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Cornelius Vanderbilt: industrial estadounidense pionero

Cornelius Vanderbilt: industrial estadounidense pionero


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Cornelius Vanderbilt nació en Port Richmond, Staten Island, Nueva York, hijo de un barquero y granjero. Durante la década de 1830, la línea de Vanderbilt se convirtió en la presencia dominante de los barcos de vapor en el río Hudson, debido en gran parte a los bajos precios y las cómodas comodidades. La mayor parte de su fortuna de $ 100 millones se la dejó a su hijo, William.


El barón ladrón incomprendido: sobre Cornelius Vanderbilt

11 de noviembre de 2009

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Cornelius Vanderbilt murió en enero de 1877. Seis meses después, la mayor insurrección social del siglo XIX paralizó las operaciones de Vanderbilt & # 8217s New York Central Railroad (para entonces supervisado por su hijo William) junto con las otras tres líneas troncales que conectan la costa este. a Chicago y puntos más al oeste. La Gran Huelga de Ferrocarriles, como llegó a ser conocida, fue un trastorno de extraordinaria violencia provocado por un asombroso acto de colusión e insensibilidad: un recorte salarial del 10 por ciento anunciado el año anterior & # 8211 en medio del siglo & # 8217s la peor depresión & # 8211 y respaldado en concierto por las cuatro líneas troncales. En ciudades y pueblos de todo el país estallaron enfrentamientos armados entre milicias estatales y trabajadores ferroviarios enfurecidos y sus legiones de simpatizantes. Una huelga general paralizó a St. Louis. En un solo día, en Pittsburgh, multitudes quemaron treinta y nueve edificios ferroviarios y 1.300 vagones y locomotoras, así como un enorme elevador de granos armado con pistolas Gatling, la Guardia Nacional mató a veinte esa noche y más al día siguiente. Thomas Scott, que dirigía el ferrocarril de Pensilvania, concluyó: & # 8220 Nada más que la locura de la pasión, aprovechada por líderes diseñadores y traviesos, puede explicar la destrucción de grandes cantidades de equipos ferroviarios. & # 8221 Nada, es decir, excepto los desesperados circunstancias de los trabajadores ferroviarios & # 8211 que por salarios miserables se arriesgaban a morir o quedar mutilados en accidentes industriales & # 8211 y sus familias.

Las tres semanas de caos terminaron con un aplauso generalizado para las fuerzas del orden. Se erigieron armerías en las principales ciudades para sofocar las ansiedades de las clases medias, que desde los incendiarios días de la Comuna de París habían vivido con el miedo crónico de que estallara una sangrienta confrontación de clases en América. En este clima tenso, muchos llegaron a venerar a los nuevos señores de la industria. Unos años después de su muerte, Vanderbilt fue enaltecido por su primer biógrafo: sin & # 8220the Commodore & # 8221 & # 8211 un sobrenombre por el cual Vanderbilt era ampliamente conocido en ese momento & # 8211there & # 8217d be & # 8220 railroads or steams or telégraphs no cities, sin clases de ocio, sin escuelas, sin colegios, literatura, arte en resumen, sin civilización. & # 8221 Millones compartieron esta idolatría.

Una minoría se enfureció y criticó a los titanes de las finanzas y la industria como & # 8220 barones ladrones & # 8221 y cosas peores. E.L. Godkin, fundador de La Nación, lanzó una andanada de invectivas contra la nueva plutocracia: & # 8220 los reyes de la calle & # 8221 como Vanderbilt mostraron & # 8220 un egoísmo incondicional e immitigable & # 8221 tan espantoso como su & # 8220audacia, empuje, falta de escrúpulos y descarado desprecio por los demás & # 8217 derechos. & # 8221 Henry Adams, escribiendo sobre la debacle de Credit Mobilier después de la Guerra Civil, en la que los operadores ferroviarios se confabularon con los funcionarios del gobierno para saquear el tesoro público, concluyó que & # 8220la ley moral ha expirado & # 8211 como la Constitución & # 8221 Esto menos La visión optimista se hizo más popular en el siglo XX, especialmente durante y después de la Gran Depresión, una catástrofe que millones de estadounidenses atribuyeron a una segunda generación de & # 8220 barones ladrones & # 8221. La erudición histórica reflejó esa evaluación. Las biografías de Mellon, Carnegie y Rockefeller a menudo estaban mezcladas con censura moral, advirtiendo que & # 8220tories of industry & # 8221 eran una amenaza para la democracia y que el parasitismo, la pretensión aristocrática y la tiranía siempre han seguido la estela de la riqueza concentrada, ya sea acumulada dinásticamente o más impersonalmente por la corporación sin rostro. Esta erudición, y la persuasión cultural de la que era una expresión, se basó en una sensibilidad profundamente arraigada, en parte religiosa, en parte igualitaria y democrática, que se remontaba a William Jennings Bryan, Andrew Jackson y Tom Paine.

La censura de las grandes empresas continuó durante la década de 1960 y más allá, pero ha sido eclipsada gradualmente por el reclamo cultural e intelectual de la magnate de la Edad Dorada. Durante las últimas dos décadas, las biografías revisionistas y los retratos colectivos de Mellon, Carnegie, Rockefeller, Harriman, J.P. Morgan y otros han rehabilitado eficazmente la reputación del barón ladrón. Incluso el magnate y especulador ferroviario Jay Gould, conocido por sus contemporáneos como & # 8220 el Mefistófeles de Wall Street & # 8221, ha sido rescatado del purgatorio cultural. El cociente de juicio moral y político negativo en estos estudios ha disminuido o ha desaparecido por completo. El énfasis ahora recae en la brillantez comercial de estos hombres, su implacable voluntad de triunfar, sus roles pioneros en el fortalecimiento de los recursos industriales y financieros del país, y su dominio de las cada vez más complejas innovaciones tecnológicas, financieras y organizativas que han definido la modernidad. economía.

En conjunto, se podría decir que esta literatura constituye un nuevo género: el incomprendido barón ladrón. El género no menosprecia las duras circunstancias y las tácticas desagradables que pueden haber facilitado el ascenso de un barón ladrón a la dominación: una ferocidad competitiva sin límites, una actitud casual acerca de apegarse a la letra de la ley, una imperiosidad que lo distanció. de la difícil situación de los menos afortunados, un impulso despiadado hacia los competidores en bancarrota, el soborno de los funcionarios electos. Pero en lugar de criticar estos rasgos y tácticas, el género los naturaliza. Si estos hombres hicieron cosas que hoy podrían parecernos sin escrúpulos, también lo hicieron sus contemporáneos, todos miembros de una sociedad motivada por el individualismo resuelto característico de una economía robusta de libre mercado. Visto desde lejos, lo que estamos persuadidos de ver a través del examen de estas vidas es la incubación del mundo moderno del capitalismo industrial y financiero y su mecánica evolutiva ineludible, no siempre bonita pero al fin y al cabo una bendición que dotó al capitalismo. país con riqueza y poder. Esta imagen soleada refleja la sociedad de propietarios actual, con su audacia de libre mercado y su reverencia por los hombres de negocios en general, especialmente aquellos comprometidos con la competitividad & # 8220 limpia y mezquina & # 8221 y la construcción del imperio financiero. Podría decirse que el género del barón ladrón incomprendido es en sí mismo una expresión del cambio en el zeitgeist, al igual que esa literatura anterior de condena moral compartía un conjunto más universal de reservas sobre el reinado de las grandes empresas.

Un trasfondo revelador recorre muchas de estas biografías. Parecen obsesionados por la primera ola de biografías de barones ladrones y sienten la necesidad de exorcizar su pesada mezcla de crítica crítica. A menudo lo hacen adoptando un punto de vista de desinterés olímpico. Con cierta fría condescendencia, descartan el espíritu del anticapitalismo como miope o doctrinario y fatalmente fuera de contacto con la lógica inexorable del desarrollo económico. Ellos implican que los críticos anteriores & # 8211 todos, desde Henry Adams, Henry George y Henry Demarest Lloyd en el siglo XIX hasta Charles Beard y otros historiadores de la era progresista y continuando con el trabajo de Matthew Josephson, Ferdinand Lundberg y los historiadores de la Nueva Izquierda de la era progresista. & # 821760s & # 8211 fueron cautivos de una gran ilusión: que existían alternativas viables al capitalismo, un menú de posibilidades que iban desde la comunidad cooperativa hasta el socialismo. Los historiadores del incomprendido barón ladrón están libres de esa ilusión de hecho, su libertad lleva consigo la convicción de que, a pesar de todas sus fallas obvias, el sistema de libre mercado prevalece porque funciona, y funciona porque está en armonía con alguna verdad económica más profunda como legal como una reacción química.

Cualquiera que sea su Weltanschauung, muchos de estos estudios son historias de primer nivel, y El primer magnate, una nueva biografía de Cornelius Vanderbilt por T.J. Stiles, no es una excepción. El ascenso de Vanderbilt & # 8217 de un pequeño operador de transbordadores en Staten Island a la figura dominante en el sistema de transporte marítimo (barco de vapor) y terrestre (ferrocarril) de la nación es una historia fascinante, y Stiles lo cuenta bien. Su escritura es viva y colorida. Es un investigador minucioso y exhaustivo con instinto para contar anécdotas. Basándose en las observaciones de los comerciantes locales, los visitantes del extranjero y los aper y ccedilus de Herman Melville, Stiles evoca ingeniosamente el bullicio de la ciudad de Nueva York de principios del siglo XIX: los malos olores de sus muelles, el atasco de veleros y vapores que abarrotan su puerto, el frenesí de los negocios y el tráfico en las serpenteantes calles del Bajo Manhattan, que pronto estableció la ciudad como la sede de la economía marítima comercial de la nación. Vanderbilt hizo su fortuna en esta jungla mercantil, y Stiles hace un excelente trabajo al retratar cómo dio forma a su personaje & # 8211 endureciendo su armadura, agudizando su astucia. Y aunque & # 8220the First Tycoon & # 8221 era a menudo un escritor torpe y reacio que no dejaba mucho rastro en papel, Stiles tiene algunas ideas convincentes sobre la vida interior de Vanderbilt.

El relato de Stiles sobre la fiebre del oro de California de 1849 está repleto de vívidas descripciones de buscadores, estafadores, apostadores y negociadores, y captura el surgimiento meteórico de San Francisco, con su vida nocturna sin inhibiciones y la extraordinaria diversidad cultural que atrajo la fortuna. buscadores de todo el mundo. El descubrimiento de oro en Sutter & # 8217s Mill presentó la oportunidad para que Vanderbilt transformara su negocio de barcos de vapor en la costa atlántica en uno transoceánico, transportando pasajeros al oeste a los campos de oro y, lo que es más importante, llevando oro de regreso al este a los bancos de Nueva York. La fiebre del oro también enredó al Comodoro en interminables intrigas para construir una ruta terrestre (ferrocarril / canal / barco de vapor) a través de Nicaragua que conectara los dos océanos, a fin de acelerar y reducir el costo del tránsito hacia y desde la costa del oro. Stiles es especialmente bueno, aunque un poco prolijo, para describir a los peligrosos pero tragicómicos jugadores involucrados en estas maquinaciones, entre ellos los filibusteros sureños, los aventureros militares independientes y los autopromotores políticos que pretendían derrocar a los gobiernos locales de América Central y anexar lugares como Nicaragua al sur, alimentando el insaciable apetito de Dixie por nuevos territorios esclavistas.

Los talentos de Stiles no se limitan de ninguna manera a sus poderes descriptivos. Su análisis de la economía política del Norte anterior a la guerra es a menudo convincente. Él llama a Vanderbilt un & # 8220shopkeeper of the sea & # 8221, una metáfora maravillosa que transmite el carácter claramente mercantil de la economía estadounidense en las décadas previas a la Guerra Civil. Era una economía que se basaba en el comercio, no en la manufactura, y el Comodoro la dominó porque logró controlar gran parte de su transporte motorizado: primero el comercio costero en barco de vapor y luego el transatlántico, y luego el comercio terrestre realizado por ferrocarriles impulsados ​​por vapor. Vanderbilt hizo su fortuna y adquirió poder en esta fase comercial anterior del desarrollo estadounidense, no durante la posterior industrialización que hizo a sus compañeros barones ladrones tan ricos y famosos.

Cuando Vanderbilt se convirtió en operador de un barco de vapor en 1817, la economía mercantil estaba controlada por un círculo de élite de banqueros y comerciantes anglo-holandeses dominantes desde la era prerrevolucionaria. Sus miembros disfrutaban de una posición privilegiada, en particular un derecho a los estatutos corporativos exclusivos emitidos por los gobiernos estatales y locales para llevar a cabo varios negocios: líneas de vapor, autopistas, ferrocarriles, canales y otras facetas de la infraestructura vital para una sociedad comercial. La democracia por la que la era jacksoniana es tan conocida estuvo marcada por el deseo de abrir esta economía mercantil insular apoyada por el estado a todos los hombres. Antebellum America hervido con energías empresariales, los emprendedores vagaban por la tierra ansiosos por aprovechar la avalancha de oportunidades comerciales que acompañaron la expansión territorial del país. Los aspirantes a hombres de la marca denunciaron a los establecidos, especialmente aquellos que disfrutaban de los favores del gobierno, como monopolistas y aristócratas. Buscaban una economía de mercado verdaderamente libre, leyes de incorporación universal y el fin de los monopolios sancionados por el estado. Fue una guerra contra una forma de capitalismo en nombre de otra.

Stiles presenta un caso convincente de que Vanderbilt fue una figura importante en la lucha por derrocar una forma de capitalismo más antiguo y patricio. Aunque era apolítico, ni whig ni demócrata, y se involucraba en política solo cuando se adaptaba a sus objetivos comerciales inmediatos, Vanderbilt era en muchos sentidos el perfecto jacksoniano. Una y otra vez desafió las franquicias aprobadas por el estado administradas por grandes políticos conectados en Nueva York y Nueva Inglaterra. Estableció líneas de barcos de vapor rivales, utilizando su conocimiento detallado de la construcción de barcos y los caprichos del mar para llevar a las franquicias establecidas a la bancarrota. Hundió a otros en la corte. Y no se mostró tímido cuando se trataba de desplegar retórica democrática para desacreditar a sus enemigos de primera categoría mientras ocultaba sus objetivos depredadores.

La vieja guardia patricia se imaginaba a sí misma como una élite desinteresada equipada con la crianza, el conocimiento y la independencia para actuar en el interés público, pero de hecho, a medida que la sociedad de mercado extendía su alcance, la vieja guardia se comportaba como hombres de negocios ordinarios, ansiosos por conservar sus ventajas comerciales especiales. Como Stiles observa convincentemente, las viejas familias patricias de & # 8220New York & # 8217 habían continuado en esta era más competitiva e igualitaria, llevando consigo su riqueza y prejuicios. Su elitismo se mezcló con la fe Whig en una economía emprendedora pero ordenada. & # 8221

Vanderbilt, por otro lado, podría haber predicado las virtudes democráticas del libre mercado, pero estaba perfectamente preparado para imponer su propio control de monopolio cuando se presentara la oportunidad, o para aceptar dinero de rescate de sus competidores para que pudieran continuar operando. sus monopolios. Stiles llama a Vanderbilt el & # 8220revolucionario egoísta & # 8221 y el & # 8220 millonario radical & # 8221 porque comprendió que la ideología del laissez-faire podría desempeñar una doble función como defensa y ataque a la riqueza. En agosto de 1834, Vanderbilt publicó una pieza de demagogia democrática dirigida a sus rivales patricios en el New York Evening Post, un periódico comprometido con la política radical antimonopolio de Jackson. Su súplica fue escrita en nombre de una de sus empresas de barcos de vapor, deliberadamente llamada People & # 8217s Line, que corre entre Nueva York y Albany: & # 8220Así, los conciudadanos tienen este monopolio aristocrático, seguro como se creen en riqueza y poder, atacado sin sentido un individuo cuyo esfuerzo constante ha sido evitar una contienda con ellos & # 8230 la pregunta ahora es si el público apoyará a las compañías combinadas en un acto de opresión dominante, o patrocinarán y alentarán a alguien que está decidido a resistir la agresión y la injusticia & # 8230 . El North River es la gran carretera del pueblo y no pertenece exclusivamente a los monopolistas. & # 8221

Toda esta palabrería capitalizó los riffs de los vendedores ambulantes de la época, promotores de tierras que adoraban a Mammon, urbanizadores de ciudades y corredores de acciones de canales y ferrocarriles. Es una mezcla irresistible del igualitarismo democrático altisonante y la codicia sin pestañear satirizada por Charles Dickens en Martín Chuzzlewit. Es muy difícil decir si Vanderbilt realmente se creía un guerrero contra el monopolio o simplemente alquilaba la retórica por centímetro de columna. Lo que está claro es que defendió el capitalismo al denunciarlo. Más importante aún, Stiles señala una ironía más profunda de la época: que la corporación, que se originó como una criatura del estado, sujeta al menos en teoría a sus reglas y regulaciones, se convertiría en cambio en las décadas siguientes en el amo del estado, libre de restricciones públicas o de cualquier obligación de servir al interés público, gracias a la agitación social y política antimonopolio inspirada por personas como Cornelius Vanderbilt y Andrew Jackson.

Por todas sus virtudes, El primer magnate dedica poca atención a la forma en que esta atmósfera cultural más amplia alimentó los mitos napoleónicos que llegaron a envolver a hombres de negocios como Vanderbilt. Los modestos orígenes sociales del Comodoro y su ascenso a alturas poderosas imitaban a los de Napoleón, un hombre de la nada que se convirtió en emperador. Esa es una versión del sueño americano y su promesa de oportunidades ilimitadas y autoinvención sin fin. Es la razón por la que tantos veneraban a Vanderbilt. Grandes fortunas y cómo se hicieron, una celebración clásica de héroes estadounidenses hechos a sí mismos publicada en 1871, describió a Vanderbilt & # 8217s & # 8220mind of crystal, the heart of adamant, the hand of steel, and the will of iron. & # 8221 De una manera más distanciada y desapasionada , Stiles respalda este romántico retrato del Comodoro. Stiles, consciente de que era odiado y resentido por muchos, especialmente por sus rivales comerciales derrotados, promociona la reputación de Vanderbilt como un gran hombre, un genio económico rudo, un magnate primordial y arquitecto del mundo moderno.

El respaldo forma la columna vertebral de El primer magnate. Los títulos del libro & # 8217s tres partes & # 8211 & # 8220Captain, & # 8221 & # 8220Commodore & # 8221 y & # 8220King & # 8221 & # 8211 transmiten la imagen de un guerrero triunfante. Los títulos, de hecho, repiten las denominaciones por las que Vanderbilt llegó a ser ampliamente conocido, pero una vez adoptados como temas organizadores de una biografía, desarrollan una vida propia. Stiles nunca cuestiona seriamente el lenguaje extravagante utilizado por los contemporáneos para describir a Vanderbilt, como el elogio emitido por los directores de su imperio ferroviario tras la muerte del Comodoro. El & # 8220splendor & # 8221 de sus & # 8220 maravillosos triunfos personales & # 8221 les prestó & # 8220 el tinte de romance & # 8230. Comenzando en una posición humilde & # 8230 se levantó por su genio, su energía indomable y su clara previsión & # 8230. Fue para su honor duradero que su política uniforme fue proteger, desarrollar y mejorar los intereses con los que estaba conectado, en lugar de buscar un beneficio egoísta y deshonroso. La propia prosa de Stiles no está exenta de florituras grandiosas. Sus imágenes y metáforas se vuelven demasiado maduras cuando describe a Vanderbilt proyectando & # 8220 una sombra sobre millones de personas & # 8221 y elevándose & # 8220 como un pico de montaña por encima de las nubes & # 8221. de combate y heroísmo temerario. Admira al comodoro & # 8217s & # 8220iron nervio & # 8221 durante el Pánico de 1873, cómo estuvo & # 8220 al mando completo mientras otros casi se derrumban de miedo & # 8221, y habla de lo solo que permaneció Vanderbilt entre los titanes del ferrocarril & # 8220 inquebrantable e inquebrantable. & # 8221

Adoptar este enfoque aumenta las apuestas, presionando a Stiles para que gane más de menos, para inflar al peatón, otorgándole una grandeza que no garantiza. Un resultado es que el libro se estanca en el punto medio mientras Stiles avanza a través de un trato comercial tras otro en un esfuerzo para demostrar la perspicacia superior de Vanderbilt. Se invierten miles y miles de palabras en describir las complejidades de la empresa Commodore & # 8217s Nicaragua, que requiere algunos esfuerzos heroicos por parte del lector & # 8217s para seguir lo que & # 8217s está sucediendo. Al mismo tiempo, Stiles se esfuerza por conectar las maquinaciones comerciales más hogareñas de Vanderbilt con asuntos de mayor importancia nacional (el conflicto seccional sobre la esclavitud, el colapso del Partido Whig), pero estos intentos artificiales de darle a su vida cotidiana un mayor peso histórico casi siempre fracasará.

Dorar la imagen del Primer Magnate tiene peores consecuencias. Vanderbilt construyó conscientemente una dinastía familiar, basada principalmente en sus propiedades ferroviarias. Stiles lo sabe, pero, decidido a pintar una imagen de Vanderbilt como el arquitecto de la modernidad y de la corporación moderna en particular, termina fusionando el capitalismo dinástico con su sucesor corporativo. Vanderbilt & # 8217s New York Central no ejerció inicialmente la gestión racionalizadora y burocrática ya instalada en otros ferrocarriles importantes, e incluso después de que el Comodoro asumiera el mando, practicó el tipo de control personal y familiar que había favorecido durante toda su vida. Si se involucró en una reorganización importante del camino a lo largo de líneas corporativas, convirtiéndola en una jerarquía compleja e impersonal dirigida por un cuadro de profesionales gerenciales y técnicos, Stiles proporciona al lector muy poca evidencia de ello. Además, la corporación moderna se comporta de manera muy diferente, tanto en el mercado como en la arena política, de su predecesora dinástica. Aquí & # 8217s cómo suena una dinastía: & # 8220 La ley, como yo la veo, va demasiado lenta para mí cuando tengo remedio en mis propias manos & # 8230. Deje que las otras partes acudan a la ley si quieren, pero por Dios, creo que sé cuál es la ley, ya he tenido suficiente. & # 8221 Vanderbilt & # 8217s palabras no son las de una demanda corporativa anónima sensible a su empresa & # Las intrincadas interacciones de 8217 con los burócratas del gobierno y los tribunales, alguien cuya lealtad y permanencia en una corporación específica es contingente y apenas está informado por las ambiciones patriarcales del linaje familiar. El capitalismo dinástico se basa en una identidad de interés y perspectiva entre sus propietarios y gerentes, ya que son más o menos las mismas personas que la corporación moderna corta ese vínculo. Stiles parece deliberadamente ciego a la distinción, por lo que está decidido a demostrar que Vanderbilt & # 8217 supera la estatura histórica.

Eso es porque, para Stiles, asociar a Vanderbilt con la modernidad es axiomáticamente algo bueno. Admira las innovadoras y visionarias aventuras del magnate en el nuevo mundo de acciones y bonos corporativos y otras formas de valores hipotecarios en papel sujetos a las fluctuaciones impredecibles del mercado. No se puede negar que el surgimiento del capitalismo financiero fue una transformación revolucionaria, una ruptura radical con una perspectiva económica tradicional cuya medida de valor permaneció ligada a manifestaciones tangibles de propiedad física real, moneda de oro y similares. La nueva forma de hacer las cosas permitió la movilización de recursos de capital líquido y su inversión en todo tipo de emprendimientos productivos. Vanderbilt se convirtió en un actor importante en esta misteriosa economía paralela. Se enfrentó a especuladores rivales por el control de varios ferrocarriles, el más notorio Erie, conocido en todas partes como la & # 8220scarlet woman of Wall Street & # 8221 debido a la forma en que fue saqueado y reubicado por manipuladores de acciones como Daniel Drew, Jay Gould. y el comodoro. Para Stiles, ese es el final de la historia: Vanderbilt como pionero de las finanzas modernas.

Pero estos mecanismos financieros también generaron una economía de papel de valor ficticio que podría sobreestimar o subestimar enormemente el valor real de los activos tangibles que se suponía que representaban, creando las condiciones para auges, caídas y pánicos periódicos. Stiles descarta las reservas de Vanderbilt & # 8217s contemporáneos sobre este extraño nuevo mundo como anticuado, provinciano y miope. Da por sentado que la noción de valor real es una ilusión, que el mercado es el único y último árbitro de lo que vale cualquier cosa. Esa es la visión moderna. Pero esas viejas ansiedades no ilustradas acerca del & # 8220 valor ficticio & # 8221 no suenan tan retrógradas a la luz de nuestro reciente colapso financiero y su impacto en la & # 8220 economía real & # 8221, ni tampoco en la época del Comodoro & # 8217. durante los pánicos y las depresiones de 1837, 1857 y 1873 (el más devastador de todos).

Brahmanes de la costa este como Henry y Charles Francis Adams, Oliver Wendell Holmes y E.L. Godkin estuvo entre los muchos críticos de Vanderbilt y el predominio de la corporación gigante. Ellos, junto con legiones de oponentes menos conocidos del Commodore dentro del naciente movimiento obrero y entre agricultores angustiados y enojados y empresarios medianos, originaron el estigma del barón ladrón que ensombreció a Vanderbilt y sus compañeros magnates hasta bien entrado el siglo XX. Incluso el New York Times reconoció la existencia de una & # 8220moderna aristocracia del capital & # 8221 y describió a la nueva generación de capitalistas corporativos como & # 8220 los tiranos de la sociedad moderna & # 8221. Stiles trata este lenguaje como incoherente pero sin explicar por qué. Sin duda, existe una profunda diferencia histórica entre el aristócrata y el capitalista. Pero el significado político de la analogía hecha por el Veces y otros fue lo suficientemente claro.

Stiles cree que los Adams, Godkin y otros críticos patrios del Primer Magnate eran cínicos. Después de todo, detestaban los sindicatos, lamentaban que los inmigrantes mestizaran a los Estados Unidos anglo-protestantes, temían y deploraban la política democrática de masas, consideraban que los populistas eran semillas de heno y estaban horrorizados tanto por la vulgaridad de la nueva magnate como por su desmesurada. poder. Stiles dice que estas opiniones desagradables desacreditan a los brahmanes y la crítica fulminante de los barones ladrones, la codicia, la corrupción y la explotación. Pero el cargo es un golpe bajo y también refleja una especie de esnobismo intelectual. Después de todo, las críticas de los brahmanes se hicieron eco en las acusaciones contra los barones ladrones formuladas por los Caballeros del Trabajo, los partidos políticos campesinos y de dólares y las ligas antimonopolio, hombres y mujeres no contaminados por las opiniones reaccionarias de sus superiores sociales. Pero estos actores políticos anónimos o menos conocidos no aparecen en El primer magnate. Son tan invisibles para Stiles como nocivos para Godkin.

A Cornelius Vanderbilt le gustaba conmemorarse a sí mismo. Un monumento perdurable y pieza vital de la centralización ferroviaria que mejoró sustancialmente la eficiencia económica de New York Central fue la Grand Central Terminal original, terminada en 1871. Stiles amontona frente al lector una montaña de estadísticas sobre el extraordinario volumen y diversidad de materiales utilizados para construir la estación. Es impresionante. Pero hay otro conjunto de números que Stiles no muestra interés en compilar o analizar. Durante esta fase formativa de industrialización, 35.000 trabajadores mueren cada año en accidentes laborales. En 1910, una cuarta parte de todos los trabajadores de las industrias del hierro y el acero se lesionaba una vez al año, en parte debido a que la dirección no instaló dispositivos de seguridad o acortó las horas de trabajo. Entre 1890 y 1917, 158.000 mecánicos y trabajadores murieron en talleres de reparación de ferrocarriles y casas circulares. Solo en 1888-89, de los 704.000 empleados del ferrocarril, 20.000 resultaron heridos y casi 2.000 murieron. En Illinois Central entre 1874 y 1884, uno de cada veinte ferroviarios murió o quedó discapacitado entre los guardafrenos, ferroviarios que hacían el trabajo más peligroso, la proporción era de uno en siete (y entre los guardametas ferroviarios el número era casi igual de alarmante). Part of the reason for this horrendous record of disfigurement and death was management’s relentless drive to increase the workload: brakemen, for example, were required to brake four or five cars rather than the two or three that had been the custom earlier. Yet the air brake, invented by George Westinghouse, had been available since 1869. It was expensive to install, however, and the railroad tycoons did nothing until its installation was required by federal legislation in 1893. The accident rate then declined promptly and precipitously by 60 percent.

Stiles insists that Vanderbilt deserves to be treated as a pioneer of modern industrial capitalism. If that’s so, and certainly there’s a case to be made, then what is more fundamental than understanding his relationship to wage labor, upon which the whole system rests? Thousands of workers, not Vanderbilt alone, made the road what it was. Did they end up dead and disabled in numbers comparable to, less than or more than their co-workers on other lines? Was the Commodore particularly solicitous about their welfare? Did he install the air brake? ¿Si no, porque no? Did he share the bellicose view of people like Tom Scott of the Pennsylvania Railroad or was he, given his lowly social origins, more sympathetic, conciliatory perhaps? What was it like to work for one of the Commodore’s great enterprises? The First Tycoon has little to say about any of this, and its silence helps sustain the romance of the misunderstood robber baron.

Not that everyone was silent. Stiles cites an open letter of 1869 from Mark Twain to Vanderbilt in which Twain indicts the tycoon’s rapaciousness and greed. But what really bothers Twain (and Stiles emphasizes this) is the idolatry that Vanderbilt’s fortune inspired among ordinary people: “You seem to be the idol of only a crawling swarm of small souls, who love to glorify your most flagrant unworthiness in print or praise your vast possessions worshippingly or sing of your unimportant private habits and sayings and doings, as if your millions gave them dignity.” Anyone living during the last quarter century must be acutely aware that the inclination to genuflect before great wealth has once again become a national pastime. It began back in the days of the First Tycoon. It is another, perhaps less savory contribution of the Commodore’s, or at least of his fellow robber barons. But while Stiles is eager to interrogate critics of that idolatry–Twain’s views are fairly presented but then derogated as the work of a “cynic”–he stays mum about the origins, meaning and consequences of the cult itself. Such silence is inherent in the genre of the misunderstood robber baron. It takes for granted what Twain and others worried about indeed, it asks us to follow its example and prostrate ourselves before the captains, commodores and kings of great wealth.


25 Resources for High School Students

“After all, the chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world.”

– President Calvin Coolidge, 1925

In Pioneer’s ongoing series of blogs here , here , here , and here on curricular resources for parents, families, and teachers during COVID-19, this one focuses on:

Celebrating American Free-Market Capitalism.

“The secret of success is to do the common thing uncommonly well,” wrote the American industrialist and founder of the Standard Oil Company, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. It is vitally important for the financial well-being of our country, as well as the productive happiness of our children, for them to learn about, emulate, and appreciate the great business geniuses that have made the United States the largest and most successful economy in the world over the last two centuries. From the Colonial Era to the Age of Globalization, strivers, risk-takers, entrepreneurs, immigrants, and business tycoons alike have all helped make America the envy of the world. As it was for previous generations (prior to the last 30 years), we need to restore to K-12 schooling – especially in high schools – a thoughtful study and recognition of how the “Captains of Industry” have propelled the country’s historic economic progress. To support this effort, we’re offering a variety of resources to help parents, teachers, and high school students:


Business Scandal

Overrated For a hundred years the armor-plate scandal of the 1890s has been offered up as a definitive example of corporate greed. In fact it’s a better example of government incompetence.

Battleships were becoming the measure of naval might at the end of the nineteenth century. As the United States began to emerge as a Great Power and started to build a significant navy, it needed a domestic source of armor plate. But the steelmakers, notably Andrew Carnegie, were reluctant to build the necessary mills. Armorplate mills couldn’t be used for other types of steel, and there was only one possible customer: the Navy. Worse, Navy bureaucrats, ignorant of the difficult realities of steel production, established specifications that were impossible to meet.

Through appeals to his patriotism, Carnegie was prevailed upon, against his better business judgment, to build a mill. But when the mill evaded the specifications, simply in order to produce good armor plate, disgruntled labor leaders informed the Navy. Without taking evidence from the company, or even informing it of the investigation, the board of inquiry fined Carnegie 15 percent of the value of the contract in question. Carnegie had no option but to pay. And, stuck with an armor-plate mill that had no other customer, he was forced to continue dealing with the Navy.

It was a scandal all right, but not one of business ethics.

Underrated By the mid-1860s, thanks to the Civil War, Wall Street had grown to be the second-largest financial market in the world. But it was utterly unregulated. The federal government had no responsibility at the time for such matters, and New York’s state and city governments were a cesspool of political corruption in which nearly every legislator and judge was for sale to the highest bidder. Moreover, there was no stock exchange large enough to enforce what rules there were. For a few years it was pure capitalism, red in tooth and claw.

In 1867 Cornelius Vanderbilt, hoping to bring a measure of order and economic rationality to New York railroading, decided to buy control of the notoriously corrupt Erie Railroad, the Scarlet Woman of Wall Street. As Vanderbilt bought more and more Erie stock in the market, however, Daniel Drew, Jim Fisk, and Jay Gould, who controlled the line, printed more and more stock to sell him. When Vanderbilt found out what was going on, he had arrest warrants issued, and Drew, Fisk, and Gould fled to New Jersey with six million dollars—in cash—of the Commodore’s money.

An orgy of bribery of elected officials ensued, as both sides tried to get the legislature and the courts to do their bidding. Finally, Vanderbilt settled for getting his money back and left the Erie to its unhappy fate. (It would go bankrupt a total of four times before finally disappearing in the 1970s.)

But while the public was vastly entertained by the Erie Wars — which commanded more press coverage than the impeachment proceedings against Andrew Johnson—New York’s business and legal communities were horrified. They saw New York’s position as the country’s leading business center threatened, and they pushed through reforms. The New York Stock Exchange soon merged with its largest rival and became powerful enough to institute and enforce such rules as open registries of stock issues and advance notice of new issues, while lawyers formed the New York Bar Association to reform the judiciary and enforce a code of ethics on lawyers.

As a result, Wall Street, if hardly a good place for fools, became a dependable capital market, able to fuel the vast expansion of American industry that by the end of the century had given the country the world’s largest economy. The Erie Wars were the first great American business scandal, and they gave us what every subsequent business scandal has given us: genuine reform.


Money brought "nothing but anxiety" for Billy Vanderbilt

When his father passed in 1877, his eldest son William "Billy" Vanderbilt inherited the bulk of his estate, including the 87-percent stake in New York Central, according to Forbes. While Billy was able to prove his business sense to his father, it would be a mistake to assume that the two men had similar characters. As told by Arthur T. Vanderbilt II, the father and son duo couldn't have been more different. Where the Commodore was abrasive and money-hungry, Billy was more inclined to compromise and saw money as a source of anxiety.

Ownership of New York Central came with publicity and conflicts that Billy hated. By 1879, he was ready to sell some of his shares so that he would no longer be considered the sole owner. With the $35 million he made from the sale, he invested in government bonds, a comparatively safe move uncharacteristic of a tycoon.

While Billy wasn't as ambitious as his father, he era obsessed with preserving his wealth and would nitpick over expenses. It is perhaps with smart budgeting and a strong business acumen that Billy was able to double his inheritance to nearly $200 million, making him the richest man in the world by 1883. For him, though, the money was a terrible burden. When he died in 1885, rather than entrusting the fortune to the most business-savvy descendant, he divided it between his two eldest sons so they could share the "heavy responsibility."


1. George Peabody has been named the father of modern philanthropy as well as the ultimate rags-to-riches success story

Massachusetts&rsquo own George Peabody is widely-cited as the father of modern philanthropy. That is, he has been credited with inspiring countless wealthy individuals to give some &ndash or indeed, all &ndash of their fortunes away to worthy causes. Peabody is also regularly cited as the ultimate American success story. Indeed, his is the ultimate rags-to-riches story, and he was able to die a happy, honorable man.

Peabody was born into poverty in the small town of South Parish in 1795. He left school at 11 and then went to work as an apprentice in the local general store. Here, he learned skills and habits that would stay with him for the rest of his life: hard work, diligence, and the importance of being responsible, honest and honorable. Staying in retail, he went on to manage a store in Georgetown and then, at the age of 20, he had risen to become a partner in a wholesale dry goods business.

For around 20 years, Peabody worked in Baltimore, establishing himself as a leading international merchant and financier. His work regularly took him to Europe and then, in 1837, he made the decision to make a life in London. It was in the British capital that he went into banking, setting up the house of George Peabody and Company. In later years, he would take on a certain J.P. Morgan as a partner.

It was only as he neared retirement that Peabody realized he didn&rsquot want to die rich. So, he started giving away millions of dollars. Through gifts and legacies, he helped fund a number of educational projects, both in Britain and the United States. Then, when his nephew went to Yale, he decided to establish the Peabody Museum of Natural History at the prestigious university. This was soon followed by the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard.

When Peabody died in November of 1869, he was granted the honor of being interred in Westminster Abbey for a short while (a right usually reserved for kings and queens). His body was finally brought back to his hometown &ndash which had been renamed Peabody in honor of its most famous, and most generous son.


You Can Visit All of These Incredible Vanderbilt Family Homes

Gloria Vanderbilt's family is one of the most storied&mdashand wealthiest&mdashin America.

When style icon and heiress Gloria Vanderbilt died at age 95, the outpouring of grief included innumerable homages to the woman herself&mdashincluding a moving tribute by her son, CNN's Anderson Cooper&mdashand also to her storied family. The Vanderbilts were one of the wealthiest families in American history, and Gloria's status as great-great-granddaughter to Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, the 19th-century industrialist and railroad magnate (there's a reason why New York's famous Grand Central Terminal is located on Vanderbilt Avenue!) earned her a life of incredible privilege. Many of the Vanderbilt family's sumptuous homes are not just still standing but open to the public. Here are a few of the most famous, all worth a visit for their great beauty, and their deep history.

This imposing Beaux Arts&ndashstyle mansion, the estate of Frederick W. Vanderbilt from 1895 to 1938, is a true example of a Gilded Age country house. It has been designated a National Historic Site and sits on 200 acres preserved by the National Park Service.

An opulent bedroom inside the Vanderbilt Mansion, which is located in Hyde Park, New York, an idyllic Hudson Valley area that is also famous for its connection to the Roosevelts. Hyde Park is also the home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's presidential library, home, and burial place.

The grandest of Newport's famous "cottages," The Breakers was the summer home of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, built in 1893 in the Italian Renaissance style. In addition to the usual house tour, check out "Beneath the Breakers," which explores the underground tunnels, boiler room, and basement to give a fascinating view of how emerging technologies like electricity changed daily life during the Gilded Age.

The 70-room mansion, now a National Historic Landmark, is the most popular tourist attraction in the state of Rhode Island with approximately 300,000 visitors per year. It was named for the waves that continuously crash onto the cliffs below and is visible on the city's famous Cliff Walk.

Another Vanderbilt "cottage" in Newport, Marble House was the summer home of Cornelius's brother, William Kissam Vanderbilt, who gifted it to his wife, Alva, for her 39th birthday in 1892.

Now also a National Historic Landmark, Marble House was designed by Richard Morris Hunt and modeled after the Petit Trianon at Versailles. Alva, a grand socialite, fancied it a "temple of the arts."

The fairy-tale-like Biltmore House was the summer home of another of Cornelius's brothers, George Vanderbilt, and his wife, Edith. George began building it in 1889 after visiting the area with his mother and falling in love with the Blue Ridge Mountain landscape, visible in the distance.

The 250-room French Renaissance chateau includes a 90-foot-long Tapestry Gallery. It also boasts 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces, not to mention impressive gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmstead. The property also houses luxury lodgings, a winery, and more.

Overlooking Northport Bay and the Long Island Sound, this Gold Coast mansion was the estate of William K. Vanderbilt II until his death in 1944. The Spanish Revival home, dubbed Eagle's Nest, is said to have been built by the New York City architecture firm of Warren & Wetmore&mdashthe same firm that designed and built Grand Central Terminal for William's great-grandfather Cornelius.

Truly a pool with a view. Tours of the mansion are available, and the property also features an extensive science museum&mdashWilliam was a natural-history enthusiast&mdashas well as a planetarium and observatory.

The Vanderbilt family built much more than just homes for themselves! New York City's iconic Grand Central Terminal (pictured) is a direct result of the original family scion's railroad-tycoon brilliance. The Commodore also dabbled in philanthropy, turning a small college in Tennessee into the venerable Vanderbilt University in 1873 with a $1 million endowment. And the world-renowned Whitney Museum of American Art was founded by sculptor and patron of the arts Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney&mdashnone other than Gloria's aunt.


Cornelius Vanderbilt: Pioneer American Industrialist - History

Objective: Students will be able to define robber baron and captain of industry and evaluate which title best suits the industrialists of the Gilded Age.

1.) Search the web to find out what is meant by the terms "robber barons" and "captains of industry" during the Gilded Age. Write down definitions for both terms based on your research on the worksheet provided below.

2.) Go to the following website to read about two industrialists who were considered robber barons. Read "The Robber Barons" and then click "move to next article" to read the "Panic of 1873." Once you have read these, answer question 1 on the worksheet.

3.) Chose one of the industrialist below to research. Fill out the Robber Baron or Captain of Industry worksheet based on your research.

    It shall be the rule for the workman to be Partner with Capital, the man of affairs giving his business experience, the working man in the mill his mechanical skill, to the company, both owners of the shares and so far equally interested in the success of their joint efforts.
    —Andrew Carnegie

I have been insane on the subject of moneymaking all my life.
—Cornelius Vanderbilt


Cornelius Vanderbilt Biography: "The Commodore"

Even today, more than 140 years since his passing, Cornelius Vanderbilt's name continues to evoke power, prestige, and fame.  He remains the most revered railroad executive of all time although his direct involvement did not begin until age 70! 

For most of his life, this self-taught Staten Islander, with almost no formal education, made millions in the marine/ferry trade. 

Table Of Contents

Vanderbilt was born decades prior to the steam engine's widespread use.  However, following its development, he was quick to harness its advantages in amassing a fortune which eventually earned him the title of Comodoro.  

He was a celebrity and legend in his own time, becoming one of the richest individuals in America thanks to his relentless competitiveness.  

Vanderbilt fervently believed in laissez-faire economics, using it to great advantage in crushing his rivals.  After a lifetime on the sea, he shifted all focus to railroads in 1863. 

While Vanderbilt could be rightfully argued as a profiteer with little interest in the public good he was nevertheless fair in business dealings. By the time of his death in 1877 he had laid the foundation for what would become the modern New York Central System. 

An A-B set of New York Central F3's have a westbound manifest as the train passes the eastbound "New England States" (Chicago - Cleveland - Boston) near U.S. Steel's South Works at 87th Street (Chicago) during January, 1951.

Background And Early Life

The early life and childhood of Cornelius Vanderbilt is not particularly noteworthy.  While it will be discussed here in brief this article will predominantly focus on the Commodore's railroad career. 

If interested in a complete biography of Vanderbilt please consider a copy of T.J. Stiles' "The First Tycoon: The Epic Life Of Cornelius Vanderbilt." 

It is the quintessential book on his life.  Cornelius Vanderbilt was born on May 27, 1794, the fourth child of Phebe Hand and਌ornelius Van Der Bilt (original spelling). 

His parents were Dutch although their family's history can be traced back to immigrants who settled the colony of "New Netherlands" in 1650. 

By trade, father Cornelius was a farmer and, living so close to New York (then a city of only 33,000), would sell his produce in the city.  Ferrying his goods to market required water transport.  In Van Der Bilt's case he piloted a two-masted vessel known as a periauger. 

This little boat was a Dutch invention specifically meant to carry people and/or goods across the bay.  Cornelius never became rich in this trade although it did supplement farming. 

Because of their limited means, he and his wife were quite frugal and always saved what disposable income they had.  Phebe even lent her silver, earning a profit through the accrued interest.   

Industry And Facts

This background set the stage for young Cornelius's future endeavors.  As a child he put in long hours on his father's farm and from this impressionable age learned the value of hard work.  His father was often overbearing in pursuit of the family farm. 

For this reason the lad never had a great interest in formal schooling and quit at the age of 11 to focus exclusively on farming.  Vanderbilt's lack of education would prove costly as he climbed the corporate ladder.  He never learned to write proper English and instead spelled words phonetically. 

This handicap plagued Vanderbilt throughout his life it was not only embarrassing but also caused his shunning by the social elite for many years.  Over the years he partially tackled the issue but always hated putting pen to paper. 

By the age of 12, he had grasped the ferry business quite well coupled with his mother's teachings of savings, borrowing, and collateral he was primed to enter the business world. 

This came at the age of 16 when he put a periauger to work, which was technically the property of his parents.  After saving enough money he acquired his very own boat by 1813 and his career on the water officially began (that same year, on December 19, he married first cousin, Sophia Johnson).

A New York Central publicity photo featuring the railroad's flagship service, the "20th Century Limited," at Cold Spring, New York in June, 1947.

During the War of 1812, Vanderbilt secured a government contract for the movement of military supplies to forts and other projects under construction around New York Harbor. 

While the story's validity cannot be confirmed it is said he was awarded this undertaking due to his growing reputation as a competent and able ferryman who offered fair prices. 

Vanderbilt's attention to cost, frugality, customers, and his tenacious competitiveness earned him increasingly more money.  His aggression continually drove rivals out of business.  In some cases they bought him off simply to eliminate the headache.

His usual tactic involved slashing prices so low the opposition would capitulate.  He usually lost money himself in the short term but nearly always achieved victory in the long term. 

Vanderbilt continually accrued hard capital through either direct cash savings, real estate, or interest earned on loans.  As his financial security grew it aided future conquests. 

On November 24, 1817, at the age of 23, he took command of the steamboat Ratón, a vessel owned by the wealthy Thomas Gibbons, then one of the nation's most successful merchants. 

New York Central E7A #4002 pulls into Chicago's Englewood Union Station on April 21, 1965. Roger Puta photo.

Steam, of course, was the future in transportation as one no longer needed the winds or currents to power vessels.  During his time overseeing Gibbons' fleet he honed his skills as both a seaman and businessman. 

On May 16, 1826 Vanderbilt's long-time mentor passed away and the estate passed on to his son.  Vanderbilt never cared much for William Gibbons who he saw as weak, a trait the Comodoro loathed. 

In early 1828 the rising seafarer launched his very own steamboat, the Citizen a 106-foot, 145-ton sidewheeler.  As his means grew, Vanderbilt became a force within the maritime industry. 

He acquired evermore steamships and was equally adept at designing his own boats with a constant eye towards cost and speed.  A personal clerk who he hired in 1837, Lambert Wardell, once remarked, "He never had a debt and never bought anything on credit.  He was economical almost to extremes." 

Vanderbilt was believed to be worth a half-million dollars by 1834 and six years later set foot in his new mansion on Staten Island. (Interestingly, he would live in this home for only 13 years.  In 1846 he moved into a new home at 10 Washington Place in Manhattan.  This would remain his residence until his death.)

Earning The Title Of "Commodore"

Until the late 1840's, Vanderbilt had largely concentrated solely on freight and passenger traffic (both ferry and maritime) between New York-Boston, and Long Island Sound in particular. 

That changed with the California Gold Rush of 1849.  He also became involved with railroads at this time and as his prestige grew so, too, did his celebrity. 

The New York Herald reported on March 6, 1851, "Commodore Vanderbilt's character for energy and go-aheadativeness is well known in this community.

He is a man whose resolution is indomitable, and before whose determination obstacles, no matter how great, disappear as the morning dew before a July sun.

The result of the Gold Rush brought thousands of settlers into California, especially into the then-small community of San Francisco. 

As an increasing number of Europeans flocked westward, predominantly via steamboat around Cape Horn, California achieved statehood on September 9, 1850 with travel needs so strong, many companies stepped forward to fill the demand as millions of dollars was poured into waterborne transportation. 

On April 19, 1849, 226 steamships alone would depart New York for California, carrying some 20,000 travelers.  In addition to people, the federal government was interested in shipping mail to and from the west coast.  The most practical way was the ocean and South America's Cape Horn. 

Recognizing this immense monetary opportunity, Vanderbilt and a few associates believed a canal across Nicaragua was not only practical but could also shave days off the journey. 

It was an arduous albeit predominately natural passage, one which would utilize the San Juan River and Lake Nicaragua between the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea.

The only man-made section was a 12-mile component along the western fringe.  The project was incorporated as the American Atlantic & Pacific Ship Canal Company and following considerable delays, dealings, and political bickering (particularly involving England) Vanderbilt's steamship Prometheus made its way to Greytown, Nicaragua on a trail run from New York. 

After arriving at its destination, the goods and passengers were offloaded onto smaller vessels to complete the inland journey.  Vanderbilt, himself, was on this trip and became convinced of its merits once he had returned to New York. 

On July 14, 1851 the Prometheus again departed New York Harbor, this time on theਊmerican Atlantic & Pacific Ship Canal Company's inaugural run.  It proved a short-lived venture as the corporation's charter was transferred to another Vanderbilt-controlled entity on August 14th that year, the Accessory Transit Company.  

An A-B-A set of New York Central covered wagons led by F7A #1707 is stopped at St. Thomas, Ontario on subsidiary Canadian Southern (CASO) with a westbound freight as the train waits for the electrified London and Port Stanley Railway during September of 1957. Much of this double-tracked route, a very important corridor under the Central, has since been abandoned. David Sweetland photo.

Unfortunately, his interest in the Nicaraguan venture was always a tumultuous affair, largely due to a meddling associate, one Joseph L. White. 

The operation nevertheless proved quite successful and by the 1850's his nickname as the਌ommodore, typically reserved for the highest ranking title of a naval officer, was well-established.

He later tapped the transatlantic steamship market (late 1854), a venture which also proved successful.  For his many achievements at home and abroad, Vanderbilt's coveted U.S. mail contract always alluded him.  Over the next decade he continued to focus on his various maritime dealings. 

With a great sense of patriotism he even played a key role during the Civil War.  More than once Vanderbilt was offered top positions within President Abraham Lincoln's staff.  However, always fiercely against the politic arena he declined each time. 

His primary contribution to the war effort involved lending his maritime expertise and gifting the United States his most prized steamship, the five-decked Vanderbilt

This enormous boat was placed into service on May 5, 1857 where it competed in the transatlantic arena.  It was not only large but also fast, able to reduce the New York-Liverpool run from eighteen days to nine.  At first, the Navy rejected his offer.  However, when the Confederacy unveiled the ironclad CSS Virginia on March 8, 1862 everything changed.

- The CSS Virginia was always referred to as the Merrimack਋y Union forces as the warship was rebuilt from the salvaged USS Merrimack. -With nearly impenetrable armor the vessel was capable of single-handedly crushing the Union fleet which consisted of traditional wooden-hauled designs.

During that day it sank the USS Cumberlandਊnd USS Congress while severely damaging the USS Minnesota.  On March 9th, it was met by the United States' own new ironclad, the USS Monitor.  The two battled to a stalemate within the James River at Hampton Roads, Virginia. 

As an added protection against the Rebels' new creation, President Lincoln and the War Department acquired the Vanderbilt.  While it would never engage the CSS Virginia਍irectly the titanic sidewheeler nevertheless kept her from wreaking further havoc.  

On May 10, 1862 Union forces captured Norfolk, denying the Virginia port facilities.  With nowhere to refit and reequip itself, Confederate forces scuttled the ship on May 11th to avoid its capture. 

The Vanderbilt would later earn acclaim chasing another infamous Confederate warship, the CSS Alabama.  This sloop-of-war earned recognition as one of the war's most successful raiders.  Once again, the Vanderbilt never engaged the Alabamaਊlthough she did prevent the vessel from creating further trouble along the U.S. coast.

 Theਊlabama was eventually sunk by the USS Kearsargeਊt the Battle of Cherbourg outside the port of Cherbourg, France on June 19, 1864.  For the service to his country, Vanderbilt was awarded a special gold medal following a resolution passed by Congress on January 28, 1864.

A New Era, The Railroads

Mientras que la Commodore's direct involvement with railroads did not begin until age 70, he had nevertheless maintained a long history in the industry.  It began on November 8, 1833 when he traveled to nearby South Amboy, New Jersey to inspect the recently completed Camden & Amboy Railroad. 

At the time the new technology was little more than a novelty although that would soon change.  In a decision that nearly killed him, Vanderbilt rode the new contraption that day. 

The train derailed en route and despite the traumatic event he held no serious grudge against the iron horse.  In fact, Vanderbilt remained keenly interested in the newfangled device. 

On November 10, 1837 the New York, Providence & Boston Railroad (NYP&B) opened its first 50 miles southwestward from Providence, Rhode Island.  Better known as the "Stonington Railroad" (a future component of the modern New York, New Haven & Hartford) Vanderbilt also rode this line and became convinced of its potential. 

He stated it was the fastest way to Boston (from New York) and later, during the summer of 1845, purchased considerable shares in the NYP&B.  The following year he also acquired substantial stakes in the Hartford & New Haven Railroad (the precursor to the modern New Haven). 

By 1847, he had ascended to the presidency of the Stonington.  While the system was well-managed under his direction, the Commodore's interest in railroads remained subdued as he pursued the Nicaragua canal project.  This led to his resignation from the Stonington on May 14, 1849.

It was in 1854 that he first became involved with the railroad he would later control, the New York & Harlem Railroad (NY&H).  It was the city's first such system, incorporated on April 25, 1831. 

Only after Vanderbilt's involvement (On May 18, 1863 he won a directorship and the following day was elected president.), who recognized the railroad's potential, did it thrive. 

Prior to this the NY&H had been a poorly managed, unprofitable operation.  In 1864 he took control of the nearby Hudson River Railroad, which maintained a roughly parallel route between Albany and New York City. 

An A-B-A set of New York Central E7's hustle the eastbound "20th Century Limited" along the Hudson River north of New York City in July of 1947. Storm King Mountain can be seen in the background to the left. Ed Nowak photo.

Interestingly, as Mr. Stiles notes, Vanderbilt's business tactics changed as his railroad involvement deepened. Perhaps, in part, due to his advancing age he often chose diplomacy over open hostility. 

Another reason was a result of railroading's very nature unlike steamships, where one could simply chart a course between two points, railroads operated on fixed infrastructure.  Since no singular company then owned a through route between major cities, companies were forced to work together.

The Children Of Cornelius And Sophia Vanderbilt

Phebe Jane Vanderbilt (1814–1878)

Ethelinda Vanderbilt (1817–1889)

Eliza Vanderbilt (1819–1890)

William Henry "Billy" Vanderbilt (1821–1885)

Emily Almira Vanderbilt (1823–1896)

Sophia Johnson Vanderbilt (1825–1912)

Maria Louisa Vanderbilt (1827–1896)

Frances Lavinia Vanderbilt (1828–1868)

Cornelius Jeremiah Vanderbilt (1830–1882)

George Washington Vanderbilt I (1832–1836)

Mary Alicia Vanderbilt (1834–1902)

Catherine Juliette Vanderbilt (1836–1881)

George Washington Vanderbilt II (1839–1864)

Corporate America of the 19th century was a cutthroat affair with speculators and Wall Street magnates constantly undercutting one another in an attempt to line their own pockets.  This was especially true with railroads, the largest businesses in the country. 

Unfortunately, with little government oversight, executives like Jay Gould, Daniel Drew, and Collis Huntington often put profits ahead of public service. 

Even Vanderbilt could be rightfully accused of this although his empire was not the result of direct conquests.  Time and again he added systems as a defensive measures. 

After becoming involved in the Harlem, he acquired the competing Hudson River Railroad (via stock control) to protect the NY&H.  A plot by Leonard Jerome in 1864 to takeover the original New York Central Railroad (NYC) would have essentially made the NY&H redundant. 

Jerome also controlled the Hudson River and his addition of the NYC would have provided him a direct route from New York City to Buffalo via Albany. 

Following Vanderbilt's Hudson River conquest he stated: "I said this is wrong, these roads should not clash.  Then step-by-step I went into the Hudson River.

Typical of Vanderbilt he was concise and to the point although the actual process of acquiring the system was a chess game, one in which he had become a master.  As his railroad portfolios grew, Vanderbilt left the ocean for good in 1864. 

New York Central's eastbound "Missourian" (St. Louis - New York) skirts the Mohawk River between Utica and Albany, New York during July of 1952.

Interestingly, his railroading career was predominantly from a leadership level.  Vanderbilt was rarely involved in the day-to-day, operational management of his properties instead, he delegated these responsibilities to subordinates.  He did, however, regularly take inspection trips. 

According to Mr. Stiles' book, "Vanderbilt. set general policies, as well as the overall tone of management. The Commodore created an atmosphere of efficiency, frugality, and diligence, as well as swift retribution for dishonesty or sloth."  The Commodore's greatest single acquisition was the original New York Central Railroad. 

For years, the NYC was controlled by Erastus Corning, a man who, after some time, became an ally of Vanderbilt's.  In April, 1864 Corning retired and was replaced by vice president Dean Richmond, another competent railroader who Vanderbilt respected. 

During his tenure they enjoyed friendly, mutual traffic interchanges.  Alas, he passed away unexpectedly in late 1866 and was subsequently replaced by Henry Keep on December 12, 1866. 

Keep had no interest in working with the Comodoroਊnd became extremely hostile to Vanderbilt's railroads. 

So much so the NYC refused to handle westbound shipments of the Harlem and Hudson River.  After many failed attempts at appeasement, Vanderbilt retaliated by refusing to send eastbound NYC shipments beyond the Albany gateway after January 18, 1867.

New York Central E8A's have a passenger consist at Chicago's Englewood Union Station on April 21, 1965. Roger Puta photo.

As the largest American city, New York was a vital market and Vanderbilt controlled the only direct entry.  His move scared Keep so badly the man yielded and immediately settled for terms on January 19th.  In the aftermath, Keep and his associates sold large blocks of their NYC shares, which Vanderbilt acquired. 

Less than a year later he was named New York Central's president (December 11, 1867).  Now under control of all lines between New York and Buffalo, the Comodoroਏormed the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad in 1869 the HRRR and NYC were merged into the new operation while the Harlem was leased. 

As Brian Solomon and Mike Schafer note in their book, "New York Central Railroad," another important addition was the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railway.  

This very large Midwestern had a history tracing as far back as the 1830s and grew through a combination of takeovers and mergers. ਊt its peak the LS&MS connected Buffalo with Chicago via Toledo, Cleveland, and Elkhart. & # xa0

It also reached Detroit, southern parts of Michigan, and Oil City, Pennsylvania.  Vanderbilt assumed the presidency of this road on July 2, 1873 after learning the previous management had nearly bankrupted the railroad.    Thanks to his leadership, within a year the company had paid off its debts.

Vanderbilt's last major acquisition occurred on January 1, 1876 when he added the Canada Southern Railway through stock control.  Better known by its initials, "CASO," it offered a shorter route through southern Ontario between Buffalo and Detroit.  It remained an integral part of the New York Central throughout the 20th century.   

After the Commodore's򠷪th the New York Central continued to expand reaching Boston Pittsburgh (through the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie) Wheeling (West Virginia) the coalfields of southern West Virginia (via the Toledo & Ohio Central) Columbus Cincinnati Cleveland St. Louis over the Big Four Route (Cincinnati, Cleveland, Chicago & St. Louis Railway) Detroit (via the Michigan Central) and even Montreal, Quebec.

In addition, the Indiana Harbor Belt provided the NYC terminal and switching services throughout Chicago.  In 1868 Vanderbilt sparked the "Erie War" with Jim (James) Fisk, Jay Gould, and Daniel Drew when he attempted to gain control of the Erie Railroad.

An A-B-A set of New York Central "C-Liners" (CFA/B-16-4's) help showcase the railroad's "Pacemaker" high-speed freight service, circa 1952. Ed Nowak photo.

During this time the Erie was one of the largest American railroads.  The fight was a battle of wills between Gould and Vanderbilt. 

Como el Comodoro gained increasingly more shares, Gould and his associates issued evermore stock to inflate the Erie's stock value (also known as "watered stock") and prevent Vanderbilt from acquiring majority control. 

Gould would eventually win the tilt by bribing the New York state legislature, which authorized the stock as legal.  Over the years Cornelius Vanderbilt had disputes with many in the business world such as Drew, Fisk, and others.

His quarrels were almost never personal and he became friends with most later on in life Gould and Jim Fisk, though, proved an exception. 

Net Worth And Estate

The Comodoro passed away on January 4, 1877 at the age of 82 having amassed a fortune of nearly $100 million, which would be worth more than $233 billion in today's dollars making him one of the richest Americans in history.

In his will Vanderbilt left $95 million directly to his son, William,  with his eight daughters receiving between $250,000 and $500,000 each.

Unlike James Hill, and a number of the other famed railroad tycoons,  Vanderbilt was not noteworthy for philanthropy.  He did, however, endow $1 million for the establishment of Central University in Nashville, Tennessee.  This higher institution of learning became today's prestigious Vanderbilt University.  


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