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American History: Cornelius Vanderbilt
Transcript of American History: Cornelius Vanderbilt
It was a quicker and more efficient way of transportation that could be used almost anywhere throughout the year.
Large volumes of goods and people could be moved in a fraction of the time than they could previously.
Railroads ended the isolation of the West and connected eastern communities to major trading centers.
It linked America, coast to coast.
Millions employed building railroad improving the economy and giving jobs to normal people.
Improved communication and law and order.
He was a very successful and hardworking business man who earned millions of dollars.
By his death Cornelius Vanderbilt was worth $100 million ( roughly $2.6 billion today!) and his will led to a large family feud about who would inherit his utterly vast fortune.
Vanderbilt was born in 1794 in New York. His parents were farmers, and his father earned some money by ferrying goods, using a sailing boat, to Manhattan.
When he was 15, Cornelius borrowed $100 from his mother to buy his own sailing boat, and started his own small ferrying business from Staten Island to Manhattan; he eventually possessed a small fleet of boats, and was learning about ship design.
During the blockade imposed by the British in 1812, Vanderbilt ferried armaments within New York harbor, and by 1817, he was managing a steamboat service from New Jersey to New York, for a steamboat entrepreneur- Thomas Gibbons. During this time, he was able to gain valuable experience in managing a large and complex business, as well as keeping his own businesses running.
In 1829 he decided to work for himself, and set up steamboat lines to New York's surrounding regions. He engaged fiercely in 'fare wars' with his competitors, and in some cases, his competition paid him very large sums not to run his service! Vanderbilt also cleverly used populist language, using the name 'The People's Line' to gain him support in his business.
In 1848, when the California Gold Rush began, he established a route to San Francisco that was faster than the alternative route across Panama, which earned him 'instant success' bringing in around $1 million a year (which is more than $20 million today).
He attempted to donate one of his largest ships to the Union Navy, at the start of the Civil War in 1861, but was refused. Later in the War, Abraham Lincoln asked Vanderbilt for help, and Vanderbilt happily converted this ship, The Vanderbilt, into a cruiser to be used in the War.
During the 1850s and '60s Vanderbilt switched his focus to railroads: he was on the board do directors for the New York and Harlem railroads (known as the Harlem), and was eventually elected president, in control of the Harlem line. He then encountered conflicts with other lines, such as the New York Central, and Hudson River railroads, which he subsequently bought control of.
He went on to buy the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern railroads, as well as the Canada Southern. He began the construction of Grand Central Depot (later to become Grand Central Terminal) in 1869 which served as his terminus in New York.
In 1864 Vanderbilt sold the last of his ships so that he could concentrate on the railroads.
He did face a lot of opposition but Vanderbilt won every battle that was fought, he gained control of the Hudson River Railroad in 1864, the New York Central Railroad in 1867 and the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway in 1869.
In 1870, Vanderbilt made one of the first American giant cooperation’s in history when he consolidated two of his key lines to make the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad.
In the end Vanderbilt was paid a lot of money to stop competing and switched his efforts to Long Island Sound.
Throughout the 1830's Vanderbilt was dominating the Sound and took over many other steamship companies.
He was even given the nickname 'commodore' which was common amongst steamship entrepreneurs.
When the Gold Rush began in 1849, Vanderbilt switched to ocean-going steamships.
He faced a lot of competition and betrayal from enemies and partners alike.
However he did succeed in donating his steamship 'The Vanderbilt' to the Union Navy during the Civil War.
Vanderbilt’s next project was the American railroads in the 1850's.
In 1863 Vanderbilt took control of the Harlem and was elected its president; he wanted to turn the railroad into something that was not considered worthless but valuable.
He got his son William involved as well as he had proved himself to be a good businessman.
He worked for Gibbons' son until 1829 after Gibbons' father died.
He took over various companies as well and secretly worked with Daniel Drew, a former competitor of Vanderbilt’s, they worked together for the next 30 years.
He then started to compete on the Hudson River in 1834 against a steamship monopoly
Vanderbilt was called a robber baron; this is because the press seemed to think that anyone who had made it big was crooked.
His wealth and influence allowed him to manipulate the stock prices of many large corporations, which had a negative effect on the economy.
Vanderbilt gained a reputation for being fiercely competitive and ruthless.