Sunday, November 29, 2009

William Henry Vanderbilt

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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




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7 comments:

On_Love_Street_With_Jim_Morrison said...

Good job with your research about the Vanderbilt family, Viewer in Virginia. I am really enjoying reading your posts. Keep up the good work :)

The Vanderbilt's are certainly an interesting family and I find it fascinating to read about them.

judy said...

@ Viewer in Virginia: It is unfortunate that both William and his father, Cornelius, were able to make a fortune in today's dollars of 52 billion, only later to have it squandered by the Vanderbilts who were to later to inherit such a great fortune. This is really interesting, and at one time HBO was going to have a series about this famous family but some how it never happened.
Still anxiously awaiting the part where Gloria gives birth to AC.

MichellenLomita said...

Hi Phebe, Hope you had a happy birthday weekend! Your website was great when I first started reading, and it improves all the time. I loved the article about Gloria and Gordon Parks. I see why Anderson is so interesting. He is living, aristocratic history, and his mother is a special lady, and lovely. Hope you have the story where Anderson comes in. He didn't write much about childhood with Gloria in his book; there's more about his relationship with his dad. I know he's a private person, but I hope he doesn't mind sharing it with his fans.

Eben said...

I wonder if Anderson is aware he has first cousins twice removed in Chester, New Hampshire, namely:

Count Andrew Hadik
Countess Alexandra Hadik
Count Christopher Hadik
Countess Cornelia Prevost (née Hadik)

The four listed above were the grandchildren of Alice Széchenyi (daughter of Count Laszlo Széchenyi and Gladys Moore Vanderbilt (youngest daughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt and Alice Claypoole Gwynne.

I can not, in any manner, shape, or form, express my happiness at how Gloria Vanderbilt's life has evolved. She has every reason to be one very unhappy woman yet she has a resilience like none other. I recently saw a photo of 89-year old Gloria and her son Anderson and she looks tremendous. After all the heartache in her life she deserves, in Anderson, the loving, doting, exceptional man she has after the tragic loss of is brother that fateful day. Brava Gloria, bravo Anderson!

Unknown said...

Correction: His father put him in charge of the Staten Island Railroad not the Long Island Railroad. He did make the line profitable despite no experience in the business.

Anonymous said...


ANDERSON, I RESPECT AND ADMIRE YOU, YOU ARE ONE GREAT MAN!

Anonymous said...

What happened to the 3rd son, Alan Vanderbilt 1846/7-1858? Nothing is ever mentioned about him.