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Fact Check: Donald Trump Says His Uncle Was an MIT Professor. Here's the Truth

newspapers.com / Youtube
newspapers.com / Youtube

Claim:

Donald Trump's uncle was a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Rating:

Rating: True
Rating: True

In an effort to highlight his supposed mental and genetic superiority over U.S. President Joe Biden during a Las Vegas campaign rally on Jan. 27, 2024, former President Donald Trump pointed to his uncle, whom he described as the longest-serving professor in the history of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT):

I had an uncle — he's the longest-serving professor, Dr. John Trump — in the history of MIT. Same genes. … We're smart people. … We're like racehorses, too. The fast ones produce the fast ones, and the slow ones? Doesn't work out so well.

This was not the first time Trump used this talking point. He first mentioned John Trump in a political context on the second day of his 2016 campaign — at a June 17, 2015, rally in New Hampshire:

I had an uncle who went to MIT who is a top professor. Dr. John Trump. A genius. It's my blood. I'm smart. Great marks. Like really smart.

As Snopes wrote in August 2016, Trump also brought up his uncle in a portion of a July 19, 2016, campaign speech in South Carolina — ostensibly about Obama's nuclear deal with Iran — that later went viral:

Look, having nuclear — my uncle was a great professor and scientist and engineer, Dr. John Trump at MIT; good genes, very good genes, OK, very smart, the Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart. … Nuclear is so powerful; my uncle explained that to me many, many years ago

While this familial link's use as evidence of Donald Trump's cognitive strength is at best limited, it is true that his uncle was an accomplished scientist and a long-serving professor of engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — where he also received his Ph.D. — as described in 2016 in The New Yorker:

John Trump really does seem to have been a brilliant scientist. He was at M.I.T. for decades … . Trump was involved in radar research for the Allies in the Second World War, and in 1943 the F.B.I. had enough faith in his technical ability and his discretion to call him in when Nikola Tesla died in his room at the New Yorker Hotel, in Manhattan, raising the question of whether enemy agents might have had a chance to learn some of his secrets before the body was found. (One fear was that Tesla was working on a “death ray.”)

His work received media coverage throughout his career. A 1939 Boston Globe article, for example, highlighted an X-ray generator designed by Trump and Robert Van de Graaff (of Van de Graaff generator fame):

It is unclear whether John Trump was ever considered the "longest-serving" faculty member at MIT, but he was associated with the school for decades — he received his Ph.D. there in 1933 and partially retired, while continuing to give lectures, in 1973. He died in 1985. According to his obituary, his work, among other things, advanced radiation therapies for cancer patients:

After the war. Dr. Trump, while still on the faculty at M.I.T., became associated with the Department of Radiology at the Lahey Clinic in Boston and later became chairman of its board.

Under his direction rotational radiation therapy was developed, ''an idea that created quite a stir in those days,'' he recalled later. He also conceived and developed the use of high-energy electrons in the treatment of superficial skin lesions.

Because it is well-documented that former President Trump's uncle was a professor at MIT, we rate this claim as "True."

Sources:

CNN.Com - Transcripts. http://www.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1506/30/acd.01.html. Accessed 29 Jan. 2024.

“JOHN TRUMP DIES; ENGINEER WAS 78.” The New York Times, 26 Feb. 1985. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/1985/02/26/us/john-trump-dies-engineer-was-78.html.

Legaspi, Althea. “Trump Touts Cognitive Skills Citing He’s Related to an MIT Professor: ‘Same Genes.’” Rolling Stone, 28 Jan. 2024, https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/trump-las-vegas-rally-touts-cognitive-skills-1234955590/.

“New X-Ray Generator at Tech.” The Boston Globe, 25 Feb. 1939, p. 16. newspapers.com, https://www.newspapers.com/article/the-boston-globe-new-x-ray-generator-at/139840856/.

Sorkin, Amy Davidson. “Donald Trump’s Nuclear Uncle.” The New Yorker, 8 Apr. 2016. www.newyorker.com, https://www.newyorker.com/news/amy-davidson/donald-trumps-nuclear-uncle.

“The Trump Show Hits New Hampshire.” POLITICO, 17 June 2015, https://www.politico.com/story/2015/06/the-trump-show-hits-nh-119137.