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Fred Trump

Queens NY rooftops
The New York suburb of Queens, where Fred Trump made his fortune.
Queens NY rooftops
The New York suburb of Queens, where Fred Trump made his fortune.
Fred Trump was a shrewd businessman who built a property empire in New York.

His father, Frederick Trump Senior, had made money in the Klondike gold rush of the 1890s. But he died in the 1918 flu epidemic when Fred was only 12.

In his will he left his savings, a house in the New York suburbs, and some land. But this was not enough to support the family and when Fred left school three years later, he set up in business as a builder.

It was a good choice of trade. The New York suburbs were expanding fast. The population of Queens, where the Trumps lived, increased ten times over the next twenty years. Fred was in the right place at the right time.

He was not yet old enough to build houses or even sign his own cheques - his mother had to take care of the accounts. So to gain experience, he built garages for the automobiles that were starting to become popular. He built his first house seven years later when he was 22.

The housing boom continued up to and after the Second World War. In the 1940s and 50s, Fred Trump learned to take advantage of new government schemes to provide low-cost housing. These were part of President Roosevelt's New Deal.

Fred was known as a penny-pincher. He would walk around his construction sites picking up dropped nails to reuse later. But his cost-cutting paid off and he was able to complete contracts for less than the government paid him and keep the profit.

He was also good at finding loopholes in the law that allowed him legally avoid paying tax. As the author of a recent book on the family noted, Fred Trump 'never saw a tax break he didn't take advantage of'.

For all this, Fred Trump's apartments were well-built and attractive. With large entrance lobbies and well-made fittings, they were popular with residents. It is a sign of their quality that most are still standing today.

In the 1970s, Fred handed over the running of the business to his son Donald. He'd inherited the equivalent of half a million dollars in 1918. When he died in 1999, he left between 250 and 300 million.

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1  Comprehension - Fred Trump

2  Vocabulary quiz - Fred Trump