Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt

Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt

Male 1794 - 1877  (83 years)    Has 32 ancestors and more than 100 descendants in this family tree.

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  • Name Cornelius Vanderbilt 
    Prefix Commodore 
    Relationshipwith Francis Fox
    Born 1794 
    Gender Male 
    Died 4 Jan 1877 
    Person ID I322639  Geneagraphie
    Links To This person is also Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt at Wikipedia 
    Last Modified 31 Oct 2018 

    Father Cornelius Vanderbilt,   b. 28 Aug 1764, Rahway, Union County, NJ, USA Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 20 May 1832, New York, Richmond County, NY, USA Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 67 years) 
    Mother Phebe Hand,   d. Yes, date unknown 
    Family ID F128515  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family 1 Sophia Johnson,   b. 1795,   d. 1868  (Age 73 years) 
    • 13 children, mostly daughters
    +1. Phebe Jane Vanderbilt,   b. 1814,   d. 1878  (Age 64 years)
    +2. Ethelinda Allen Vanderbilt,   b. 1817,   d. 1889  (Age 72 years)
     3. Eliza Vanderbilt,   b. 1819,   d. 1890  (Age 71 years)
    +4. William Henry Vanderbilt,   b. 1821,   d. Dec 1885  (Age 64 years)
    +5. Emily Almira Vanderbilt,   b. 1823,   d. 1896  (Age 73 years)
    +6. Sophia Johnson Vanderbilt,   b. 1825,   d. 1912  (Age 87 years)
    +7. Maria Louisa Vanderbilt,   b. 1827,   d. 1896  (Age 69 years)
     8. Frances Lavinia Vanderbilt,   b. 1828,   d. 1868  (Age 40 years)
     9. Cornelius Jeremiah Vanderbilt,   b. 1830,   d. 1882  (Age 52 years)
     10. George Washington Vanderbilt,   b. 1832,   d. 1836  (Age 4 years)
    +11. Mary Alicia Vanderbilt,   b. 1834,   d. 1902  (Age 68 years)
    +12. Catherine Juliet Vanderbilt,   b. 1836,   d. 1881  (Age 45 years)
     13. George Washington Vanderbilt,   b. 1839,   d. 1864  (Age 25 years)
    Last Modified 19 Jan 2002 
    Family ID F128498  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family 2 Frank Armstrong Crawford,   b. 18 Jan 1839,   d. 4 May 1885  (Age 46 years) 
    Married 1869 
    Last Modified 31 Oct 2018 
    Family ID F322168  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

  • Photos 2 Photos

    Family connection
    Family connection

  • Notes 
    • At twelve he knew how to ferry people and freight between Staten Island and New York City, but he could barely read and write. Yet he was visionary enough to recognize when a business was made obsolete through technical innovation and he had a lucky hand with money. When he was sixteen, he managed to get the money from his mother for a boat and got started in the transportation business. He succeeded through hard work and soon built a reputation for reliable service at low cost. After the war of 1812, he bought a condemned schooner and extended his business to coastal cargo carrying. A few years later he owned interests in many schooners and smaller vessels, but then got interested in the steamboat business.
      In 1818, Cornelius Vanderbilt reconverted to the new technology, selling his interests in his schooners and accepting a job as steamboat captain for Thomas Gibbons, a wealthy attorney and plantation owner. In the meantime, Cornelius Vanderbilt had married his cousin Sophia Johnson and his fortune was estimated to 9'000 $. The deal with Thomas Gibbons included a one half share in the profits of the steamboat operation as well as a wayside inn, the Bellona Hall, which Sophia would run for many years, thus contributing to the family ressources. Cornelius Vanderbilt then started to challenge the Fulton-Livingston monopoly for steamboat operation on the Hudson river. Not only did he run his steamer illegally on the Hudson river, he even did it at rates so low, the other operators felt a serious threat. Countless injunctions were made to arrest Cornelius Vanderbilt, but he always manged to escape. Through Aaron Ogden, one of their licensees, the Fulton-Livingston interests took Thomas Gibbons to court and as the New York courts upheld the monopoly, Gibbons appealed to the Supreme Court of the Unites States. In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Marshall ruled in the case Gibbons vs Ogden, that the Fulton-Livingston monopoly was unconstitutional, since only Congress had the authority to regulate commerce on the navigable waters of the United States. Gibbons and Vanderbilt had won their case and the Fulton-Livingston monopoly was history. The decision immediately contributed to the growth of the Nation, as steamboat business soared and shipping rates dropped.
      Cornelius Vanderbilt managed the Gibbons lines for eleven years until he had saved 30'000 $ in 1829; then he started as an independent steamship operator. A public hero since the breaking of the Fulton-Livingston monopoly, Vanderbilt succeeded by his established credo of competitiveness, driving out competitors and running his ships along the coast to Boston and Maine in the North, to Washington, Charlston and Havana in the South. By the time he was 50, he lived in New York and was counted among the wealthy citizens of that city, his estate being conservatively estimated at 250'000 $ by Moses Beach. It was probably already larger in these times, since Cornelius Vanderbilt not only operated a fleet of 100 steamboats, but had also started to get paid for not operating his ships on certain routes. This practice, whereby competitors keen to keep Vanderbilt out of their profitable business paid him sizeable tribute, would climax during the 1850's, with the Mail Steamship Bill.
      Although Cornelius Vanderbilt seemed never directly involved in securing government subsidies for his steamship enterprises, he managed to benefit greatly from such money, through the tributes he extorted from those who did. These included Edward Knight Collins who was subsidized for running a line of steam packets from New York to Liverpool, in a move to challenge the Cunard line, which was subsidized by England and run by a Scotsman, Samuel Cunard. But the largest and most profitable scheme by which Cornelius Vanderbilt asserted his shipping empire was his line to California through Nicaragua, challenging the Aspinwall's line which ran through Panama. California had come under US control after the War with Mexico in 1846 and the discovery of gold in 1849 attracted 80'000 prospectors in that year alone. In 1851, Cornelius Vanderbilt organized the Accessory Transit Company and obtained a charter to cross Nicaragua by river and lake, also involving the building of a canal system. In his usual manner, he launched the service at unrivaled low fares and attracted much of the traffic to California. His competitors in this venture were formidable, including William Henry Aspinwall, the greatest shipping merchant of New York. Unable to beat his fares, they devised William Walker to overthrow the Nicaraguan government and thereby cancel Vanderbilt's charter. The Commodore retaliated by running his new People's Independent Line through Panama, competing with his rivals head-on. These had secured a government subsidy of 900'000 $ a year for carrying mail to California. Vanderbilt threatened to carry the mail free of charge and thereby forfeit their subsidy. They bought him out by leasing his (now worthless) Nicaragua properties for 56'000 $ per month, a sum they paid for several years until the mail subsidies were cancelled.
      Through his steamship operations and tributes he extorted from his competitors, Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt had amassed a large fortune by the time Civil War broke out. Uneager to run steamships in these troubled times and with an inclination to retire as the multi-millionaire he was, Vanderbilt sold his steamships, many of them to the Union navy, for whom he also acted as a purchasing agent. At this time his fortune was estimated between $ 10 to 40 million, although a figure in the range of 15'000'000 $ looks more likely. (In 1855 Moses Beach put Cornelius Vanderbilts's net worth to just 1'500'000 $, whereas the Commodore allegedly boasted owning $ 11 million, yielding 25% in 1853). Once again Cornelius Vanderbilt sold out a business, he estimated had been overtaken by technology. This time, technology was steam railroads and Vanderbilt would enter this industry just as it was ready to leap in scale.
      Aged 69 and the owner of at least 15'000'000 $
      his family did not mean much to Commodore Vanderbilt and money gave the direction in his life. Cornelius Vanderbilt also had no social aspirations and whilst his descendents would shape the architectural outlook of New York City and Newport by their castles, he only spend the moderate amounts of 27'000 $ for his mansion on Staten Island and 55'000 $ for his town house on Washington Square.
      Thus Cornelius Vanderbilt invested the millions he had made in the steamship business buying railroad stocks. Late in 1862 he acquired a large block of New York & Harlem stock which was then selling at 9 $. When he had control of the road, Vanderbilt secured a charter from the New York City Common Council to run a street railway on Broadway. The stock soared on the news but a group of Wall Street operators, led by Daniel Drew and also including the same aldermen who had granted the Broadway franchise, saw in this the opportunity to short the stock, as George Law got the same franchise from the State Legislature. The Common Council repealed the act, and the stock should have sunken. Drew and his companions were masters in this sort of game, but they had not reckoned the deepness of Vanderbilt's pockets. With millions he had in cash, Cornelius Vanderbilt bought all the shares of the New York & Harlem and the shorters had to settle with him for 179 $ a share. In the process, Cornelius Vanderbilt earned $ 5 million, money which his opponents lost outright. In 1864, he acquired a controlling interest in the New York & Hudson River Railroad and upon his proposal to the State Legislature to caution a merger with the Harlem, the scheme repeated, again with Drew on the side of Vanderbilt's opponents. Again Vanderbilt won and he now controlled two consolidated railroads, controlling the route from New York City to Albany; he was also another few millions richer and his foe, Daniel Drew lost one million.
      Thus by the end of Civil War, Cornelius Vanderbilt had set the stage for his third and largest coup in railroad consolidation, the acquisition of the New York Central. The New York Central Railroad was the result of the consolidation of 15 smaller roads in Upstate New York which had been built at the cost of $ 10 million and were capitalized at $ 23 million. The capitalization of the the New York Central at the time of the consolidation had been raised to $ 35 million and was controlled by a group of Old Guard New York financiers, including John Jacob Astor III, Edward Cunard and John Stewart jr. Vanderbilt got control of the New York Central using a technique he mastered during his times as a shipping magnate : blackmail. When his efforts to work out a merger between his Hudson River Railroad and the New York Central failed, Vanderbilt asked for a traffic sharing program, involving the transportation of the Central's passengers and freight to New York City on his lines. The management, which was then controlled by a Group of Wall Street operators unfriendly to Vanderbilt, refused and kept Daniel Drew's People's Line as their main connection, using Vanderbilt's railroads only in winter, when the Hudson river was frozen. Vanderbilt retaliated, choosing his time in January 1867, when the Hudson was deep frozen and no ship could be run into New York. He ordered his trains to be stopped in East Albany and to refuse any freight from the New York Central. The effect was devastating. Passengers had to walk 2 miles at freezing temperatures to reach the Hudson River Railroad's terminal and freight was piling up at the New York Central's warehouse in Albany. The share price dropped and Vanderbilt bought a large block. In November 1867, a group of large shareholders yielded to Vanderbilt and voting 13'000'000 shares elected him to the presidency of the New York Central Railroad.
      Firmly launched as a railroad tycoon, Cornelius Vanderbilt now took on to Daniel Drew's pet property, the Erie Railroad. Chartered in 1832 and surveyed by De Witt Clinton jr, the New York & Erie Railroad was completed between Piermont on the Hudson river and Dunkirk on Lake Erie in 1851. It's history was already burdened by a record of receivership and bankruptcy and during the 1850's it became the speculative playball of Wall Street stock-jobbers, most prominently Daniel Drew. Vanderbilt had outwitted or more precisely financially outmuscled Drew twice and had no doubt on his victory in the coming battle. Yet he had not reckoned Drew's young partners Jay Gould and James Fisk, who became the key actors in the raging Erie war. Vanderbilt was bested and lost a few millions; Gould and Fisk earned their sad reputation as robber barons. Unable to gain control of Erie, Cornelius Vanderbilt made the best he could of his existing railroad properties. Both the New York Central and the Hudson River railroads were prevented by law to increase their share capital, the former was also compelled to pay to the New York State profits in excess of a 10% on its capitalization. Lobbying in the usual way, Vanderbilt secured an act of the New York State legislature authorizing the merger of the railroads and the issue of a vast amount of additional stock. Thus in 1869, the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad was created and its capital in stocks and bonds put to 86'000'000 $, an increase of 44'000'000 $. The stock market loved the deal and New York Central stock soared from 75 $ to 200 $, making many people rich including Vanderbilt whose stake in the proceedings is estimated at 26'000'000 $.
      Cornelius Vanderbilt, now 75 was at the helm of one of the largest private enterprises in America and he at once started to make it yield. Applying his principles of economy and competitiveness he started to improve the roadbeds, replace the rusted iron rails by steel he imported from England and doubled tracks where it was only single. These improvements enabled the railroad to run longer trains with larger freight cars, greatly increasing its profitability. As a monument to his success, Vanderbilt built the Grand Central Depot, a massive granite structure with a glass-domed roof covering five acres, the largest terminal in the world. His railroad had 740 miles of track, 408 locomotives, 445 passenger and over 9'000 freight cars. Over 7 million passengers were transported every year as well as much of the produce, raw materials and manufactured goods of the regions it embraced.
      On the family front Cornelius Vanderbilt had lost his favorite son during Civil War and his faithful wife Sophia who died of a stroke in 1868. He reconciled with his oldest son who had shown good business acumen in various instances and remarried, Frank Armstrong Crawford, a 31 year old distant relative from Alabama. During his last years, Commodore Vanderbilt relied on his managers, including his son William Henry and Chauncey Mitchell Depew, a lawyer who assisted the Commodore in his dealings with legislators and who would be a mentor to subsequent generations of Vanderbilts in the management of the New York Central. Acquiring and extending other railroads like the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern, Vanderbilt extended his railroad system all the way to Chicago, until it totalled a 1'300 miles. On January 4th, 1877 after a long illness, Commodore Vanderbilt died, leaving 105'000'000$, a fortune defying imagination at this time.
      Cornelius Vanderbilt instituted his eldest son William Henry as his main heir and left him 90'000'000$. Most of the remainder was distributed to William Henry's sons (Cornelius Vanderbilt III got 5'500'000$, William Kissam Vanderbilt got 3'000'0000$, their two brothers 2'000'000$ each and their four sisters nothing). To his second son Cornelius Jeremiah, the Commodore left only the income of 200'000$, which was later increased to $ 1 million by William Henry.
      To his eight surviving daughters the Commodore made also just small bequests, which William Henry increased in at least two cases by direct payments of 500'000 $ to each. Minor bequests were made to charitable institutions completing the 1'000'000 $ he had donated to found Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.
    • VanderBilt family - Wikipedia

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