic" family. 
  • On August 15, Trump shared a statement announcing that his younger brother, Robert Trump, had died in New York. He was 71. 
  • The White House and Trump Organization didn't immediately respond to request for comment for this article from Business Insider.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The Trump family has been making headlines for decades — first, as bigwigs in the real estate world and now, as some of the most powerful politicians in America.

On August 15, Trump shared that his younger brother, Robert Trump, had died. He didn't specify the cause of his death. 

"He was not just my brother, he was my best friend. He will be greatly missed, but we will meet again. His memory will live on in my heart forever. Robert, I love you. Rest in peace," he wrote.

Here's a look at the dynasty behind the first family of the US.

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

Friedrich Trump was born in Kallstadt, Germany, and arrived in New York on a steamship. 

"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. Once he landed in New York, he lived with his older sister on the Lower East Side in Manhattan.

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 claimed they were Swedish.

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

Jason Horowitz, the author of the NYT article, added 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, alluding to 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.

In 1902, Friedrich married Elisabeth Christ, a former neighbor in Kallstadt.

Elisabeth, who was 11 years her husband's junior, was five when Friedrich first left Germany. He met her during a visit 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. 

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 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, Friedrich, Elisabeth, and their daughter lived in the South Bronx neighborhood of New York City.

Friedrich Trump died of the Spanish Flu in 1918.

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.

Elizabeth, Friedrich's oldest 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.

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.

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."

In 1973, the Justice Department sued the Trump Management Corporation 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 NYT 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.

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. 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.

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.

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

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, 78, has stayed out of the family business.

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. The couple lives in Florida. 

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

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." He also donated $100,000 to the Trump Victory PAC.

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.

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 said 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."

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.

Ivanka Trump, Trump's oldest daughter, is a Senior Advisor to her father.

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

Ivanka, 38, attended Georgetown University for two years. She transferred to the University of Pennsylvania where she secured a degree in economics. 

Ivanka starting 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, who is also a senior advisor to the president. They have three children: Arabella, Joseph, and Theodore. 

Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, Trump's sons, have taken charge of running the Trump Organization during their father's presidential term.

Donald Jr., 42, and Eric, 36, 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 in a relationship with 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 has been involved with his father's 2020 reelection campaign, specifically with 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. In the meantime, Eric has been tasked with the tricky business of reopening properties post coronavirus shutdowns.

Trump married Marla Maples in 1993 and separated after four years of marriage, per a 1999 New York Post story.

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 NYT 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."

Trump has been married to Melania Trump, born Knauss, since 2005. They have one son, Barron Trump, who is 14.

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 First Lady is the "Be Best" initiative focused on "major issues facing children today."

The program has been criticized for lack of proper policy or a path towards concrete legislation. In May 2020, CNN's Kate Bennett wrote that "most of its accomplishments in terms of advancing funding for children's issues under the banner of 'Be Best' come via partnerships with programs that already exist within the federal government."

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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