Family members made their fortune controlling grain distribution beginning in Odessa (then Russian Empire, now Ukraine) and later controlled large-scale oil resources across Crimea and the Caucasus. From 1856, members of the family established banking houses in Vienna, Paris, and Athens. By 1860, the family was the world’s largest grain exporter. The Austrian branch of the family were elevated to the nobility by the Habsburg emperor.
During the 19th century, the family possessed vast wealth, owning many castles, palaces, and estates in Europe. The family were known for their connoisseurship, intellectual interests, and their huge collections of art.
The family name is considered to be a variation of "Ephrati", a Jewish family name attested in various countries since the 14th Century and still current in present-day Israel, in this case transformed through the Ashkenazi pronunciation (Ephrati-Ephrassi-Ephrussi).