Commodore: The Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt

22 Dec

Commodore: The Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt

Commodore: The Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt

Language: English

Pages: 400

ISBN: 0465002552

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Using previously unreleased archives, Edward J. Renehan Jr. narrates the compelling life of Cornelius Vanderbilt: willful progenitor of modern American business. Vanderbilt made his initial fortune building ferry and cargo routes for sailing vessels. Then he moved into steamboats and railroads. With the New York Central, Vanderbilt established the nation’s first major integrated rail system, linking New York with Boston, Montreal, Chicago, and St. Louis. At the same time, he played a key role in establishing New York as the financial center of the United States. When he died in 1877, Vanderbilt left a fortune that, in today’s dollars, would dwarf that of even Bill Gates. Off Wall Street, Vanderbilt was a hard-drinking egotist and whoremonger devoid of manners or charity. He disinherited most of his numerous children and received an editorial rebuke from Mark Twain for his lack of public giving. Commodore sheds startling new light on many aspects of Vanderbilt’s business and private life including, most notably, the revelation that advanced stage syphilis marred his last years. This is the definitive biography of a man whose influence on American life and commerce towers over all who followed him.





















During mid-1831, Cornelius Vanderbilt felt rich enough to add another boat to his collection. The custom-designed Cinderella was relatively small at 145 tons, but her narrow beam pierced the water with minimum resistance so that she made fast time on the Hudson. Additionally, Cornelius bought out (at a considerable discount) the half share in the wounded General Jackson previously owned by the heirs of poor Van Wart. In this way he became partners with his brother in that vessel. While the

While Vanderbilt’s townhouse was made of brick, his stable building was made of brownstone. A trade publication called the Sanitary Engineer singled Vanderbilt’s stables out as being state-of-the-art in the way of lighting, plumbing, heating, and ventilation. “Commodore Vanderbilt’s early passion for horses still survives,” wrote journalist James Dabney McCabe, “and his stable contains some of the finest in the world. Nothing pleases him so well as to sit behind a fast team, with the reins in his

him taking note of Astor’s maximum value, $20 million, and pledging to surpass that in short order. Thereafter he would have his clerk follow the financial press assiduously for intelligence on the wealth possessed by others of his generation, George Law and Daniel Drew among them, tallying up positions in the grand race to be the richest man in the United States. More than twenty years before, Vanderbilt, as a young upstart battling against monopoly, had gone on record criticizing Astor for his

the United States Mail Steamship Company and the Pacific Mail Steamship Company entered aggressively into the passenger business, charging exorbitant prices ($600, more than twice the standard price for a trip round Cape Horn) for relatively quick transport to California. Combined with fat fees for transporting freight, and the mail subsidies, the two companies seemed to have struck their own vein of gold. Indeed, the subsidies alone more than covered the baseline costs of operation for both

a total of 40,000 shares outstanding. (A second Southern Route 177 commodity related to the venture, Canal “Rights,” rose from a base price of $800 to $3,600 during this period of exhilaration.) Shares of Accessory Transit, meanwhile, spiked from $20 to $50, causing each $2,000 “grand” share to have a value, at the market peak, of $13,600. The excitement of the topographers and the stock traders was not, however, shared by the world’s bankers. That summer, when a delegation of American

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