VANDERBILT, CORNELIUS (1794-1877), American capitalist, was born near Stapleton, Staten Island, New York, on the 27th of May 1794. He was a descendant of Jan Aersten Van der Bilt, who emigrated from Holland about 1650 and settled near Brooklyn. The family removed to Staten Island in 1715. At the age of 16 he bought a sailboat, in which he carried farm produce and passengers between Staten Island and New York. He was soon doing a profitable carrying business, and in 1813 carried supplies to fortifications in New York Harbour and the adjacent waters. Recognizing the superiority of steam over sailing vessels, he sold his sloops and schooners, and in 1817-1829 was a captain on a steam ferry between New York and New Brunswick. During the next twenty years he developed an extensive carrying trade along the coast in a leet which became so large as to win for him the popular designation of " Commodore." In 1849 he got from the Nicaraguan government a charter for a route from Grey town on the Atlantic by the San Juan river and Lake Nicaragua to San Juan del Sur, on the Pacific; and in 1851-1853 by means of this route he conducted a semi-monthly steamship line between New York and San Francisco. In 1855-1861 he operated a freight and passenger line between New York and Havre, and by carrying the United States mails free drove out of business his only rival, the Collins line the Cunard boats being at that time in use for the Crimean War. In 1857-1862 he sold his steamships and turned his attention more and more to the development of railways. In 1857 he became a director, and in 1863 president, of the New York & Harlem railway company, operating a line between New York and Chatham Four Corners, in Columbia county, and he greatly improved this service. He then acquired a controlling interest in the Hudson River railway, of which he became president in 1865; and after a sharp struggle in 1868 he became president of the New York Central (between Albany and Buffalo), which in 1869 he combined with the Hudson River road, under the name of the New York Central & Hudson River railroad, of which he became president. His acquisition of the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern railway in 1873 established a through line (controlled by him) between New York and Chicago. At the time of his death (in New York City on the 4th of January 1877) he owned a majority interest in the New York Central & Hudson River, the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern, the Harlem, and the Canada Southern railways, and had holdings in many others, and his fortune was variously estimated at from $90,000,000 to $100,000,000, about $80,000,000 of which he left to his son, William Henry. He made considerable benefactions to Vanderbilt University, and gave $50,000 during his life to the Church of the Strangers in New York.
His eldest son, WILLIAM HENRY VANDERBILT (1821-1885), was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, on the 8th of May 1821. He was a clerk in a New York banking house from 1839 to 1842, when his father bought him a farm of 75 acres near New Dorp, Staten Island, New York. In 1860 he was appointed receiver of the Staten Island railway, of which he was elected president in 1862, and which he brought into connexion with New York by means of a line of ferry-boats. He became vice-president of the Hudson River railway in 1865, vicepresident of the New York Central & Hudson River railway in 1869, and president in June 1877, succeeding his father as president of the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern, the Canada Southern, and the Michigan Central railways. He died in New York on the 8th of December 1885. His fortune at the time of his death was estimated at $200,000,000. In 1880 he paid all the expenses ($100,000) incident to the removal of the obelisk (" Cleopatra's Needle ") from Egypt to Central Park, New York; in the same year he gave $100,000 to found the Theological School of Vanderbilt University, which his father had endowed. In 1884 he gave $500,000 to found a school of medicine in connexion with the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York. By his will he left $200,000 to Vanderbilt University, $100,000 to the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church, $100,000 to St Luke's Hospital in New York, $100,000 to the Young Men's Christian Association of New York, $100,000 to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, $50,000 to the American Museum of Natural History, $100,000 to the Protestant Episcopal Mission Society of New York, and $250,000 in all to various other religious and charitable organizations and institutions.
William Henry's eldest son, CORNELIUS (1843-1899), became assistant treasurer of the Harlem railway in 1865, and treasurer in 1867; in 1877, after the death of his grandfather, was elected first vice-president of the New York Central, and in 1878 became treasurer of the Michigan Central and vice-president and treasurer of the Canada Southern. In 1883, under a reorganization of the New York Central and Michigan Central railways, he became chairman of the boards of directors of those two systems and their responsible head. His benefactions included $250,000 (1897) for an addition to St Bartholomew's Hospital in New York; to Yale, $1,500,000, part of which was used in building Vanderbilt Hall (a dormitory); and $100,000 to the fund for the building of the Episcopal Cathedral of St John the Divine in New York. To the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York he presented Rosa Bonhe.ur's" Horse Fair."
See W. A. Croffut, The Vanderbtits and the Story of their Fortune (Chicago, 111., 1886) ; D. W. Cross, " The Railroad Men of America," in Magazine of Western History, vol. viii. (Cleveland, Ohio, 1888); and Burton J. Hendrick, " The Vanderbilt Fortune," in McClure's Magazine, vol. xxxii. (New York, 1908-1909).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)