Men Who Built America 2 (Cornelius Vanderbilt) 

Born 1749, Cornelius Vanderbilt is said to have accumulated the largest fortune in the U.S. at the time of his death, in 1877. 

Vanderbilt was born on May 27, 1794, on Staten Island, New York, the son of Cornelius and Phebe Hand Vanderbilt. His father instilled in him a blunt, straightforward demeanor, and his mother, frugality and hard work.

Cornelius Vanderbilt is one often referred to as one of the fathers of the modern United States. His impact in building the economy of the United States can never go unnoticed. These he achieved through his innovation in the Steamship and Railroad business. 

He had exceptional business tactics. Cornelius Vanderbilt was able to effectively manage competition in his business. Although, he employed unconventional tactics at some point to silent competitors. But, when you understand that the business world back then was devoid of government regulations then you will almost agree with the tactics business had to employ to survive. 

Cornelius Vanderbilt in the Steamship Business 

During the period when technology was in its prime stage. Cornelius Vanderbilt, seeing it as a future opportunity, decided to take advantage of it. He partnered with Thomas Gibson in a Steamship business called the Union line.

Vanderbilt and Gibson, through legal action, challenged The State-sanctioned monopoly given to Robert Fulton and Robert Livingstone. This gave them the access to expand the business operation of Union Line. Vanderbilt learned effective management of big commercial operations and legal matters at Union line. 

In 1826, Thomas Gibson died leaving his son to take charge of his father’s business. Vanderbilt proposed to buy off the company but Gibson’s son rejected the offer. As a result of this,  Vanderbilt established his dispatch line and acquired many boats for operation. 

To have an edge over other competitors in the business. Vanderbilt employed a series of business tactics that helped in showcasing his business talents. He made use of aggressive marketing and also offered a reduced fee for clients. This helped to annihilate his major competitors. In the end, Gibson’s son was forced to sell Union Line to Vanderbilt. 

Vanderbilt was noticeable for his business acumen. On many occasions, competitors paid him to exit a particular region for them. On one such occasion, he competed with the Hudson River Steamboat Association for operation at the Hudson River. Through his numerous tactics, the association was made to buy him out of operation at $100,000. He was also offered an annual payment of another $5,000. (Not the current day value of this figures must be in millions of dollar) 

Cornelius Vanderbilt in the Railroad business 

In 1864, after amassing a total fortune of $30 million. Vanderbilt retired from the steamship business. He, however, decided to venture into the railroad business. He was able to acquire the New York, Harlem,  and Hudson line for operation. 

Vanderbilt helped revolutionize the railroad business in the United States. His business introduced the standardized procedure and timetable. This greatly helped in reducing shipment and travel time. 

In 1871, Vanderbilt bought his railroad company known as Grand Central Depot. Helped build the terminal for the New York Central railroad. It features elevated platforms, passenger boarding areas,  and a glass ball on the roof. To reduce the noise and smoke, the tracks were made to be submerged below the street level. 


Cornelius Vanderbilt tremendously reshaped the business outlook of the United State. His operation in steamship and railroad business contribute immensely to the development of America. 

Calculating Vanderbilt net worth with reference to the nation’s GDP in 1877, he can be estimated to be worth $200 billion. This puts him as the second richest man in all of America’s history. 

Cornelius Vanderbilt obviously contributed a great deal in building the modern USA, however, his unhealthy competition in business should also be stated. Vanderbilt has also been traced to be associated with Chafflin sisters’ occult and other mafia groups.


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