Not much is known of the ancient history of the Dreifort family. Until the end of the 19th Century Dreiforts were probably peasant farmers on the Eastern frontier of Germany. They have been traced to a small town in East Prussia called Prussian Holland. That town was in the Kingdom of Prussia, which became a part of the German Empire after the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. It is not clear when the first Dreiforts arrived in East Prussia or exactly what they did there. One theory is that they were among a group of Huguenots who left Holland and migrated east to escape religious persecution in the 15th Century. Most of East Prussia was made up of landed estates owned by the German landed aristocracy known as Junkers. It is probable that the Dreiforts worked on one of those estates probably as farm laborers of craftsmen.
The opportunities for a young man in East Prussia were not great unless he was one of those Junkers. The two branches of the family we are able to trace seem to have left East Prussia about the same time late in the 19th Century in answer to the call of the industrial revolution and urbanization. This movement from the country to the city was occurring in Europe and America at that time. One branch of the family moved to Berlin and became civil servants, while another moved to the industrial Ruhr area before immigrating to America.
Karl Wilhelm Dreifort (born September 7, 1864 in Prussian Holland) was in Essen; probably working in the steel industry by the time he was 20 years old. It was at that time that he married his first wife, Auguste Kolbe, and had his first child, Auguste Maria Wilhelmina Dreifort. The family lived in Essen for approximately 12 years before deciding to immigrate to America. Karl, Auguste and their 7 children arrived in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania on September 28. 1896. He had been recruited to work in the fledgling steel industry in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area, having obtained the necessary skills and experience while working for the Krupp steel mills in Essen, Germany. Essen is located in the Ruhr area, then and now the industrial heartland of Germany. In that respect, Karl and his family probably felt at home after moving to the cradle of the iron and steel industry of America.
Following the biblical edict, Karl was fruitful and multiplied in Germany and again when he arrived in America. He was a 32-year-old family man when he emigrated. In addition to his wife, Auguste, he brought 7 children between the ages of 12 and 1 (Auguste Maria Wilhelmina, Karl August Bernhard, Herman Ferdinand Wilhelm, Maria Elise, Gustav Albert, Alfred Emil Wilhelm, and Else Emma. One child, Gustav Adolf died at one year of age in 1891. Between 1884 and 1916, a period of 32 years, Karl fathered 15 children with two wives. As far as we know, all Dreiforts in America are descended from Karl and his two wives. No surviving Dreiforts in Germany or the rest of the world other than those descended from Karl Wilhelm Dreifort have been discovered.
Karl's wife, Auguste, survived for only 5 years after arriving in America. She died December 28, 1901 at the age of 43. Karl was left with the problem of supporting seven children between the ages of 16 and 6. It is certain that his oldest daughter, Augusta, known as Gustie, assumed a great deal of this burden. Less than a year after his first wife's death Karl thought he had a solution to his problems. On September 19, 1902 he married his sister in law Karoline Landsbach nee Kolbe. At the time of their marriage, Karoline was a widow. The family records indicate that this plan did not work out. Karl and Karoline lived together in his home in Monesson, Pennsylvania for only two days before she returned to her own home in Beaver Falls. A divorce was granted on December 24, 1904. Some think this could be a reflection on the problems of living with a Dreifort man. There is a tradition concerning Dreifort men and the women they marry, which will be discussed later.
Karl was able to obtain some stability in his family life when he married his third wife, Emma Stein on June 3, 1905 three and one half years after the death of his first wife, Auguste. Karl was 41 and Emma was 25 at the time of their marriage. On August 5, 1906 the first of their 7 children, Harry Paul August, was born. The next 6 children (Jennie Gertrude, Gertrude Emma, Arthur Paul Kurt, Paul, Ernest and Bertha) were all born over the 10-year period culminating with Bertha's birth on May 17, 1916.
Sometime around the death of their mother and their father's marriage to Emma, the older children began to migrate from Pennsylvania to the Cleveland area. The primary motivation was probably the search for jobs. It is thought that Karl August Bernhard, also known as uncle Charlie was the first to make the journey. His brothers and sisters then followed him. Many of the family ended up working for General Electric and other large industries in Cleveland.
Karl stayed in Pennsylvania until his death on April 18, 1922 at the age of 58. Emma and her children gradually migrated to Cleveland as well. For most of the period of the 1920s through the 1950s Cleveland was the center of the Dreifort family. Starting with about the third generation Dreiforts began to move to other parts of the country for economic and other reasons. Today there are Dreiforts all over the country but only two listed in the Cleveland telephone directory. All of these Dreiforts are decedents of Karl Wilhelm who immigrated in 1896.
The Dreifort family represents an American success story, which was repeated over and over during the surge of immigration at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th Centuries. A man with little formal education, some work skills and a strong work ethic was able to raise a large family, who went on to become useful and productive citizens. None of the family spoke English when they arrived in America, but they quickly learned it as was typical of immigrants in those days. The children did not have much formal education, because they had to go to work to help support the family. Most of the boys were working in factories by the time they were teenagers. In spite of their lack of formal education, the children learned trades and were able to support their own families in a good middle class fashion through the 1920s and even during the great depression of the 1930s. There is something in the Dreifort character that made that possible.
Although the Dreifort character has been affected by the maternal influence of the many Dreifort wives, the major thread of that character, for good and bad, can be traced back to Karl Wilhelm. This is particularly true for male Dreiforts. It is common for a male Dreifort to be told he is exactly like his father. Over the years it has been a sort of parlor game for Dreifort women to discuss Dreifort men at family gatherings. Although these discussions included a lot of hyperbole and tended to be stereotypical, they probably reflected a lot of truth as well. For the most part Dreifort men have been honest, hard working family men. They were loyal husbands and good providers. Some of the major complaints about Dreifort men in the early generations were the flip side of the good stuff. Most of their time and attention was devoted to their work both on the job and around the home. They didn't have much time for entertainment or cultural pursuits. They were strict and demanding fathers. Even though they didn't have a lot of formal education, they expected the second generation to achieve the American dream. It was their hard work, in most cases, that made that possible.
Another point concerning the Dreifort family relates to religion. There isn't much evidence that the early generations were deeply involved with organized religion. As was true for most Germans from Prussia, the Dreiforts were Lutheran. All the children were baptized and all the marriages occurred in the Lutheran Church. However, some of the children married members of the Roman Catholic Church as well as members of other Protestant denominations. Although they were not always active church members, the family maintained a good grip on basic Judeo Christian Ethics. As a result of intermarriage and conversion you will find Dreiforts today who are Catholic, Protestant and Jewish. We don't believe there are any Islamic Dreiforts at this time.