The costs were enormous, and the various members of the family had no problem with spending the money earned by the Commodore and his son William. A devoted drinker, Reginald lived the life of a rake. In his new status as head of his branch of the extended Vanderbilt family, Alfred began working at the New York Central, then the main source of the family’s income. He also began drinking heavily. HOW VANDERBILT TREATED HIS WORKERS MONEY HOURS *Vanderbilt not pay high amount for the long hours of work . The summer homes remained empty for most of the year, but required year round staffing for maintenance of the buildings and grounds, stables and horses. With his wife Louise, Frederick built a 54 room mansion in the beaux-arts style, with steel and concrete structural support, its own hydro-electric plant powered by a tributary of the Hudson (which provided electrification well before the rest of the area), and furnished it lavishly, including antiques purchased for them by Stanford White. At the time of his death, if his fortune is adjusted for inflation, he was the second richest person in American history. He hired a forestry expert to manage the unimproved portion of the tract. Yachts, including steam yachts, race horses, racing cars, luxury cars, expensive furnishings, and dozens of other luxuries enjoyed by the Commodore’s descendants and their spouses quickly demolished the fortune. He founded The Jockey Club and lost a large portion of his wealth in a divorce settlement. Perhaps the significance of his contribution is best depicted through the grandeur and magnificence of the Grand Central Terminal in New York City – an edifice Vanderbilt himself built in 1871. When his father, William Vanderbilt, died he inherited another $70 million. Cornelius developed the reputation of being a scrupulous and hard-working banker, traits which were heartily approved by his grandfather, who left him $5 million in his will. George was the youngest of the couple’s eight children. Cornelius II built the staggering Newport mansion, which he and his family called a cottage, named The Breakers. The house was designed to include 70,000 square feet of living space, with an exterior in the Italian Renaissance style. To the surprise of many, including the father, William not only improved the farming operation but was able to make it profitable, and in profits Cornelius believed. His industrious son, William Vanderbilt, inherited his fortune. As a boy, he worked with his father, who operated a boat that ferried cargo between Staten Island, New York, where they lived, and Manhattan. The size of his estate was $15.5 million, and he left bequests for his wife Margaret and their children. He was initially going to copy his father’s estate plan by leaving the majority of his fortune to his older son, but he didn’t want to burden him with the stress and pressure. Alfred perished when Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat on May Day, 1915. Grace promptly had the entire interior gutted and rebuilt, at a cost of $500,000, which Neily could ill afford. His Manhattan home on Fifth Avenue was known as Petit Chateau, built in the French Renaissance style, and featured a sixty foot Grand Hall leading from the main entry into the home, of stone which was detailed in carvings and bas relief. Following his lead, which was following Alva’s, the Vanderbilt’s went on a frenzy of building expensive mansions and summer homes. The massive mansions which dominated Fifth Avenue, each more lavish than its predecessor, simply required too much money to maintain. None of them noticed the decline of the railroad industry following World War II. He Started a Fleet The country club retained much of the gardens and the house served as its clubhouse and event center. Neily did so, after which he entered the army, mostly to escape his wife and family. George Washington Vanderbilt built the famous Biltmore Estate, which is the largest privately-owned home in the United States. And Vanderbilt University was created through a gift of $1 million, at the time the largest charitable donation in American history. Here are our sources: “Fortune’s Children: The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt”, by Arthur T. Vanderbilt, 1989, “The Vanderbilt Women: Dynasty of Wealth, Glamour, and Tragedy”, by Clarice Stasz, 2000, “The Vanderbilts”, by Jerry E. Patterson, 1989, “Biltmore Estate”, by Ellen Erwin Rickman, 2005, “Queen of Golden Age: The Fabulous Story of Grace Wilson Vanderbilt”, by Cornelius Vanderbilt, 1956, “The Vanderbilts: How American Royalty Lost Their Crown Jewels”, by Natalie Robehmed, Forbes Magazine, June 14, 2014, “Torpedoed! His own estate was only worth $73 million upon his death, due to real estate spending and philanthropy. He used it to buy a boat which ferried freight and passengers between Manhattan and Staten Island. While Woodlea was being built Margaret lived in another house on the property which had been completed several years earlier. William Kissam Vanderbilt was another son of William Vanderbilt who received $5 million from his grandfather, and later a $55 million dollar bequest from his father. Frederick maintained elaborate gardens on the estate, including a rose garden which held more than 2,000 rose bushes. The son of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, Neily, as he was called by friends and family, earned the ire of his parents by eloping with Grace Wilson, a New York socialite whose two sisters had married into London society. Part of the reason he did not advance the already vast Vanderbilt wealth was his philanthropy. In March 1893, while Woodlea was still under construction, Shepard died suddenly. Vanderbilt hired Japanese workers after the Buffalo Pan-American Exposition to build Japanese style structures, and remodel the existing buildings in Japanese style. George Washington Vanderbilt II envisioned a baronial existence at the Biltmore Estate. Although but one of the Fifth Avenue mansions avoided the wrecking ball (most demolished by 1930) many of the country estates and cottages survived. Vanderbilt also purchased Hyde Park, a 600 acre estate on the Hudson River which had once been owned by John Jacob Astor. Although once the nation’s wealthiest family, over 120 living family members gathered in 1973 at Vanderbilt University. After completing the seemingly requisite Newport Mansion, (Rough Point, just off the Cliff Walk), Frederick built Pine Tree Point, an Adirondack camp on Upper Saint Regis Lake. This post may contain affiliate links or links from our sponsors. In 1906 Margaret sold Woodlea to a New York businessman for the sum of $1.4 million, despite the property being valued at nearly $6 million. As each generation passed behind them, the family was less involved in business and more involved in high society. He built a railroad empire that stretched from New York across the country. Alfred’s death transferred a large part of his fortune to his brothers Neily (whom he had assisted with funds earlier) and Raymond, which allowed them to squander it. It was the largest private residence ever built in Manhattan. Excerpt from Dave Raymond's American History homeschool curriculum, available at http://bit.ly/2SWZHqD - How did Vanderbilt make his money? The temptations of living luxuriously and the rivalries between siblings, cousins, and their spouses led the family to outspend its income consistently over many years. William also built a country estate on Long Island known as Idle Hour, which was rebuilt of stone after the original frame structure burnt down. What was once the second largest railroad in the country was bankrupt by 1970. In 1892 Elliott Fitch Shepard began construction of a 140 room mansion near what was then North Tarrytown (today’s Sleepy Hollow) New York. But how did the Vanderbilts make their fortune? Being the son of Cornelius Vanderbelt did little to secure William a job in the family empire. Margaret took up residence in her New York home, in the 900 block of Fifth Avenue, where she died in 1924, having never remarried. The family tree of one of the most influential families in American history is quite the storied view. William Kissam Vanderbilt inherited $55 million from his father and converted P.T. Instead of being given a bailout like the mortgage, airline, and automotive industries in the 21st Century, the government took over passenger services and christened it Amtrak. Another founder was John Jacob Astor IV, who did board the RMS Titanic in 1912 and died in the ship’s sinking. CONDITIONS OF WORK … Although his son William nearly doubled the fortune left to him by his father, by 1973, when the Vanderbilts held a family reunion at their namesake university, not one of the 120 attendees was a millionaire. At 21 Reginald came into his inheritance, that same night losing more than $70,000 dollars gambling. Essentially Vanderbilt had nothing to do and intended to spend his days as a country gentlemen, pursuing his hobbies of horticulture, agriculture, art collecting, and reading. The Vanderbilts were once the wealthiest family in America. He contributed nothing to the Vanderbilt family fortune and instead squandered his own inheritance away on gambling and alcohol until his death. He married and had a daughter, abandoned wife and child, remarried after he was divorced, had another daughter, and spent his days gambling, drinking, and spending his fortune. This path inevitably led the family to lose its fortune as railroads lost luster to buses, airplanes, and other forms of transportation. When William Vanderbilt uttered these words, he was the richest man in the world. His will left 95 percent of the estate to his son and four grandsons. Her visits to the property became less and less frequent. Cornell University Library. If measured in today’s dollars, the Vanderbilt fortune was worth over $6.2 billion. By the fourth generation, they were a family of socialites, gamblers, and playboys. Here are ten reasons one of the world’s wealthiest families simply ran out of money. It wasn’t only houses on which the growing family spent its money. He did little to increase the family fortune, his own estate was about $73 million. When Financhill publishes its #1 stock, listen up. He also paid all the expenses of the All Souls’ Church in the model village he built near his estate so that the church’s weekly collection could go directly to charity and outreach. Vanderbilt family. He was followed by William Henry Vanderbilt, who inherited and doubled his father’s fortune before dying himself less than a decade later. Servants at the camp dressed in Japanese costume. In 1810 he purchased his first boat with money borrowed from his… History at your fingertips Alfred married Ellen French in 1901, only to be sued by her for divorce in 1908, under allegations of adultery on his part. His father regarded him as incompetent, and changed his opinion only when William had turned around the Staten Island Railroad (1857?63), which had been bankrupt. A Yale graduate, Frederick worked in several departments of the family run New York Central Railroad, eventually becoming its director, as well as serving as the director of more than twenty railroads. Eventually Neily’s mother grew to grudgingly accept her daughter-in-law to the point where she began to provide some financial assistance, largely to prevent the Vanderbilt name the shame of indebtedness. Philanthropy had a hand too, the Vanderbilts of different generations endowed Vanderbilt University, the YMCA, the arts, the sciences, medicine, and other charitable causes. Cornelius Vanderbilt's descendants went on to build grand mansions on Fifth Avenue in New York City; luxurious "summer cottages" in Newport, Rhode Island; the palatial Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina; and various other opulent homes. He established the custom of being generous to the children of his employees, in true lord of the manor fashion, bestowing gifts at Christmas and birthdays, and holding celebrations for their benefit. After all, the #1 stock is the cream of the crop, even when markets crash. Another brother, William, had died years earlier. He was the first American to give away $1 million, which he donated for the purpose of funding Vanderbilt University. Cornelius Vanderbilt and Alva Erskine Smith, first wife of William Vanderbilt. She hosted two types of dinner parties, large gatherings of over 100 people, and smaller, intimate dinners of fifty or so guests, an invitation to which was a mark of social success. The Vanderbilt name is well-known to affluent Americans, thanks to the opulent mansions the family built throughout the country’s first 100 years. A secretary desk once owned by Marie Antoinette was a prominently featured furnishing. Wikimedia. Besides building a pair of Fifth Avenue mansions known as the Marble Twins, preceded by a townhouse on West 53rd, and a summer cottage in Bar Harbor, George Washington Vanderbilt II built Biltmore House, which remains the largest house ever built in the United States. Afterward, he sold the company’s ships to focus on owning railroads. He began, despite his social and financial status, as a clerk in order to learn all aspects of the business. The core of the fortune shrunk, reducing its earning power. At his death in 1885, William Henry Vanderbilt, son of Cornelius Vanderbilt, was the richest person in the world with a fortune of $198 million, double what he inherited just 9 years earlier. At 16 Cornelius borrowed $100 from his mother in order to build a ferry service on New York Bay. By comparison, Jeff Bezos is the richest man in the modern world but is certainly not more valuable than the U.S. government. The family patriarch, Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt, managed to transform $100 borrowed from his mother into a $100 million dollar fortune by the time of his death. The Vanderbilt organization bought the then bankrupt Long Island Railroad and William was put in charge to reorganize it. The man known as the Commodore lived frugally, a virtue he suspected absent from the character of most of his children. Shipping and railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) was a self-made multi-millionaire who became one of the wealthiest Americans of the 19th century. George W. Vanderbilt inherited $2 million from his grandfather and received another million dollars on his 21st birthday from his father. Cornelius Vanderbilt was the richest American until his death in 1877. William Kissam Vanderbilt inherited $55 million from his father and converted P.T. Instead, they continued to spend on expensive real estate investments. It has operated as a museum ever since. William also resented the burden thrust upon him by being the recipient of the majority of the Vanderbilt fortune, and after considering the strain imposed on him by his father’s bequest, decided not to follow the Commodore’s model, and divided the Vanderbilt wealth equally among his heirs in his own estate. The great country estates such as the Biltmore and Woodlea were converted to other uses, a museum and tourist attraction in the case of the former and a country club in the latter. One half of the Marble Twins, built by George Washington Vanderbilt at 645 and 647 Fifth Avenue remains. Together, they had nine children: As the youngest of William’s children, George was said to be his father’s favorite and his constant companion. The Vanderbilt fortune largely vanished because the Vanderbilt heirs spent it, on houses and estates, yachts and racing boats, limousines and luxury cars, antiques, art, clothes, parties, huge dinners, other entertainments, extensive travel, luxury cruises, and all of the trappings of the wealthy during the Gilded Age and beyond. The son of an impoverished farmer and boatman, Vanderbilt quit school at age 11 to work on the waterfront. Cornelius Vanderbilt, American shipping and railroad magnate who acquired a personal fortune of more than $100 million. He was in poor health and worried immensely about his money. Cornelius Vanderbilt acquired his wealth through shrewd competition in the shipping industry when he owned several steamship lines, and then he owned many True to his father's expectations, William grew the Vanderbilt fortune and empire exponentially. He wanted to buy a boat, which served perfectly for moving cargo. Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt died in the sinking of RMS Lusitania in 1915. Vanderbilt’s horses were highly successful in France, and he became a noted breeder and racing magnate. Neily and Reginald were the first of the Vanderbilts to squander their entire inheritance, though in fairness Neily had quite a bit of help spending the money from his wife Grace. British Library. It took four generations of Vanderbilts to erase what the Commodore created in one, but they managed. Cornelius Vanderbilt created a fortune from ferries, steamship lines, railroads, and stock manipulations. Of course, that didn’t stop him from losing $150,000 to one of the most infamous Ponzi schemes of all time with General Ulysses S. Grant. Cornelius was worth $105 million ($2.6 billion in 2020 dollars) when he died based on his ownership of 13 railroads. Today the site is a country club. 3 Stocks That Pay Berkshire Over $2 Billion, What Happened To John McAfee? When William Vanderbilt began building his Fifth Avenue mansion, one of several which would be erected by various Vanderbilts, he was the wealthiest person in the world, and according to his own words, frustrated by his wealth. During the remaining construction period Margaret lived at the property mostly during the spring and early summer months. Built on a cliff and with a footprint of about one acre, on a fourteen acre lot, the house contains 70 rooms in five floors, and was built in the style of the Italian Renaissance. He leveraged this business into a steamboat business that soon became cross-oceanic. However, he did donate much to charities and to help build universities. Alfred didn’t squander the Vanderbilt fortune, but his early death allowed others of his family to do so. As the youngest son of William Vanderbilt, he received a lesser amount of the Vanderbilt fortune, and also had little to do in the family businesses which were run by his elder brothers. Fredrick was the brother of Cornelius II and William K. Vanderbilt, as well as of George Washington Vanderbilt, and five sisters. The same is true of the so-called summer cottages in Newport, Bar Harbor, and the Berkshires. They successfully navigated business and understood their trade like nobody else. https://www.newnetherlandinstitute.org/.../dutch_americans/cornelius-vanderbilt The Breakers continued to erode the Vanderbilt wealth until 1948, when it was leased to the Newport Preservation Society. One of his neighbors, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, used portions of the estate to house Secret Service agents when he visited his own Hyde Park estate years later as President of the United States. In 1915, again living in America, he left for a journey to England to purchase fox hounds, embarking on RMS Lusitania. The Chinese Tea House on the grounds of the Marble House in Newport, Rhode Island. Following the divorce Alfred sought solace in London, and remarried there in 1911, to the heiress of the Bromo-Seltzer fortune, Margaret Emerson. Among its founders was Cornelius Vanderbilt III. However, Billy’s children failed to advance the fortune from there. They weren’t as frugal as their father and grandfather. He was in poor health and worried immensely about his money. Cornelius "Commodore" Vanderbilt started the family business by borrowing $100 from his mother and piloting a passenger boat on Staten Island in … Vanderbilt lamented that his wealth brought him no happiness and instead led to much worry, distrust of friends, bickering within the family, and ultimately to his own poor health. The house had 37 servants maintaining the home and the grounds, and others serving as personal assistants to Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt. Cornelius Vanderbilt was the richest American until his death in 1877. The Civil War broke his heart, but made his second fortune. Not to be outdone by his younger brother Cornelius II, William built Marble House on Newport’s cliffs, at the cost of $11 million, which included about $7 million worth of marble, more than 500,000 cubic feet of the stone. *The workers work long 10 hours days and did not received high pay. The vast fortune was created by the burgeoning railroad and shipping industries. The Breakers is but one of the massive houses along the cliffs at Newport, but it is the largest and grandest. Land continued to be sold to defray expenses, and the estate shrank steadily. Frederick’s estate was worth just less than $80 million when he died, and after several charitable donations most of went to a niece, Margaret Van Alen. In 1810 George’s grandfather, Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) decide to make a change in the family vocation. A view of Woodlea in 1905. Barnum’s Great Roman Hippodrome into Madison Square Garden. Shepard’s estate was about $1.3 million, well below the costs of completing Woodlea, which fell to Margaret. The Commodore once said, “Any fool can make a fortune. Based on this success, Cornelius made William … Cornelius Vanderbilt II was the eldest son of William Vanderbilt, and was said to be the Commodore’s favorite grandson. Alfred’s death was reported by many who observed him assisting a young mother by giving her his own life jacket. The practice of spending the interest and dividends earned from investments, rather than the capital itself, is a well-established premise that the family simply ignored, treating their shares of the fortune as if it were a bottomless well until the well inevitably ran dry. The costs of maintaining such lavish structures and supporting the staff required to operate and maintain them were simply too prohibitive to allow them to remain private residences. In March of 1883, Alva held a housewarming party which was attended by over 1,000 invited guests. Cornelius II also built a townhouse in Manhattan, on Fifth Avenue, which was his regular residence. Cornelius Vanderbilt. The Fifth Avenue mansion was demolished in 1926, to make room for commercial real estate development in Manhattan. It takes a man of brains to hold on … Wikimedia. Alva’s acceptance did not immediately extend to the others of the large Vanderbilt family, and they began to build mansions of their own. Marble House was a summer residence, during the rest of the year William had other residences from which to choose. That’s not a full picture though, because the U.S. Treasury of the time wasn’t worth that much. But that does not explain the near extinction of Vanderbilt wealth. Wikimedia. The purpose of Alva’s ball was to force her acceptance in New York society, the matrons of which considered the Vanderbilt wealth to be new money and thus its possessors unworthy of socializing with them. Neily disowned his son when he learned that the young man wanted to enter into a journalism career. Alfred was the eldest son of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, and at the death of his father he received the bulk of the estate, with his brothers Neily and Reginald receiving substantially smaller amounts. Marble House, which belonged to Alva, became a host for feminist rallies held by Alva in the early twentieth century, and Alva added a Chinese Tea House in which to address leaders of the women’s suffrage and temperance movements. The staffing increased when the various Vanderbilts were in residence. In his will he left $90 million to his son William Henry, $7.5 million to William’s four sons, and—consistent with his lifelong contempt for women—the relatively small remainder to his second wife and his eight daughters. By 1908 she had assumed the role of the Queen of New York society, based upon the spending of Vanderbilt money. They spent millions buying influence and gaining social acceptance while donating to charities. Neily’s mother made clear that she regarded Grace as a social climber of no account, and his father cut Neily’s inheritance to just $1.5 million. Where did the Vanderbilts get their money? Shepard was the husband of Margaret Louisa Vanderbilt Shepard, sister of Cornelius Vanderbilt II and granddaughter of the Commodore. He even built the Grand Central Depot that became Grand Central Terminal. That’s because the Vanderbilts are the cautionary tale you’ve heard about people who are born rich. Financhill just revealed its top stock for investors right now... so there's no better time to claim your slice of the pie. Cornelius was born in 1794 on Staten Island among the harbours that would make his first fortune. Much of this was because they owned the only cross-country transportation method during the westward expansion and settlement of America. When he died he left behind nothing besides the trust fund established for his daughters during the divorce proceedings. Financhill has a disclosure policy. By the time he died in 1877, Vanderbilt’s $105 million fortune was more than the U.S. Treasury held at the time and made him one of the world’s wealthiest men. While changes in tax laws, creating estate taxes and the income tax itself certainly had a part in the demise of the Vanderbilt fortune, the wealth of other great families survived. When Cornelius II died in 1899, of complications from a stroke which he suffered three years earlier, he left his widow, Alice Vanderbilt, a trust fund of $250,000 to operate and maintain the two homes. By the mid-1920s most of the mansions in Manhattan were gone, by the 1950s all were, at least as residences. He also founded Vanderbilt University in 1873. New York’s Grand Central Station in 1893, when the railroads were at their peak. Although the Vanderbilt family was in attendance at the cottage only a few weeks a year, during the summer social season when Newport was a fashionable resort, the stable and the household servants were at the house full time, year around. There are several anecdotes that describe his reckless lifestyle. While the house was under construction (1889-1896) Vanderbilt traveled extensively to purchase furnishings, including rare and expensive Flemish tapestries, original etchings, paintings and sculptures, carpets, rugs and linens, fountains and mirrors, and antique furniture. As the various Vanderbilts went about their business, spending the vast fortune accumulated by the Commodore and his eldest son, few of them paid close attention to the sources of that fortune. The costs were enormous, and the various members of the family had no problem with spending the money earned by the Commodore and his son William. Cornelius believed his son to be much better prepared to handle the fortune, and was persuaded to give less to Neily by his wife, who believed that Grace Wilson had married Neily to get her hands on Vanderbilt money. Wikimedia. Today, the Vanderbilt empire is little more than a government-owned train system and a prestigious university. His body was never found. His father was also a well-known collector of paintings. Vanderbilt family. In 1940 he sold the New York mansion, with the proviso that he and his wife be allowed to remain in residence until his death. Cornelius II, for example, netted $5 million from his grandfather Commodore and $70 million from his father Billy. It was later demolished. The habits he practiced throughout his … The Vanderbilt name is legendary in America. During the Civil War, Vanderbilt donated his fleet's largest ship, aptly named the Vanderbilt, to the Union Navy. In that time, most of the family’s mansions were torn down and replaced in what’s known as the Fall of the House of Vanderbilt. He left 95% of his vast estate to his son William and William’s four sons. Despite Cooper’s mom Gloria Vanderbilt being a successful fashion designer, she’s clear with her son that he has no inheritance to look forward to. 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