The Vanderbilts // Billionaires to ‘Brokies’ -What went wrong?

Hey there!

Are you ready to take an exciting ride into the magnificent history of one of America’s wealthiest dynasties?

Well, buckle up, because we’re about to dive headfirst into the fascinating world of the Vanderbilt family.

image featuring Cornelius Vanderbilt

In this post, we will explore the highs and lows of this legendary family, from their rise to wealth and power to their eventual downfall.

So, if you’re all set, first let’s find out more about the founding member of this dynasty, Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt…!!!

Who was Cornelius Vanderbilt?

Cornelius Vanderbilt, the American business magnate and philanthropist, was born on May 27, 1794, in Staten Island, New York.

Despite coming from a modest family, Vanderbilt showed an early aptitude for an entrepreneurial mindset and a drive to succeed.

He began his career as a ferry operator but soon expanded his business to include steamships and railroads.

He got a nickname, “Commodore Vanderbilt,” for his shrewd business practices.

He went on to collect a personal fortune of over $100 million, becoming one of the wealthiest Americans of the 19th century.

So what he actually did that made him the richest man of his time???

Rise of Cornelius Vanderbilt

As mentioned above, Cornelius Vanderbilt possessed a keen business sense which enabled him to identify opportunities and make strategic investments, ultimately leading to his accumulation of great wealth.

Some of his major investments were…

Expanding into steamships and water transportation.

cornelius vanderbilt and the steamships

This venture was a cornerstone of his business success.

He started by operating a ferry service between Staten Island and Manhattan.

And eventually expanded his business to include steamships and other forms of water transportation.

Vanderbilt’s shipping routes connected New York City to other major ports in the United States and beyond, allowing him to transport goods and people efficiently and profitably. 

Transition to railroads

As the transportation industry evolved, the Commodore recognized the potential of railroads and decided to shift his attention from shipping to the burgeoning railroad industry.

In the early 1860s, he acquired control of several rail lines and expanded his empire during the Gilded Age.

You would have watched him adapt to the changing times by investing in the future of transportation, making him one of the most successful businessmen of the 19th century.

Investing In New York Central Railroad

The pinnacle of Cornelius Vanderbilt’s railroad investments was the New York Central Railroad.

He worked relentlessly to consolidate and improve the railway system, resulting in better services and transportation options for your journey across the North-Eastern United States.

Because of his efforts, New York Central Railroad remained one of the industry’s dominant players for decades.

During his career, Vanderbilt’s influence extended beyond the transportation industry.

He played an essential role in shaping the economic landscape of the United States throughout the 19th century.

His investments in the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway significantly impacted regional trade and development, and his contributions to the railroad industry earned him a place in the National Railroad Hall of Fame.

If you like to watch, below is an interesting sneak peek into the life of Vanderbilts.

We know that Commodore Cornelius amassed immense wealth, but where did it go?
Who inherited all that wealth?

Scroll a little more for that…

Vanderbilt Family – Heirs and Descendents

Cornelius had 13 children with his wife Sophia Johnson Vanderbilt.

Here we will talk about the most prominent members of his lineage.

William Henry Vanderbilt and his children

As the son of Cornelius Vanderbilt, William Henry Vanderbilt, took over his father’s businesses in 1877.

He continued to invest in railroads, ultimately becoming one of the wealthiest men in the world at the time.

William and his wife Maria had eight children of their own, carrying on the Vanderbilt name and contributing further to the family’s success.

Under his leadership, the Vanderbilt fortune grew, and the family became known for their luxurious lifestyles and philanthropic endeavors.

Many of their estates became iconic symbols of wealth, such as the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.

William Kissam Vanderbilt and Alva Vanderbilt

William Kissam Vanderbilt

One of William Henry’s sons, William Kissam Vanderbilt, married Alva Erskine Smith, known as Alva Vanderbilt.

Alva played a prominent role in high society, using her influence to push for women’s suffrage and other social reforms.

Together, William Kissam and Alva built a number of impressive properties, including Marble House in Newport, Rhode Island, and contributed significantly to Vanderbilt University.

Other Notable Heirs and Descendants

The Vanderbilt legacy has continued through various notable descendants.

Anderson Cooper, a famous television journalist, is a great-great-grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt and the son of Gloria Vanderbilt.

anderson cooper

Gloria Vanderbilt also made a name for herself as a successful artist, actress, and fashion designer.

Another influential family member, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, was an American sculptor, art collector, and socialite who founded the Whitney Museum of American Art.

The family tree extends further to other prominent figures, such as Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt, a skilled equestrian and father to Gloria Vanderbilt.

The descendants of George Vanderbilt, who built the Biltmore Estate, include his daughter Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt, who married John Francis Amherst Cecil, and their sons, George Henry Vanderbilt Cecil and William Amherst Vanderbilt Cecil.

They played a significant role in preserving the Biltmore Estate and turning it into a popular historic site visited by tourists and history enthusiasts.

As you can see, the expansion of the Vanderbilt family and fortune has left a lasting impact on American culture through their impressive estates, philanthropic endeavors, and notable descendants who continue to shape various industries today.

Hold on for a sec …..

Are you intrigued by the wealth of Vanderbilts and want to get rich too?

Getting rich is a goal for many people, but it can be difficult to know where to start.

There are countless strategies and approaches to building wealth, like.

Investing wisely,

Living below your means and

Building multiple streams of income.

It’s also important to have a long-term perspective and to be patient, as building wealth typically takes time and discipline.


Now back to the Vanderbiltss….

Estates and Architectural Achievements – Vanderbilt Legacy

As we know, the Vanderbilt family is known for their impressive architectural achievements

This includes the construction of several grand estates and landmarks that continue to captivate visitors today.

Here are some of the renowned ones…

The Biltmore Estate

The biltmore estate

The Biltmore Estate is a renowned architectural achievement of the Vanderbilt family.

It is the largest privately-owned home in the United States and features a stunning 250-room mansion, complete with beautiful gardens and exquisite interiors.

The Biltmore House, designed by Richard Morris Hunt and landscaped by Frederick Law Olmsted, exemplifies the grandeur and luxurious lifestyle of the Vanderbilts.

Fifth Avenue Mansions

Your journey into the world of Vanderbilt architectural accomplishments would be incomplete without exploring the historic Fifth Avenue mansions.

These opulent homes, built during the Gilded Age, were situated in one of the most prestigious areas of New York City.

The renowned architects of these mansions, including Hunt and McKim, Mead & White, crafted the buildings with exquisite detail, reflecting the wealth and status of the Vanderbilt family.

Newport Summer Homes

For their summer retreats, the Vanderbilts built several lavish homes in the seaside city of Newport, Rhode Island.

Marble House and The Breakers are two of the most well-known Newport mansions, attracting visitors from all around the world.

These stunning homes showcase the architectural prowess of their designers and offer a glimpse into the luxurious lifestyle of the Vanderbilts during the summer months.

Grand Central Terminal

grand central station

While not an estate, the Grand Central Terminal is another noteworthy achievement associated with the Vanderbilt family.

As part of their vast railroad empire, the iconic terminal in New York City stands as a testament to the family’s influence and investment in transportation infrastructure.

This beautiful Beaux-Arts-style building is not only a crucial transportation hub but also an important architectural landmark that continues to dazzle visitors today.

The decline of the Vanderbilt fortune

The decline of the Vanderbilt family’s wealth and power began in the late 19th century following the death of Cornelius Vanderbilt. 

What were the reasons?

Adoption of Extravagant Lifestyles

One significant factor was the excessive spending and lavish lifestyles adopted by some members of the family.

The Vanderbilt heirs, who inherited immense wealth, often indulged in opulent living, luxurious parties, and extravagant purchases.

Their spending habits outpaced their income, leading to a gradual erosion of their fortunes.

Inheritance and Division of Wealth

Cornelius Vanderbilt had amassed a vast fortune during his lifetime, but his wealth was divided among his many children and subsequent generations.

As the family grew and wealth was spread among more and more individuals, it became increasingly difficult to maintain the same level of financial success.

In addition, inheritance taxes and poor financial decisions eroded the family’s assets over time.

These factors, combined with the division of wealth among family members, contributed to the decline of the Vanderbilt family’s once-vast fortune.

Marriages and Alliances

As the fortune was divided, extravagant lifestyles and marriages also played a significant role in diminishing the family’s wealth.

For example, William Kissam Vanderbilt married Alva Erskine Smith, who was partly responsible for depleting a considerable portion of the fortune.

Alva Vanderbilt used the family’s money and influence to secure high-profile alliances through social events and marriages for her children.

The once-wealthy dynasty ultimately faced financial ruin, with many members of the Vanderbilt family having to resort to selling off their assets and auctioning their possessions.

Famous Modern-Day Descendants Of the Vanderbilt Family

Gloria Vanderbilt and the Fashion Industry

Gloria Vanderbilt is a significant figure in the fashion industry, especially known for her designer jeans.

She was born into the prominent Vanderbilt family, but with her creativity and talent as a designer, she made a name for herself in the world of fashion.

As you explore Gloria’s contributions to the fashion industry, you’ll find that her jeans, clothing, and accessories left a lasting legacy.

Anderson Cooper and Journalism

Another prominent descendant of the Vanderbilt family is Anderson Cooper, a well-respected journalist and television personality.

As the primary anchor of CNN’s news show Anderson Cooper 360°, he has made a significant impact on journalism.

Through his coverage of major events and dedication to sharing accurate information, Anderson Cooper has become a trusted name in the world of news.

Now let’s take a 3 min break and watch this video to find out how millions of dollars are not necessary for peace in life.

Some frequently asked questions about the Vanderbilts…

The Vanderbilt Family – FAQs

Who was Maria Louisa Vanderbilt?

Maria Louisa Vanderbilt was the daughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt and his second wife, Frank Armstrong Crawford.

She married her cousin, William Kissam Vanderbilt, in 1841.

Together, they had eight children, including Cornelius Vanderbilt II and William Kissam Vanderbilt II.

Maria Louisa Vanderbilt was a patron of the arts and supported numerous cultural institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Who was Carter Vanderbilt Cooper?

Carter Vanderbilt Cooper was the son of Gloria Vanderbilt and Wyatt Emory Cooper.

He was born on January 27, 1965, in New York City and was the younger brother of journalist Anderson Cooper.

Carter Vanderbilt Cooper tragically died on July 22, 1988, at the age of 23, after falling from the terrace of his mother’s 14th-floor apartment in Manhattan.

His death was ruled a suicide.

Who was Emily Thorn Vanderbilt?

Emily Thorn Vanderbilt was an American philanthropist and a member of the prominent Vanderbilt family.

She was the daughter of William Henry Vanderbilt, the eldest son of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Emily Thorn Vanderbilt was known for her extensive philanthropic work, particularly in the areas of healthcare and education.

She financed the creation of New York’s Sloane Hospital for Women in 1888 with an endowment of over $1,000,000.

Who was Christopher Stokowski?

Christopher Stokowski is an American composer and musician who is also known for being the son of the late socialite Gloria Vanderbilt and renowned conductor Leopold Stokowski.

He is known for being estranged from his family for several decades, but he has reportedly reconnected with his half-brother, journalist Anderson Cooper, in recent years.

What is the Vanderbilt family’s net worth?

As of 2023, it is difficult to estimate the Vanderbilt family’s net worth as the family’s wealth has been significantly diminished over the years due to factors such as inheritance taxes, poor investments, and lavish spending.

At its peak in the late 19th century, the Vanderbilt family’s wealth was estimated to be in the billions of dollars, but today, many of their grand estates and properties have been sold or repurposed.

Some individual members of the Vanderbilt family still have significant personal wealth, but it is unclear what the family’s collective net worth is at this time.

What is Anderson Cooper’s net worth?

As of 2023, Anderson Cooper’s net worth is estimated to be around $200 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth.

He has earned his fortune primarily through his career in journalism.

Are the Vanderbilts still rich?

It is difficult to determine, but they are no longer considered to be among the wealthiest families in the United States

Who lives on the Biltmore estate today?

As of 2023, the Biltmore Estate is owned and operated by The Biltmore Company, a trust set up by the Vanderbilt family.

The estate is open to the public and does not have any permanent residents.

However, the company employs over 2,400 people who maintain the 8,000 acres of the Biltmore Estate, including the historic house, gardens, winery, hotels, and restaurants.

The Biltmore Estate is a popular tourist destination, attracting over one million visitors each year.

Who is Anderson Cooper’s mother?

Gloria Vanderbilt was Anderson Cooper’s mother.

The Bottom Line

The Vanderbilt family is one of the most prominent and influential families in American history, known for their vast wealth and significant contributions to various industries.

Even as their wealth has diminished over time, their influence on American history and culture will continue to be felt for generations to come.

Here are some resources to help you find a mindset like Cornelius Vanderbilt and avoid the mistakes that their later generations made.

Slowly than all at once

The compound effect

How to manifest money

What are the required traits for entrepreneurs

Save money and live a better life

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Brooks Conkle

Brooks is an entrepreneur, father, husband, & follower of the golden rule. He has over 15 years of experience as an entrepreneur after graduating with a Finance degree from Auburn University. Addicted to starting new business projects, he believes in creating multiple income streams and a life of flexibility. Business should work around your life, not the other way around. He creates content on his website, sharing his projects to help other hustlers in marketing, personal finance, and online business.