On October 7, 1885, Friedrich Trump, a 16-year-old German barber, purchased a one-way ticket to America, thereby escaping three years of mandatory military service in Germany. He had been a sick child, unfit for hard labor and feared the effects of conscription. It may have been illegal, but America didn’t care about this lawbreaking – at the time, Germans were considered highly desirable migrants – and Trump was welcomed with open arms. Less than two weeks later, he arrived in New York, where he would eventually make a small fortune. More than a century later, his grandson, Donald Trumpbecomes the 45th president of Friedrich’s adopted home.
But for decades, Trump denied this German heritage, instead saying his grandfather’s roots were further north, in Scandinavia. “(He) came here from Sweden when he was a child,” Trump claimed in his co-authored book. The art of the market. In fact, his cousin and family historian John Walter said The New York Times, Trump maintained this ruse at the behest of his own real estate agent father, Fred Trump, who had concealed his German ancestry to avoid antagonizing his Jewish friends and clients. “After the war,” Walter told the Times, “he’s still Swedish. (The lie) went, went, went.
Trump is the son and grandson of immigrants: German on his father’s side and Scottish on his mother’s side. None of His grand-parents, and only one of his parents, was born in the United States or spoke English as a native language. (His mother’s parents, from the remote Scottish Outer Hebrides, lived in a predominantly Gaelic-speaking community.)
Friedrich Trump arrived in the United States amid a flood of Germans: that year alone, about a million people made the journey to settle in America. It was the Times reported, “the beginning of an adventurous life as a barber, restaurateur, salon owner, hotelier, entrepreneur, gold rush prospector, shipwreck survivor and New York real estate investor.”
He married a woman from his German hometown of Kallstadt, where his parents owned vineyards, and attempted to return home with his fortune. But when his refusal to enlist came to light, the couple lost their Bavarian citizenship and were forced to return to America permanently. There, they had three children: Trump’s father, Fred, was the middle child. Born in the Bronx borough of New York in 1905, Fred Trump was an all-American child who spoke no German. Later he would become one of the most successful young businessmenamassing a fortune even as many around him collapsed into financial ruin.
In the mid-1930s, a young Fred Trump went to a party “dressed in a nice suit and sporting his trademark mustache.” Two Scottish sisters were at the same party in Queens: the youngest, Mary Anne MacLeod, was a domestic worker who was planning to return to her native island. “Something sparked between the servant and the tycoon,” write Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher in their biography Trump revealed. When Trump returned that night to the home he shared with his mother, the authors continue, he made an announcement: He had met the woman he planned to marry.
MacLeod may have lived in poverty in the United States, but his origins were even less acceptable. She was the child of a fisherman and subsistence farmer, and the youngest of 10 children born in the village of Tong on the Scottish island of Lewis. “It was not an easy existence,” reports Policy. This large Gaelic-speaking family lived together in a modest gray shingle house, “surrounded by a landscape of properties that local historians and genealogists characterized by terms like ‘”human misery‘ And ‘incredibly dirty.’”
Married to Fred Trump, MacLeod lived a radically different life of fur coats and 50-foot yachts. In 1942, she became an American citizen and only occasionally returned to her native Scotland, where her son now has several properties. While Friedrich Trump had enjoyed moderate success in real estate, he died suddenly in a flu pandemic before his 50th birthday and thus did not live long enough to see many of his projects come to fruition. At his death, his net worth was approximately $510,000 in current dollars. Under the name Elizabeth Trump & Son, Fred Trump and his mother Elizabeth continued this work and built it into a thriving business.
Trump’s international background makes him relatively unusual among American presidents. Of the last 10 presidents, only two – Trump and Barack Obama – have had a parent born outside the United States. Trump’s immediate family is also international: two of his three wives were naturalized American citizens, originally from the Czech Republic and Slovenia. Only one of his five children, Tiffany, is the child of two U.S.-born citizens, while his daughter, Ivanka, is the first Jewish member of the First Family in American history. But according to his biographers, none of his international roots extend to Sweden.