Who is Cornelius Vanderbilt?
Cornelius Vanderbilt (May 27, 1794 – January 4, 1877) was an American business magnate who built his wealth in railroads and shipping. After working with his father’s business, Vanderbilt worked his way into leadership positions in the inland water trade and invested in the rapidly growing railroad industry, effectively transforming the geography of the United States.
As one of the richest Americans in history and wealthiest figures overall, Vanderbilt, nicknamed “The Commodore”, was the patriarch of the wealthy and influential Vanderbilt family. He provided the initial gift to found Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. According to historian H. Roger Grant: “Contemporaries, too, often hated or feared Vanderbilt or at least considered him an unmannered brute. While Vanderbilt could be a rascal, combative and cunning, he was much more a builder than a wrecker […] being honorable, shrewd, and hard-working.”
Cornelius Vanderbilt’s great-great-great-grandfather, Jan Aertson or Aertszoon (“Aert’s son”), was a Dutch farmer from the village of De Bilt in Utrecht, Netherlands, who emigrated to New Amsterdam (later New York) as an indentured servant in 1650. The Dutch van der (“of the”) was eventually added to Aertson’s village name to create “van der Bilt” (“of the Bilt”). This was eventually condensed to Vanderbilt. Anthony Janszoon van Salee was Cornelius Vanderbilt’s great-great-great-great-grandfather.
One of Vanderbilt’s great-great-granddaughters, Gloria Vanderbilt, was a renowned fashion designer, and her youngest son, Anderson Cooper, is a television news anchor. Through Billy’s daughter Emily Thorn Vanderbilt, another descendant is actor Timothy Olyphant.
Cornelius’ youngest grandson through William, George Washington Vanderbilt II, built the 250-room Biltmore Estate in the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina, as his main residence with part of his inheritance from his grandfather. It still retains the title of the largest privately owned home in the United States, though it is open to the public.