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This article details the family of Cornelius Vanderbilt. For other uses, see Vanderbilt .

The Vanderbilt family is a significant international family with Dutch origins, who were highly prominent during the 1800s due to the family patriarch Cornelius Vanderbilt, who created railroad and shipping empires. His descendants went on to build great Fifth Avenuemarker mansions, Newport, Rhode Islandmarker summer cottages, the famous Biltmore Housemarker and various other exclusive homes. The family members were the leaders of the high society scene and the Gilded Age, until the early 1900s, when the ten great Fifth Avenue mansions were torn down and fellow Vanderbilt homes were sold as museums and the like. The family suffered from a major downfall in prominence by the mid-1900s, known as the Fall of the House of Vanderbilt. Despite the family's downfall and major loss of fortunes, the Vanderbilts remain the seventh wealthiest family in history.

Branches of the family are found on the United States East Coast as well as in the United Kingdommarker. A current famous descendant in the family is journalist Anderson Cooper, son of Gloria Vanderbilt and great-grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt II.


The prominence of the family began with Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794–1877), the fourth of nine children born to a Staten Islandmarker family of modest means. His great-great-great-grandfather, Jan Aertszoon or Aertson (1620–1705), was a Dutchmarker farmer from the village of De Biltmarker, Utrechtmarker, Netherlandsmarker, who emigrated to the Dutch colony of New Netherland as an indentured servant in 1650. Jan's village name was added to the Dutch "van der" (from the) to create "van der Bilt" which evolved into Vanderbilt when the English took control of New Amsterdam (now New York).

Cornelius Vanderbilt left school at age 11 and went on to build a shipping and railroad empire that, during the 19th century, made him one of the wealthiest men in the world.

The Vanderbilt family owned land in Corwith Township, Michiganmarker, which was settled about 1875 . When the Vanderbilt-owned Michigan Central Railroad came through in 1880, the village of Vanderbilt, Michiganmarker, was established. Although Cornelius Vanderbilt always occupied a modest home, members of his family would use their wealth to build magnificent mansions. Shortly before his death in 1877, Vanderbilt donated US$1 million for the establishment of Vanderbilt Universitymarker in Nashvillemarker.

Members of the family dominated what has come to be known as the "Gilded Age", a period when Vanderbilt men were the merchant princes of American life through their prominence in the business world and as patrons of the arts throughout the world.

Some of Cornelius Vanderbilt's offspring gained fame as successful entrepreneurs while several achieved prominence in other fields such as Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt (1877-1915), who went down on the RMS Lusitaniamarker. His son Alfred Jr. became a noted horse breeder and racing elder. Harold Stirling Vanderbilt (1884-1970) gained fame as a sportsman, winning the most coveted prize in yacht racing, the America's Cup, on three occasions. His brother "Willie K" launched the Vanderbilt Cup for auto racing. Cornelius Vanderbilt IV (1898-1974) became an accomplished writer, newspaper publisher, and film producer. However, others made headlines as a result of drug and alcohol abuse and multiple marriages.
Cornelius Vanderbilt had been awarded a gold medal by the United States government during the American Civil War for donating his steamer S.S. Vanderbilt to the Union forces. Inheritance of this medal became the symbol for the titular head of the Vanderbilt family.

In 1855, Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt donated 8.5 acres (34,000 m²) of property to the Moravian Church and cemetery at New Dorp on Staten Island, New Yorkmarker. Later, his son William Henry Vanderbilt donated a further 4 acres (16,000 m²). A plot was kept for the Vanderbilt family in the Moravian Cemeterymarker and several of them are buried there in the family mausoleum including the family founder. Their mausoleum was redesigned in 1885 by architect Richard Morris Hunt.

Frederick William Vanderbilt's mansion on the Hudson River

Present-day economist John Kenneth Galbraith said that several generations of Vanderbilts showed both the talent for acquiring money and the dispensing of it in unmatched volume, adding that they dispensed their wealth for frequent and unparalleled self-gratification and very often did it with downright stupidity. Confirmation as to the validity of Galbraith's views is that only forty-eight years after the death of Cornelius Vanderbilt, one of his direct descendants died penniless. Within seventy years of his passing, the last of the ten great Vanderbilt Fifth Avenue mansions in New York Citymarker had been torn down. In 1973, the first Vanderbilt family reunion took place at Vanderbilt Universitymarker.

The family's modern legacy includes Vanderbilt University as well as Vanderbilt Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, which runs alongside Grand Central Terminalmarker, the New York City rail hub built by the Vanderbilt family.

Fortune's Children: The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt written by distant cousin Arthur T. Vanderbilt II, was published in 1989.

Family connection (listed by ancestry/generation)

Family connection (alphabetical listing)

The following list includes etiquette guru Amy Vanderbilt although it is believed she descended from either an uncle or brother of Cornelius Vanderbilt and is therefore not an official descendant-member of this family. The list also includes Josiah Hornblower (1975) [42412], a distant cousin of the Vanderbilt and Whitney family who was featured in the 2003 documentary Born Rich.

By birth

In fiction

  • In the fictional universe of Star Trek, the Vanderbilt family continues to thrive at least until the 22nd century, as a Thomas Vanderbilt is said to have been the first President of the United Federation of Planets. (seen in the family photo album of Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: Generations)
  • The family is also mentioned in the film Legally Blonde, starring Reese Witherspoon.
  • Nate Archibald's mother in Gossip Girl is a Vanderbilt.
  • The family is mentioned on several occasions in Nelson DeMille's novel The Gold Coast and its sequel The Gate House
  • The Vanderbilt family is mentioned in the fiction novel Lions and Lace by Meagan McKinney.
  • In the lyrics to the song "All I care About" from Chicago the character Billy Flynn sings "I don't care for any fine attire, Vanderbilt might admire, No no not me, All I care about is love."
  • In American Pie Presents: Band Camp, the Vanderbilt family is portrayed through the lead band geek of Brandon Vandercamp.
  • There is a line of Teddy Bears called Muffy Vanderbear, which is an image of the Vanderbilt family. Muffy's father's name is Cornelius.
  • In the fiction novel From Fields of Gold by Alexandra Ripley, the Vanderbilt family is mentioned multiple times, from the period spanning 1875 through 1895. Towards the end of the book, the building and housewarming party of the Biltmore mansion in North Carolina are prominently featured.


See also

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