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The "company that's worth many, many billions of dollars", the Trump empire, all started, he would like you to believe, with a "very small loan" of what has been found to have amounted to $14 million from his father. Loans have a rather different connotations than gifts, of course, and this "very small" one certainly allowed Donald Trump to claim to be the self-made man he'd like others to see him as.
The true story is, of course, much longer and also much more interesting.
Donald Trump's grandfather, Fredrick Trump, was a German immigrant and a business man who made his fortune through running boarding houses and boom-town restaurants. Dying when Fred, Donald's father, was just 13, he nonetheless imbued his son with a strong work ethnic, and a strong attention to detail. They were things he would later pass onto his own son, Donald, who said of his father: "I learned from my father that every penny counts, because before too long your pennies turn into dollars."
The business empire that enabled Fred Trump to offer him that "small loan" actually started with another "small loan" a generation earlier. Fred, who trained as a carpenter, went into business with his mother Elizabeth Christ Trump in 1920 when he was only 15. She had to sign his checks because he was under age, and it was the $800 that Elizabeth lent Fred that he used to construct his first house in 1923. He sold it for $7,000, marking the start of a very successful business.
What kind of a man was Fred?
Like Donald, he was eccentric and seemingly had a great love of strange hairdos. Like Donald, he knew a good opportunity when he saw one. Like Donald, he was controversial, once being arrested at a Klu Klux Klan rally. Like Donald, he thought of himself as an all-American capitalist, once referring to himself, in an ad, as "Fred C. Trump, acting as a free and rugged individualist to meet the basic need for shelter". He was less flashy though, preferring to take care of his affairs at the breakfast table rather than having an office.
It's hard to find loving, praising comments Fred made about his son, though he did say, in 1977:
"I always tell Donald, 'The elevator to success is out of order. Go one step at a time. But what do you think of what my Donald has put together? It boggles the mind!"
Donald, in turn, wrote about his father, in The Art of the Deal:
"I was never intimidated by my father, the way most people were. I stood up to him, and he respected that."
The story of the Trumps' family relations is, it appears looking from the outside in, primarily the story of business relations. Rather than loving words, Fred offered him $3.5 million worth of casino chips to circumvent bankruptcy laws.
What kind of father was Fred Trump behind closed doors, and what kind of son was Donald? We will never know. We do know, however, that the Trumps are not an ordinary family.