This is the second in a series of articles about Anderson Cooper's family tree. This week we take a look at William Henry Vanderbilt, Gloria Vanderbilt Cooper's great grandfather. Again thanks to Viewer in Virginia for penning the series for us and to Em for the puzzle. ~Phebe
Cornelius and Sophia had twelve children, eleven of whom survived to adulthood. The first three were girls; Phebe, Ethelinda and Eliza. The fourth was a boy, William Henry. He was frail and sickly and no doubt this affected the way his healthy and vigorous father perceived his eldest son. Appearances can be deceiving, as we shall see.
As it did not appear that William would be much help in running the expanding shipping and rail business, Cornelius sent him to Staten Island to run one of the family's farms. Lo and behold, the son turned the farm around, reorganized it and made money. This pleased the father so much that he put William in charge of the newly acquired Long Island Railroad. Once again, he proved to be his father's son, and made the once bankrupt line into a money maker.Cornelius, now more certain he had a worthy heir, gave his son more responsibility running the railroad portion of the company. By the mid 1860's, Cornelius had abandoned shipping to concentrate on the railroads. He and William successfully merged five rail lines in the New York area into one large one, the previously mentioned New York Central Railroad.
William became the sole manager of the Vanderbilt holdings when Cornelius died in 1877. The father died knowing his life's work was in capable hands. William expanded the rail operations into the Midwest-- as far as St. Louis MO and as far south as Cincinnati, OH. Like his father had done many years before, he used rate cuts to get and keep customers, to the detriment of competitors. He also fought federal regulation of the railroads.On the personal side, he married at age 19 to Mary Louisa Kissam. They had eight children, the eldest, a son, was Cornelius Vanderbilt II, the great-grandfather of Anderson. Going to the Opera (depicting William Henry Vanderbilt family) by Seymour Guy 1873
William was very different from his father in one way, though. He was generous with his money--he continued to give to Vanderbilt University, to Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons. He could afford to be equitable and generous, as he had doubled his father's fortune and did it in the space of ten years. He retired early (compared to his father) because of his poor health and died at age 64. The Vanderbilt businesses were worth, in our dollars, 52 billion. Perhaps because he was sickly and frail, his perspective on earthly goods and money was different from his parsimonious father who was only interested in making money. William made many bequests to organizations in New York, and divided the fortune amongst his siblings, children and others more fairly than his father had.
These two, Cornelius and William, founded the largest personal fortune ever in American history. They were two men in the right place at the right time. Cornelius realized the value of moving people and goods efficiently and cheaply, and invented a business model that had never been seen before. William learned and expanded his father's innovations (some not all good, of course). What they accomplished was original and the ripples are still coming down through history. One other result of the astounding wealth the first two Vanderbilt men accumulated: their offspring contributed to the period of the late 1800's known as The Gilded Age, when money was literally no object and its use as both an indicator of status and privilege brought to the American consciousness the difference copious amounts of money made in life. ~Viewer in Virginia
All Things Anderson is a blog dedicated to CNN's AC360 and its host Anderson Cooper.