I am a retired engineer and small business owner who has authored over 60 books on history and various topics.
Very few Americans are fence-sitters when they talk about Donald Trump—they either love him or hate him. The flamboyant billionaire, now president of the United States, has had a whirlwind life of amazing successes and blazing failures. Take the short read through this biography to see the man behind the persona.
Ancestry and Early Life
Donald John Trump was born on June 14, 1946, in Queens, New York City. His mother’s family was from Outer Hebrides, Scotland, and his father’s family was German. All four of his grandparents were born and raised in Europe. His paternal grandfather, Friedrich Trump, was originally from Kallstadt, a small village in Germany, but he immigrated to the United States in 1885 when he was only 16 years old. Friedrich Trump became a successful businessman in his adoptive country and accumulated an impressive fortune. His main business was opening and managing restaurants and boarding houses in key areas of the country during the gold rush.
In 1902, Friedrich married Elizabeth Christ, who was from his native Kallstadt. After marrying, the couple lived a prosperous life in New York. When Friedrich died, his son Fred had to take over the family’s real estate business. Their company, Elizabeth Trump and Son, successfully operated in Queens and Brooklyn, where it ran construction projects and sold thousands of houses, apartments, and barracks. In 1936, Fred married Mary Anne MacLeod, a young woman who immigrated to New York from Lewis, Scotland, and worked as a maid. Fred and Mary Anne had five children and the family lived in the Jamaica Estates neighborhood of Queens. Donald was the fourth child and he had two sisters, Maryanne and Elizabeth, and two brothers, Fred, Jr., and Robert.
Donald Trump attended Kew-Forest School until seventh grade. At the age of thirteen, he joined the New York Military Academy, a private boarding school chosen specially by his parents. In 1964, he became a student at Fordham University, where he spent the next two years before transferring to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. The Wharton School attracted young Trump because it offered real estate studies, which at the time were available in few departments in the country.
Besides the knowledge and inspiration he got from his successful father, Trump was also inspired by famous Manhattan developer William Zeckendorf, whose success he wanted to replicate and surpass. While studying, Trump also worked at the family firm. In 1968, he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in economics. Trump did not serve during the Vietnam War as he was given several deferments while a university student, and later a medical deferment. Even though it was later established that he was fit for military service, he never got drafted. His number on the draft lottery was high enough to keep him out of the war.
Real Estate Career
Trump began his business career by working at his father’s real estate development firm, known at the time as Elizabeth Trump and Son. Their main focus was middle class rental housing in the outer boroughs of New York. While he was still studying for his undergraduate degree, Trump helped his father Fred to expand an apartment complex in Cincinnati, Ohio. By managing to raise the occupancy rate from 66% to 100%, he proved his exceptional talent in handling business affairs.
In 1971, Trump was promoted to president of the company, which was soon renamed The Trump Organization. His father Fred took a position as chairman of the board. Despite their consistent success, the Trump family amassed unwanted attention when the Justice Department reached the conclusion that their organization repeatedly discriminated against African Americans who wanted to rent their apartments. The criteria for screening out people had not been low income, as they stated. The case was settled in 1975, even though the Trumps did not admit any wrongdoing.
Donald Trump’s first significant real estate deal was the acquisition of a half-share in the Commodore Hotel in Manhattan in 1976. Using a $70 million construction loan guaranteed by his father and the Hyatt hotel chain, Trump led a successful remodeling project. The hotel opened as the Grand Hyatt Hotel and marked a major accomplishment at the beginning of Trump’s Manhattan real estate career. Additionally, in the same year, he signed a contract for the development of Trump Tower, a 58-story, 202-meter skyscraper in Midtown Manhattan. The Trump Tower was completed in 1983 and it is the headquarters of The Trump Organization. It also houses the primary penthouse residence of Trump. Trump Tower was also the setting of the NBC TV show, The Apprentice.
During the following years, Trump became involved in the construction of several important buildings in New York, but mainly he was interested in purchasing and restoring older buildings. One of the most remarkable examples is the Trump International Hotel and Tower, which before being taken over by Trump’s reconstruction team, was just a decrepit building that was swaying in the wind.
In 1996, Trump bought the Bank of Manhattan Trust Building, an old vacant skyscraper on Wall Street that made history in the 1930s as the tallest building at the time. After an extensive makeover, it was renamed Trump Building. One year later, Trump launched a complex development project, which he wanted to name Trump Place. However, the project encountered several delays due to defective construction, and it was sold for $1.8 billion in 2005. The transaction became popular as the biggest residential sale in the history of New York City. Between 1994 and 2002, Trump owned an outstanding 50% share of the Empire State Building. In 2001, he opened Trump World Tower, which was, for a while, the tallest all-residential tower in the world. In 2004, he opened the Trump Park Avenue, a 35 story building of luxury condominiums.
Over the past 20 years, Trump’s organization expanded well beyond New York and it is involved in the co-development and management of hotel towers in Chicago, Washington, D.C., Toronto, Vancouver, and Panama City. There are several building projects around the world that market themselves under the Trump brand, although they are not operated by The Trump Organization. Trump-branded buildings can be found in Dubai, Honolulu, Manila, Mumbai, Istanbul, and Indonesia. By licensing his name for various commercial services and products, and real estate projects, Trump raised the value of the Trump brand to $200 million, according to financial evaluation by Forbes. According to Trump’s personal assessments, his brand is worth $3 billion.
Other Business Ventures
Since 1971, when he took over the family real estate firm and rebranded it as The Trump Organization, Donald Trump managed to expand significantly the scope of its business operations but also ventured into other business activities. When New Jersey legalized casino gambling in 1977, Trump expanded his business in that direction by opening Trump Plaza Hotel, the tallest building in Atlantic City at the time. However, the casino brought little profit in the beginning, which compelled Trump to open a second hotel and casino, the Trump Castle. Around the same period, he launched a new project for a third casino, the Taj Mahal, which cost him $1.1 billion. As the most expensive casino in the world at that time, the Taj Mahal left Trump in debt and he lost 50% of the ownership.
By 1996, Trump’s organization, Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts (THCR), had in its portfolio full ownership of three casinos in Atlantic City and one casino in Gary, Indiana. However, the organization underwent bankruptcy restructuring twice, and Trump was eventually left with only 10% ownership of the properties. The THCR was rebranded as Trump Entertainment Resorts, with Trump occupying the CEO position from 2000 to 2005.
Besides hotels, residential buildings, and casinos, The Trump Organization also operates several golf courses and resorts in the United States and in other key locations around the world. Reports suggest that Trump owns or manages around 18 golf courses.
In 1983, Trump bought the New Jersey Generals, an American football team that was playing in the United States Football League. The project collapsed after just three seasons due to financial struggles. However, Trump remained involved in sports by hosting boxing matches at the Trump Plaza in Atlantic City. He also became a friend and financial advisor of the boxer, Mike Tyson.
Venturing far from his real estate business, Trump became interested in the Miss Universe pageants. From 1996 to 2015, he fully or partially owned the Miss Universe pageants, including Miss USA and Miss Teen USA. He managed the business with the help of his family members. In 2015, after he made a series of controversial and offensive public statements, many partners and companies decided to end their business relationship with him. NBC then refused to air the Miss Universe or Miss USA pageants on its networks and Trump had no other option than to stand aside and sell his shares.
In 2003, Trump got involved in the entertainment industry as the executive producer and host of the NBC reality show, The Apprentice, in which a group of young professionals entered a fierce competition for a high-level management job at one of the businesses of The Trump Organization. The show ran for fourteen seasons; the fifteenth season was canceled when NBC Universal decided to end its business relationship with Donald Trump due to his controversial campaign announcement speech.
Donald Trump expressed an interest in politics for the first time in 1987 when he registered as a Republican in Manhattan. At the time, he was one of the most admired businessmen in the United States, which prompted him to consider running for the presidency in 1988, 2000, 2004, and 2012, and also for governor of New York in 2006 and 2014. However, aside from vaguely expressing interest, he did not enter any of the races, except the one in 2000 where he challenged Pat Buchanan as the presidential nominee for the Reform Party. He also changed his political affiliations repeatedly, siding for years at a time with the Democrats or endorsing politicians from the opposition. In the past few years, he decided to remain associated with the Republican Party.
Trump became more active on the political scene in 2011 and was considered a leading figure among potential contenders for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. However, some considered his interest in politics just a marketing strategy to promote his reality show, The Apprentice. On May 16, 2011, he announced that he would not run for the presidency in the 2012 election, but he continued to stay visible by making speeches and participating in conferences. He was advised by New York Republicans to run for governor of New York, an offer he refused.
Donald Trump announced his official candidacy for President of the United States on June 16, 2015, during a speech at Trump Tower. His speech focused on many issues of high interest for Americans. He highlighted illegal immigration, Islamic terrorism, and national debt as his main priorities for the campaign. His slogan, “Make America Great Again,” quickly became very popular.
Stating his disdain for political correctness, Trump soon started a series of controversial speeches that made Republican leaders hesitant about supporting him. Many Republicans were afraid that he would harm the image of the party. Several of Trump’s rallies during the primary season ended with protests or violence. The most important American media publications, including the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, continuously revealed inconsistencies in Trump’s campaign declarations. Fact-checking organizations discovered a record number of false statements in his speeches. Denying the accusations, Trump described his speaking style as compliant with common rhetoric in the real estate business. He also refused to release his tax returns, even though every presidential candidate since 1976 has accepted this common practice. He confessed, defiantly, that he is very diligent in his attempts to pay as little tax as possible.
Despite all the controversies around his candidacy, Trump won the Republican nomination for the presidential race, and he began to campaign against the Democrat nominee, Hillary Clinton, who had a significant lead over him. Trump chose Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate.
According to political analysts, Trump’s political positions could be included under the term “populist,” often reaching beyond party lines. Some of his comments were perceived as outrageous by large segments of American society. Moreover, Trump’s campaign was almost crushed by allegations of sexual misconduct when a 2005 recording was made public, in which Trump was bragging about forcibly kissing women and touching them inappropriately. The tape caused waves of shock and disapproval across the political scene, and many Republicans withdrew their endorsements of Trump’s candidacy. While most thought the incident would terminate his political career, on November 8, 2016, Trump won the electoral vote by a great margin. However, he lost the popular vote by 2.1 percentage points. Neither candidate managed to score a majority nationwide.
On January 20, 2017, Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. He is now the wealthiest president in U.S. history and also the first president without professional experience in government. To avoid conflict of interest between his work as president and his work as a businessman, Trump resigned from all of his roles within The Trump Organization. His two adult sons, Don, Jr., and Eric took over the family business.
In 1977, at the age of 30, Donald Trump married his girlfriend, Ivana Zelníčková. She was a Czech international model who became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1988. The couple had three children: Donald, Jr., Ivanka, and Eric. Their marriage ended in 1992 when news about Trump’s affair with actress Marla Maples culminated in a widely publicized scandal. Trump married Maples in 1993 after she gave birth to their daughter, Tiffany. However, Trump’s second marriage lasted only six years and ended with another scandalous divorce. Tiffany was raised by her single mother in California.
In January 2005, Trump married for the third time. Slovenian model Melania Knauss became his wife. They celebrated their wedding with a lavish ceremony in Palm Beach, Florida, followed by a reception at one of Trump’s estates. Their son Barron was born two months after the wedding. Melania Trump is now the First Lady of the United States.
Once he had to take over his responsibilities at the White House, Trump appointed his two adult sons from his first marriage, Eric and Don, Jr., as managers of his organization. His daughter Ivanka took a formal leave of absence from The Trump Organization and serves as an assistant to the president while her husband Jared Kushner is a senior advisor in the White House.
Although on his father’s side, his ancestors were Lutherans from Germany, Trump is Presbyterian, following the tradition of his parents, who married in a Presbyterian church and enrolled their children at the First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica, Queens. The Trump family changed their religious affiliation in the 1970s when they joined the Marble Collegiate Church, which was associated with the Reformed Church of America. The pastor Norman Vincent Peale became a spiritual advisor to the family. Trump often cited Peale while talking about the role of religion in his life, but he has been in close contact with other influential Christian spiritual leaders as well.
Just how rich Donald Trump is has been an area of much speculation. According to his declarations, Trump launched his career with a one-million-dollar loan from his father. If in 1982 he had an estimated $200 million fortune, during the late 1980s, he became a billionaire. His wealth has fluctuated over the years, with severe losses between 1990 and 1995. In 1999, Fred Trump’s estate of around $20 million was divided among all his children and grandchildren.
In 2015, when Trump officially announced his candidacy for the presidential race, he also released a financial document stating that his net worth was at around $8.7 billion. Later, a more detailed financial disclosure form revealed a possible net worth of more than $10 billion. However, Forbes considers Trump’s net worth estimate widely exaggerated, and set its own estimate at $4.1 billion. Surprisingly, federal filings from 2017 suggest that The Trump Organization had a revenue of around $600m-$700m for the year, very far from Trump’s claims. His controversial remarks about illegal immigration caused Trump to lose important business contracts. His business was also affected by consumer boycotts, but it has been slowly recovering.
West, Doug. Donald Trump: A Short Biography: 45th President of the United States. C&D Publications. 2018.
As Trump Files FEC Disclosure, He Raises Claimed Net Worth To $10 Billion; Forbes Disagrees. Forbes. July 15, 2015. Accessed December 9, 2017
Donald Trump: My dad gave me 'a small loan' of $1 million to get started. CNBC. October 26, 2015. Accessed December 9, 2017
Donald Trump just sold off the entire Miss Universe Organization. Business Insider. September 14, 2015. Accessed December 9, 2017
Donald Trump is waging war on political correctness. And he's losing. The Washington Post. July 6, 2015. Accessed December 9, 2017
Meet Donald Trump: Everything You Need To Know (And Probably Didn't Know) About The 2016 Republican Presidential Candidate. ABC News. July 27, 2015. Accessed December 9, 2017
President Trump has made 1,318 false or misleading claims over 263 days. The Washington Post. October 10, 2017. Accessed December 9, 2017
The Truth About the Rise and Fall of Donald Trump's Atlantic City Empire. Philadelphia Magazine. August 16, 2015. Accessed December 9, 2017
Trump recorded having extremely lewd conversation about women in 2005. The Washington Post. October 8, 2016. Accessed December 9, 2017
The World's Billionaires – No. 544 Donald Trump. Forbes. 2017. Accessed December 10, 2017
Kranish, Michael and Marc Fisher. Trump Revealed: An American Journey of Ambition, Ego, Money, and Power. Scribner. 2016.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
Readmikenow on December 16, 2017:
A very well done article. I would have to say Donald Trump is an American success story. A family of immigrants come to the United States, work hard and succeed. No wonder he loves this country so much.
Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on December 15, 2017:
He is an interesting person. You told his story, as always, with taste and no bias. Great job. I enjoy your articles, Doug. Keep up the superb work.
Doug West (author) from Missouri on December 15, 2017:
Glad you enjoyed the bio of president Trump. There is no doubt about it, he is a character.
Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on December 15, 2017:
I didn't know about the history of Donald Trump or his family, so this has been very interesting to read, thankyou. I wish I had his money though lol.