Van der Bilt family

Vanderbilt family - Wikipedia

Inherited wealth is a real handicap to happiness. It is as certain a death to ambition as cocaine is to morality.

William K. Vanderbilt (grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt)

The Vanderbilt family – once America’s richest – flaunted their wealth to the extreme.

They amassed the first great fortune of the Industrial Age. And they went on to embody the excess of the Gilded Age, using their money to achieve prominence in New York’s social scene in the late twentieth century.

Members of the Vanderbilt family built many of America’s most extravagant private homes – such as “The Biltmore” in Asheville, North Carolina, and “The Breakers” in Palm Beach Newport, RI. They also owned 10 mansions on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, dominating prime real estate in the world’s wealthiest city.

The family patriarch, Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt, managed to transform $100 borrowed from his mother into a $100 million dollar fortune by the time of his death. His inheritance to his family was more than was held in the US Treasury at the time.

You probably know the story. The Commodore started out piloting a passenger boat on Staten Island in 1810. He expanded into the steamboat business and went on to build a railroad empire.

Cornelius was a hard-driving, rough character. A book written in the 1980s by a Vanderbilt descendant said that he was “illiterate, bad-tempered and foulmouthed, and inclined, when trapped into a social event, to spit streams of tobacco juice and fondle the maids.”

After his wife’s death he married a cousin 43 years his junior at the age of 75.

He also expressed his disappointment with his family publicly. Out of 10 children he only had two boys. And he felt that these boys were not up to his standards. He didn’t think they had what it took to grow the family wealth.

But he was wrong about that. His son William expanded the railroad business and doubled the family fortune to over $200 million. That’s over $300 billion in today’s dollars.

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