Cornelius Vanderbilt Net Worth At Death
Cornelius Vanderbilt had an estimated net worth of $185 Billion at death. He was a famous industrialist who worked in railroads and shipping. He had accumulated the largest fortune in the U.S. at the time of his death, in 1877. He earned the majority of his income from businesses.
Cornelius Vanderbilt started a passenger ferry service in New York Harbor with one boat, then established his own steamship company, eventually controlling Hudson River traffic. He also built the first rail connection between New York and Chicago. At the time of his death in 1877, Vanderbilt had amassed the largest fortune in the United States. Vanderbilt is widely regarded as one of America’s most influential businessmen, and he is credited with shaping the modern United States.
To calculate the net worth of Cornelius Vanderbilt, subtract all his liabilities from his total assets. Investments, savings, cash deposits, and any equity he has in a house, car, or other similar asset are included in the total assets. All debts, such as loans and personal debt, are included in total liabilities.
Here’s the breakdown of his net worth:
|Net Worth:||$185 Billion|
|Monthly Salary:||$700 Million+|
|Annual Income:||$8 Billion+|
|Source of Wealth:||Entrepreneur|
Vanderbilt was born on May 27, 1794, on Staten Island, New York, to Cornelius and Phebe Hand Vanderbilt. His father instilled a blunt, direct demeanor in him, and his mother instilled frugality and hard work in him. Vanderbilt dropped out of school at the age of 11 to work for his father, ferrying cargo and passengers between Staten Island and Manhattan. According to legend, Vanderbilt operated a two-masted sailing vessel known as a periauger at the age of 16 with the understanding that he would split profits with his parents, who had provided a loan. Through aggressive marketing, astute deals, and undercutting the competition, he earned more than $1,000 in his first year—traits he would employ for the rest of his life.
During the War of 1812, Vanderbilt, then 18, entered into a contract with the United States government to supply neighboring outposts. He learned shipbuilding and navigation on the open sea. By the end of the war, he had amassed a small fleet of boats and a working capital of $10,000, ferrying passengers and freight from Boston to Delaware Bay. He was given the nickname “Commodore,” which he liked.
Troubled Family Life
On December 19, 1813, Vanderbilt married his first cousin, Sophia Johnson, much to his parents’ chagrin. The couple had 13 children, 11 of whom survived to adulthood. Regardless of how successful he was in business, he was a terrible father and husband. Vanderbilt, a lifelong misogynist who desired more than three sons, neglected his daughters and is accused of cheating on his wife with prostitutes. Vanderbilt is accused of twice committing his son Cornelius Jeremiah to a mental institution. At one point, after Vanderbilt expressed romantic interest in the family’s young governess, he did the same for Sophia.
Building a Shipping Empire
In 1817, Vanderbilt and Thomas Gibbons established the Union Line steamship company, seeing the potential in a new technology. While working for Gibbons, Vanderbilt learned how to manage a large commercial operation and became a quick study in legal matters. Gibbons was clearly violating a state-sanctioned monopoly granted to Robert Fulton and Robert Livingston in 1808. Aaron Ogden, who ran Fulton and Livingston’s business and collaborated with Gibbons, filed a monopoly violation lawsuit against the latter boatman. Vanderbilt and Gibbons hired Daniel Webster to represent them. In Gibbons v. Ogden, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of Gibbons, stating that the Commerce Clause of the Constitution gives Congress the exclusive authority to regulate interstate trade. As a result, the decision by the New York legislature to grant Ogden exclusive shipping rights was unconstitutional.
After Thomas Gibbons died in 1826, Vanderbilt wanted to buy the company, but Gibbons’ son refused to sell. Vanderbilt bought several boats and established the Dispatch Line, which ran from New York City to Philadelphia. Vanderbilt used aggressive marketing and low fees to force Gibbons’ son to buy him out.
Vanderbilt rose to prominence quickly due to his sharp business acumen. He established profitable shipping lines in the New York area during the 1830s, undercutting competitors’ fares while providing excellent service. Competitors struggled and eventually paid him to relocate his company. He then relocated his business to the Hudson River, where he competed with another monopoly, the Hudson River Steamboat Association. Using populist language, President Andrew Jackson named his service the “People’s Line,” offering low-cost fares to all. The Association bought him out for $100,000 with annual payments of $5,000. Vanderbilt became a millionaire after several iterations of this business model.
However, Vanderbilt’s wealth did not guarantee his respectability. In the 1840s, he built a large but modest family home at 10 Washington Place in Greenwich Village. However, the city’s elites were slow to accept him, seeing him as uncultured and rough. His writing was almost illegible, and his grammar was sloppy and profane. He didn’t seem to mind, though. He detested ostentation and lived a simple, disciplined existence.
In 1851, Vanderbilt expanded his shipping company by forming the Accessory Transit Company, which transported passengers from New York City to San Francisco via the Nicaraguan isthmus. His timing was impeccable once more. The California Gold Rush increased demand for West Coast passage significantly. Despite providing its passengers with a perilous ride, the Transit Company was a success. His competitors had had enough by 1852 and offered him $40,000 per month to close his business. Vanderbilt, who was about to turn 60, was ready for a change. He spent $500,000 on a large yacht, named the North Star, and took his extended family on a grand tour of Europe.
Building a Railroad Empire
During the Civil War, Vanderbilt donated his largest ship, appropriately named the Vanderbilt, to the Union Navy. He retired from shipping in 1864, having amassed a fortune of nearly $30 million. Vanderbilt shifted his focus to railroads at the age of 70, acquiring the New York & Harlem and Hudson Line (which ran alongside the Erie Canal) and then the New York Central Railroad. He refused to accept Central’s passengers or freight during a harsh winter when the Erie Canal was frozen over, effectively cutting them off from western cities. The Central Railroad was forced to surrender, and Vanderbilt eventually gained control of rail traffic from New York City to Chicago. This new corporation revolutionized rail operations by standardizing procedures and timetables, increasing efficiency, and shortening travel and shipment times.
During the nineteenth century, as technology and innovation advanced, many Americans sought meaningful forms of spiritual expression. Others were drawn to the occult, while others were drawn to more traditional religions. Vanderbilt sought the help of the Chaflin sisters, two mediums who claimed to be able to summon the spirits of the deceased, after his wife died in 1868. His family, on the other hand, was unimpressed and worried that their father would be taken advantage of by charlatans. They introduced him to his second wife, Frank Armstrong, a distant female cousin (so named because her parents promised to name their first child after a family friend).
In 1871, Vanderbilt financed the Grand Central Depot, a monument to his empire. Elevated platforms, a glass balloon roof spanning all of the tracks, and passenger-only boarding areas are among the features of the New York Central Railroad terminal. To reduce noise and smoke, the tracks were submerged below street level at the request of the city.
Final Years, Death and Legacy
Vanderbilt had no intention of giving away his fortune near the end of his life. Given his enormous wealth, he had lived most of his life in relative modesty. The purchase of racehorses appeared to be his only extravagance. In 1873, however, his wife, Frank, introduced him to Reverend Holland Nimmons McTyeire, who asked Vanderbilt for help in funding a Methodist University in Tennessee. Discussions lasted several years, and by the time Vanderbilt died, he had promised a gift to what would become Vanderbilt University worth nearly $1 million.
In 1876, Vanderbilt became ill and embarked on an eight-month death march. He was a terrible patient, ranting at his doctors, referring to them as “old grannies,” and even leaving his deathbed to lecture reporters who were standing outside his house, in keeping with his brash personality. On January 4, 1877, he died, presumably from exhaustion caused by complications from intestinal, stomach, and heart disorders, which could also have been caused by syphilis.
In his will, he left $90 million to his son William Henry, who worked in his father’s business, and $7.5 million to William’s four sons. His other son, Cornelius Jeremiah, was given a $200,000 trust fund. His wife and daughters are said to have received payments ranging from $200,000 to $500,000, as well as property and stock.
If Vanderbilt’s fortune had been calculated using the nation’s GDP in 1877, it would be worth more than $200 billion today. This would place him second only to Standard Oil co-founder John D. Rockefeller in American history. Among Vanderbilt’s descendants are Gloria Vanderbilt and her son, television news anchor Anderson Cooper.
Commodore: The Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt was published in 2007 by publisher Edward J. Renehan Jr., while historian T.J. Stiles wrote The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt, which won the Pulitzer Prize (2009).
Favorite Cornelius Vanderbilt Quotes
You have undertaken to cheat me. I won’t sue you, for the law is too slow. I’ll ruin you.
I don’t care half so much about making money as I do about making my point, and coming out ahead.
What do I care about law? Ain’t I got the power?
I have always served the public to the best of my ability. Why? Because, like every other man, it is to my interest to do so.
There is no friendship in trade.
I have been insane on the subject of moneymaking all my life.
I am not afraid of my enemies, but by God, you must look out when you get among your friends.
If I had learned education I would not have had time to learn anything else.
View our larger collection of the best Cornelius Vanderbilt quotes.
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