Vanderbilt, Cornelius

Vanderbilt, Cornelius

biographical name

(born May 27, 1794, Port Richmond, Staten Island, N.Y., U.S.—died Jan. 4, 1877, New York, N.Y.) U.S. shipping and railroad magnate. He began a passenger ferry business in New York harbour in 1810 with one boat; he added several others during the War of 1812 in order to supply government outposts. He sold his boats to work as a steamship captain (1818–29), then started his own steamship company on the Hudson River. By cutting fares and offering luxurious accommodations, he soon controlled the river traffic. He then provided transportation along the eastern seacoast. By 1846 he was a millionaire. He formed the Accessory Transit Co. to transport passengers and freight from New York to the California gold fields via Nicaragua. He again undercut his competitors, and they bought him out at a high price (1858). Turning to railroads, he acquired controlling stock in the New York and Harlem Railroad. After losing a battle for control of the Erie Railroad (1868), he bought and consolidated the Hudson River and the New York Central railroads (1869). After buying the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad (1873), he provided the first rail service between New York and Chicago. At his death, he had a fortune of more than $100 million, the largest sum accumulated in the U.S. to that date. He gave $1 million to Central University (later Vanderbilt University). He left almost all the rest to his son William H. Vanderbilt (1821–85), who greatly expanded the New York Central network, acquired other railroads, and doubled the family fortune.

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