The way he talks about immigrants and immigration, Donald Trump would have you think that a Trump came to the New World on the Mayflower, that a Trump signed the Declaration of Independence, that a Trump fought at the battle of Bunker Hill and so on.
Not only did Trump’s ancestors not arrive in the United States until the late 1800’s, the Trump family fortune wasn’t even started here. There was some monkey business involved in it as well.
A new book by Gwenda Blair, The Trumps: Three Generations That Built An Empire, describes how Trump’s grandfather came to the U.S. from his native Germany, started a small business in America, then set out for Canada to try to find a fortune during the Klondike gold rush.
Friedrich Trump, a barber’s apprentice in Germany, set out for America in 1885 at age 16. Friedrich’s father had died young, and the young man was looking to do something other than become a barber. He wound up in Manhattan at a time when, as Blair observes, there were no immigration quotas, and became a naturalized American. He Anglicized his name to Frederick and wound up in Seattle, looking to make his fortune.
In Seattle, the young Trump leased a small restaurant known as “The Poodle Dog” that advertised “private rooms for ladies,” which at that time was a reference to prostitution. His restaurant was doing well, but when he heard that John D. Rockefeller was financing a mining operation in a town called Monte Cristo, Trump knew he had to get in on it. In Monte Cristo, Trump filed a fraudulent mineral claim that he had no intention of working and built a hotel on the land, even though he didn’t own it. He then returned to the business of offering customers food, booze and women. When the Monte Cristo mining boom began to peter out both Rockefeller and Trump quietly backed out. This made them, according to Blair, two of the few who made money on the adventure.
By this time, miners had begun arriving to make the journey to the Yukon to mine for gold. Trump saw a golden opportunity. Not in mining, but in a series of trail-side restaurants that would also supply the miners with prostitutes. Just like his grandson’s casinos, Frederick Trump intended to make his fortune by, as Blair puts it, “mining the miners.”
In 1900, Trump was living in White Horse, Yukon, where he had once again built a hotel on land he didn’t own, across from the railroad station. His Arctic Restaurant offered arriving miners the things he had offered in his other ventures: food, liquor, gambling, and prostitutes. This business was to be short-lived, however. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police — the “Mounties” — were beginning to crack down on vice in the territory. But Trump had made his money, and as the Yukon gold rush was coming to an end, he made his way back to his native Germany, with a nest egg equal to about $600,000 in today’s money. What happened next was the height of irony, given his grandson’s talk about deporting undocumented immigrants in the U.S.
While in Germany, Trump got married. But he also ran into a problem. Military service was mandatory, but since he left at 16, he had been too young to serve. Now, he was over 35, and too old to serve. Trump tried to buy his way out of the predicament by offering to deposit his money in the village treasury. He then swore that he had not intended to avoid service, but was merely trying to help his mother. All he wanted to do was regain his German citizenship, and “lead a quiet life.” Local officials liked the plan. But Frederick Trump was not anybody important, and regional authorities rejected it. Frederick Trump, his wife who was at the time pregnant with Donald’s father Fred, and their daughter were stripped of their German citizenship and put on a boat to the United States.
Frederick Trump, according to the headline on Gwenda Blair’s story at Politico, is the person who made “The Donald” who he is. A shrewd businessman who was not afraid to bend the rules to his advantage. Most importantly, he was an immigrant who actually started his fortune not in the “land of opportunity,” America, but in Canada, and who was deported from his own homeland.
If only Germany had kept Frederick, America right now might not be dealing with “The Donald.”