Dreyfus Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Dreyfus Meaning
Dreyfus is predominantly a Jewish surname, the origin of the name coming
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
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.

Dreyfus Resources on

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
    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
    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.

England. 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
that had started a bank in Switzerland.
His son John Dreyfus
well-known internationally as a typographer and historian of letters.

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
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

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
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
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
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
government. Gerard Louis-Dreyfus, a
great grandson of the company founder Leopold, came to America with his
in 1940. He was the father of the actress
Julia Louis-Dreyfus.


Dreyfus Miscellany

Dreyfus Surname Origin.  In the year 1555, when the persecution of the Jews took on new momentum in Germany, the Elector Palatine Johann II and his neighbor the Archbishop Elector Johann of Trier agreed to expel all the Jews from their dominions.

The Jewish fugitives from Trier had to
find a new home and sought it in Alsace.
Jews of that time had not adopted the use of hereditary surnames.  Thus the municipal and communal authorities
throughout Alsace entered the names of one and all the Jewish
immigrants as
Treviranus, (that is “the man from Trier” from the Latin

The “T” of the
official scribe was altered in the popular dialect to the hard “D,”
and the official abbreviation “Trevus” in the local registers became
“Dreyfus.”  And so every Jewish
exile from Trier had to accept their new surname of Dreyfus. 

The Dreyfus Affair.  The Dreyfus Affair was a political scandal that divided French society from 1894 until its resolution in 1906.
The affair is often seen as a modern and
universal symbol of injustice and it remains one of the most
examples of a complex miscarriage of justice and antisemitism.  The major role played by the press and public
opinion proved influential in the lasting social conflict.

The scandal began in
December 1894 with the treason conviction of Captain Alfred
Dreyfus, a
young French artillery officer of Jewish descent.  Sentenced
to life
imprisonment for allegedly communicating French military secrets
to the
Germans, Dreyfus was imprisoned on Devil’s Island in French Guiana
where he
spent nearly five years.

Evidence came to light in 1896 identifying a French
army major named Ferdinand Esterhazy as the real culprit.  After high-ranking military officials
suppressed the new evidence, a military court unanimously acquitted
after a trial lasting only two days.  The
Army then accused Dreyfus with additional charges based on falsified

Word of the military court’s framing of Dreyfus and of an
attempted cover-up
began to spread.  Many, like the writer
Emile Zola, put pressure on the government to reopen the case.  In
was returned to France for another trial. The intense political and
scandal that ensued divided French society between those who supported
(called Dreyfusards) and those who condemned him (the anti-Dreyfusards). The new trial resulted in another conviction
and a ten-year sentence, but Dreyfus was given a pardon and set free.

Eventually all the accusations against Dreyfus were
demonstrated to be
baseless.  In 1906 Dreyfus was
exonerated and reinstated as a major in the French army.

John Dreyfus in England.  His family had originated in
Alsace.  One branch had established a
bank in Basle, preferring though to live in France.
Edmond Dreyfus decided to seek his fortune in
England.  He arrived in 1895, naturalized
in 1900, and became a stockbroker there in 1904.  His wife
Marguerite was of
German extraction, but her father had moved to England before settling
in Paris
where she was born.  It was into this
thoroughly cosmopolitan family that John Dreyfus was born in 1918.

a very early age he had been fascinated by the physical form of books
print.  Dreyfus was taken with the new type and layout with which
Morison had transformed The Times in
1932.  Seven years later, Dreyfus joined
the Cambridge University Press, where Morison was also typographic
adviser, as
a graduate trainee.

After serving in World War Two he was welcomed back to the
Cambridge University Press.  In 1949 his
first book came out, The Survival of
Baskerville’s Punches
, the story of how the work of the great
printer was preserved by Beaumarchais, passing eventually to the
type-founders Deberny & Peignot.

In 1954, when Stanley Morison, the press’s
typographical adviser, decided to retire, Dreyfus was his natural
successor.  Two years later he became
consultant to the Limited Editions Club of New York which specialized
in fine
printing.   These new responsibilities
gave him a European reputation that, with his family background, came
easily to
him.  From 1968 to 1973 Dreyfus was
President of the Association Typographique Internationale which had
founded by his friend Charles Peignot.

A graceful and popular lecturer, Dreyfus
was much in demand in the United States as well as Europe.
His particular subject was the fine printing
of the 19th century.  He had a proper
pride in his own achievements, and was delighted by the wonderful
collection of
tributes – drawn, printed, engraved or handwritten – presented to him
in 1998
on his 80th birthday by his many admirers.
He died in London four years later.

Jack Dreyfus, A Man of Many Talents.  His paternal grandfather was a first cousin of Alfred Dreyfus, the protagonist in the French Dreyfus Affair.

He was the founder of the Dreyfus
Funds and is
widely credited for having invented the commonplace mutual fund through
marketing to the American public.  His early television
commercials featuring a
lion emerging from the Wall Street subway station proved very
successful.  According to Barron’s
, he is considered the second most significant money
manager of the
20th century.

Jack Dreyfus was also a renowned championship bridge

And he
established in the early 1960’s the Hobeau Farm in Ocala, Florida where
bred, trained and raced thoroughbred racehorses.  He served
Chairman of
the New York Racing Association and was voted the 1976 Eclipse Award of
in 1976.  This is thoroughbred racing’s
highest honor that can be presented to an individual displaying
lifetime achievement and service to the thoroughbred industry.

Lee Dreyfus and His Red Vest.  Governor Lee Dreyfus proudly wore a red vest while posing
for his official gubernatorial portrait painted by the Wisconsin artist
Pollard in 1983.

Dreyfus had begun wearing the vest while at the
University of
Wisconsin at Stevens Point, probably in the early 1970’s.
He wore it at that time because he thought
the vest made it easier for UWSP students to recognize him.

There were also stories
that the red vest was tied to anti-military student protests.  He had begun wearing it after someone shot an
arrow at him one cold night as he arrived home on the campus. The
from the incident reflected his controversial role as a pro-military
advocate for the ROTC.

The red vest quickly became his trademark.
Dreyfus wore red vests in public until his
death in 2008.  In his last year as
governor, he donated one of his at least twenty red vests to the
Historical Society.


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 Numbers Today

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




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