Select Dreyfus Surname Genealogy

Dreyfus is predominantly a Jewish surname, the origin of the name coming from the German town of Trier on the Moselle river, close by the border with France.  Jews driven out from there in the 16th century found refuge in Alsace.

The spelling variants, Dreyfus and Dreyfuss, have tended to correspond to the country the family was living in at the time the spelling was standardized.  Dreyfus was more common among people of French origin; Dreyfuss among those of German descent. 

The Dreyfuss name was also found in Bavaria.  Here it appears to have
derived as a nickname from the German dreifuss, meaning a “tripod” or “cooking pot with three legs."

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Select Dreyfus Ancestry

Although Alsace is in present-day France, Jews there may have had either a French or a German cultural background.  Two famous Dreyfuses from Alsace have been:
  • Alfred Dreyfus, a young French artillery officer who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1894 for allegedly communicating French military secrets to the Germans.  What came to be known as the Dreyfus Affair divided French society sharply.  Alfred’s ancestry in Alsace has been traced back to Mathias David of Trier in the 17th century.
  • and Leopold Dreyfus who was born in Sierentz, Alsace in 1833.   At the age of eighteen he began trading wheat from neighboring farms and founded a company under his father's name of Louis as he was too young to use his own.  That company is now the global commodity trading company Louis Dreyfus.  In the early 1900’s he changed his own surname and those of his descendants to the hyphenated Louis-Dreyfus.  His line goes back to the marriage of Marx and Mindel Dreyfus in Sierentz in 1762.
The Dreyfus and Dreyfuss numbers in Alsace are small today.  They total less than 700 for the whole of France.  There is also a smattering of Jewish Dreyfuses in Switzerland.

Charles Dreyfus, said to have been distant relative of Alfred Dreyfus the man caught up in the Dreyfus Affair, arrived in England in 1869.  A chemist by training, he became the manager and owner of a chemical plant in Manchester which manufactured DMC wire.  Charles employed the Zionist Chaim Weizmann at the plant and remained a friend of his until his death.

Edmund Dreyfus who came to England in 1895 was also from Alsace, although from a branch of his family that had started a bank in Switzerland.  His son John Dreyfus became well-known internationally as a typographer and historian of letters.

An early arrival was Abraham Dreyfus from Bavaria who came in 1849 and joined the US army in the West.  He enlisted in the Utah expedition in 1857 and was based in Arizona and New Mexico during the Civil War.  After the war he spent some time in Mexico before settling down in San Bernardino, California.

Henry Dreyfuss came to Shreveport, Louisiana from Alsace in 1855 and started up as a merchant there.  His son Jules
owned a sugar cane business in New Iberia.

“His wife was mixed African and American Indian (and thus they could not technically be married).  Although he was white and she was black, he sent their daughter to some of the finest private schools.”

It was said that this Jewish family also took on the name of Threefoot (an English translation of their name) when they arrived in America.

Theodore Dreyfus arrived in New Orleans from Mannheim in Germany in the 1880’s.  He started up a general store which has now passed through four generations of Dreyfus management.  In 1989 the store became Joe’s Dreyfus Store restaurant.

Samuel Dreyfuss from Baden had come to America in 1860 and made a fortune before the Civil War selling spirits to Native Americans.  His son Barney who arrived in 1881
owned the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball franchise from 1900 until his death in 1932.  He is often credited with the creation of the baseball World Series.

A Dreyfus family from Alsace arrived in Mississippi around the year 1880.  By the early 1900’s Jonas Dreyfus and his brothers had established a candy manufacturing business in Montgomery, Alabama.  Jonas’s son Jack Dreyfus, born there in 1913, was the founder of the Dreyfus Funds and is widely credited for having invented the commonplace mutual fund through direct marketing to the American public. 

Otto and Lillie Dreyfus were German immigrants who came to Wisconsin in the 1890’s and ran a tavern on Milwaukee’s South Side.  Their son Woods joined Milwaukee’s WISN radio station in 1927 and over a twenty-year period served as singer, announcer, program director, and finally as its General Manager.  Woods’ son Lee Dreyfus was Wisconsin’s Governor from 1979 to 1983.

The Louis-Dreyfus family was described as one of the "top five biggest fortunes of France."  However, as a Jewish family during the Second World War much of the family assets were confiscated by the Vichy government. Gerard Louis-Dreyfus, a great grandson of the company founder Leopold, came to America with his mother in 1940.  He was the father of the actress Julia Louis-Dreyfu

Select Dreyfus Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select Dreyfus Names

Leopold Louis-Dreyfus was the founder of the global commodity trading company Louis Dreyfus.
Henry Dreyfuss
was one of the foremost American industrial designers of consumer products in the 1930’s and 1940’s.
Jack Dreyfus
was the founder of the Dreyfus Funds.  He is widely credited with having invented the commonplace mutual fund through direct marketing to the American public.
Richard Dreyfuss
is an American actor who won the Academy award for Best Actor in the 1978 film The Goodbye Girl.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus
is a well-known American actress in both TV and film roles.

Select Dreyfus Today
  • 1,000 in America (most numerous in California) 
  • 200 elsewhere (most numerous in UK)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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