A história

Cornelius Vanderbilt: Pioneiro industrial americano


Cornelius Vanderbilt nasceu em Port Richmond, Staten Island, Nova York, filho de um barqueiro e fazendeiro. Durante a década de 1830, a linha de Vanderbilt se tornou a presença dominante de navios a vapor no rio Hudson, devido principalmente aos preços baixos e acomodações confortáveis. A maior parte de sua fortuna de $ 100 milhões foi deixada para seu filho, William.


O Barão Ladrão Incompreendido: Em Cornelius Vanderbilt

11 de novembro de 2009

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Cornelius Vanderbilt morreu em janeiro de 1877. Seis meses depois, a maior insurreição social do século XIX paralisou as operações da Vanderbilt & # 8217s New York Central Railroad (então supervisionada por seu filho William) junto com as outras três linhas principais que conectavam a Costa Leste para Chicago e pontos mais a oeste. A Grande Greve Ferroviária, como veio a ser conhecida, foi uma revolta de violência extraordinária desencadeada por um surpreendente ato de conluio e insensibilidade: um corte de 10 por cento nos salários anunciado no ano anterior & # 8211amida a pior depressão do século & # 8217s & # 8211 e endossado em conjunto pelas quatro linhas principais. Confrontos armados entre milícias estaduais e ferroviários enfurecidos e suas legiões de simpatizantes estouraram em cidades e vilas em todo o país. Uma greve geral paralisou St. Louis. Em um único dia em Pittsburgh, multidões incendiaram trinta e nove prédios ferroviários e 1.300 vagões e motores, bem como um enorme elevador de grãos armado com metralhadoras Gatling, a Guarda Nacional matou vinte naquela noite e mais no dia seguinte. Thomas Scott, que dirigia a ferrovia da Pensilvânia, concluiu: & # 8220Nada, exceto a insanidade da paixão, explorada por líderes planejadores e maliciosos, pode explicar a destruição de grandes quantidades de equipamentos ferroviários. & # 8221 Nada, isto é, exceto os desesperados circunstâncias dos trabalhadores da ferrovia & # 8211 que por salários insignificantes corriam o risco de ser mortos ou mutilados em acidentes industriais & # 8211 e suas famílias.

As três semanas de caos terminaram com aplausos generalizados às forças da lei e da ordem. Arsenais foram erguidos nas principais cidades para reprimir as ansiedades das classes médias, que desde os dias incendiários da Comuna de Paris viviam com medo crônico de um confronto sangrento de classes irrompendo na América. Nesse clima tenso, muitos passaram a reverenciar os novos senhores da indústria. Poucos anos após sua morte, Vanderbilt foi celebrado por seu primeiro biógrafo: sem & # 8220o Comodoro & # 8221 & # 8211 um apelido pelo qual Vanderbilt era amplamente conhecido na época & # 8211 & # 8217d & # 8220não haveria ferrovias, navios a vapor ou telégrafos, nenhuma cidade, sem aulas de lazer, sem escolas, sem faculdades, literatura, arte, em suma, sem civilização. & # 8221 Milhões compartilhavam dessa idolatria.

Uma minoria ficou irada e criticou os titãs das finanças e da indústria como & # 8220robber barons & # 8221 e piores. E.L. Godkin, fundador da A nação, lançou uma saraivada de injúrias contra a nova plutocracia: & # 8220kings of the street & # 8221 como Vanderbilt exibiu & # 8220 egoísmo não mitigado e imitigável & # 8221 tão terrível quanto sua & # 8220audacidade, pressão, inescrupulosidade e descarado desrespeito aos direitos dos outros & # 8217. ” visão otimista tornou-se mais popular no século XX, especialmente durante e após a Grande Depressão, uma catástrofe que milhões de americanos atribuíram a uma segunda geração de & # 8220 barões ladrões. & # 8221 Os estudos históricos refletiram essa avaliação. As biografias de Mellon, Carnegie e Rockefeller eram frequentemente acompanhadas de censura moral, alertando que & # 8220tórios da indústria & # 8221 eram uma ameaça à democracia e que o parasitismo, a pretensão aristocrática e a tirania sempre seguiram o rastro da riqueza concentrada, seja acumulada dinasticamente ou mais impessoalmente pela corporação sem rosto. Essa bolsa de estudos, e a persuasão cultural da qual era uma expressão, baseava-se em uma sensibilidade profundamente enraizada & # 8211parte religiosa, parcialmente igualitária e democrática & # 8211 que remontava a William Jennings Bryan, Andrew Jackson e Tom Paine.

A censura às grandes empresas continuou durante a década de 1960 e além, mas foi gradualmente eclipsada pela recuperação cultural e intelectual do magnata da Era Dourada. Durante as últimas duas décadas, biografias revisionistas e retratos coletivos de Mellon, Carnegie, Rockefeller, Harriman, J.P. Morgan e outros reabilitaram efetivamente a reputação do barão ladrão. Até o magnata e especulador das ferrovias Jay Gould, conhecido por seus contemporâneos como & # 8220, o Mefistófeles de Wall Street & # 8221, foi resgatado do purgatório cultural. O quociente de julgamento moral e político negativo nesses estudos diminuiu ou desapareceu totalmente. A ênfase agora recai sobre o brilho comercial desses homens, sua implacável vontade de ter sucesso, seus papéis pioneiros no fortalecimento dos recursos industriais e financeiros do país e seu domínio das inovações tecnológicas, financeiras e organizacionais cada vez mais complexas que definiram o mundo moderno economia.

Em conjunto, pode-se dizer que essa literatura constitui um novo gênero: o incompreendido barão ladrão. O gênero não despreza as circunstâncias adversas e táticas desagradáveis ​​que podem ter facilitado a ascensão de um barão ladrão ao domínio: uma ferocidade competitiva sem limites, uma atitude casual sobre seguir a letra da lei, uma imperiosidade que o distanciou da situação dos menos afortunados, um impulso implacável para concorrentes falidos, a suborno de funcionários eleitos. Mas, em vez de criticar esses traços e táticas, o gênero os naturaliza. Se esses homens fizeram coisas que hoje podem nos parecer inescrupulosas, o mesmo aconteceu com seus contemporâneos, todos os membros de uma sociedade motivada pelo individualismo obstinado característico de uma robusta economia de livre mercado. Visto de longe, o que somos persuadidos a ver através do exame dessas vidas é a incubação do mundo moderno do capitalismo industrial e financeiro e sua inelutável mecânica evolucionária, nem sempre bonita, mas no final das contas uma bênção que dotou o país com riqueza e poder. Esta imagem ensolarada reflete a sociedade de propriedade de hoje, com sua audácia de mercado livre e sua reverência aos empresários em geral, especialmente aqueles comprometidos com a competitividade e a construção de um império financeiro. Indiscutivelmente, o gênero do incompreendido barão ladrão é em si uma expressão da mudança no zeitgeist, assim como aquela literatura anterior de condenação moral compartilhada em um conjunto mais universal de reservas sobre o reino das grandes empresas.

Uma tendência reveladora percorre muitas dessas biografias. Eles parecem assombrados pela primeira onda de biografias de barões ladrões e sentem a necessidade de exorcizar sua forte mistura de crítica crítica. Freqüentemente, o fazem adotando um ponto de vista de desinteresse olímpico. Com uma certa condescendência fria, eles descartam o espírito do anticapitalismo como míope ou doutrinário e fatalmente alheio à inexorável lógica do desenvolvimento econômico. Eles implicam que os primeiros críticos & # 8211todos, de Henry Adams, Henry George e Henry Demarest Lloyd no século XIX a Charles Beard e outros historiadores da era progressista e continuando na obra de Matthew Josephson, Ferdinand Lundberg e os historiadores da Nova Esquerda do Os & # 821760s & # 8211 eram cativos de uma grande ilusão: a de que existiam alternativas viáveis ​​ao capitalismo, um menu de possibilidades que ia da comunidade cooperativa ao socialismo. Os historiadores do incompreendido barão ladrão estão livres dessa ilusão, de fato, sua liberdade traz consigo a convicção de que, apesar de todas as suas falhas óbvias, o sistema de livre mercado prevalece porque funciona, e funciona porque está em harmonia com alguma verdade econômica mais profunda como lícito como uma reação química.

Seja qual for o seu Weltanschauung, muitos desses estudos são histórias de primeira linha e O primeiro magnata, uma nova biografia de Cornelius Vanderbilt por T.J. Stiles, não é exceção. A ascensão da Vanderbilt & # 8217s de pequena operadora de balsas em Staten Island à figura dominante no sistema de transporte marítimo (barco a vapor) e terrestre (ferrovia) do país é uma história fascinante, e Stiles a conta bem. Sua escrita é animada e colorida. Ele é um pesquisador meticuloso e exaustivo, com instinto para contar anedotas. Baseando-se nas observações de comerciantes locais, visitantes do exterior e do aper & ccedilus de Herman Melville, Stiles evoca astutamente o tumulto da cidade de Nova York do início do século XIX: os maus cheiros de seus cais, o congestionamento de veleiros e barcos a vapor lotando seu porto, o frenesi do tráfego comercial e do comércio nas ruas sinuosas de Lower Manhattan, que logo estabeleceu a cidade como a sede da economia marítima comercial da nação & # 8217. Vanderbilt fez fortuna nesta selva mercantil, e Stiles faz um excelente trabalho ao retratar como moldou seu personagem & # 8211 endurecendo sua armadura, aguçando sua astúcia. E embora & # 8220the First Tycoon & # 8221 fosse frequentemente um escritor desajeitado e relutante que não deixou para trás muitos dos rastros de papel, Stiles tem alguns insights convincentes sobre a vida interior de Vanderbilt & # 8217.

O relato de Stiles & # 8217s da corrida do ouro na Califórnia em 1849 está repleto de descrições vívidas de garimpeiros, vigaristas, jogadores e negociantes, e captura o surgimento meteórico de São Francisco, com sua vida noturna desinibida e a extraordinária diversidade cultural que atraiu fortuna- buscadores de todo o mundo. A descoberta de ouro na Sutter & # 8217s Mill apresentou a oportunidade para Vanderbilt de transformar seu negócio de barcos a vapor na Costa do Atlântico em um transoceânico, transportando passageiros para o oeste para os campos de ouro e, mais importante, levando ouro de volta ao leste para os bancos de Nova York & # 8217s. A corrida do ouro também emaranhou o Comodoro em intrigas intermináveis ​​para construir uma rota terrestre (ferrovia / canal / barco a vapor) através da Nicarágua conectando os dois oceanos, a fim de acelerar e reduzir o custo do trânsito de e para a costa do ouro. Stiles é especialmente bom, embora um pouco prolixo, para descrever os jogadores perigosos, embora tragicômicos, envolvidos nessas maquinações, entre eles os obstrucionistas sulistas, aventureiros militares autônomos e autopromotores políticos que visavam derrubar governos centro-americanos locais e anexar lugares como Nicarágua ao sul, alimentando o apetite insaciável de Dixie por novos territórios escravos.

Os talentos de Stiles & # 8217s não são de forma alguma limitados aos seus poderes descritivos. Sua análise da economia política do Norte antes da guerra é muitas vezes convincente. Ele chama Vanderbilt de & # 8220 lojista do mar & # 8221 uma metáfora maravilhosa que transmite o caráter distintamente mercantil da economia americana nas décadas que antecederam a Guerra Civil. Era uma economia baseada no comércio, não na manufatura, e o Comodoro a dominou porque conseguiu controlar grande parte de seu transporte motorizado: primeiro o barco a vapor costeiro e depois o comércio transatlântico, e depois o comércio terrestre transportado por ferrovias movidas a vapor. Vanderbilt fez fortuna e adquiriu poder nesta fase comercial anterior do desenvolvimento americano, não durante a industrialização subsequente que tornou seus companheiros barões ladrões tão ricos e famosos.

Quando Vanderbilt se tornou um operador de barco a vapor em 1817, a economia mercantil era controlada por um círculo de elite de banqueiros e mercadores anglo-holandeses dominantes desde a era pré-revolucionária. Seus membros gozavam de uma posição privilegiada, em particular o direito a licenças corporativas exclusivas emitidas por governos estaduais e locais para realizar vários negócios: linhas de barcos a vapor, pedágios, ferrovias, canais e outras facetas da infraestrutura vital para uma sociedade comercial. A democracia pela qual a era jacksoniana é tão conhecida foi marcada pelo desejo de abrir esta economia mercantil insular apoiada pelo Estado a todos os homens. A América Antebellum fervilhava de energia empreendedora, os empreendedores percorriam as terras ansiosos para aproveitar as vantagens da enxurrada de oportunidades de negócios que acompanhou a expansão territorial do país. Os aspirantes a homens denunciavam os estabelecidos, especialmente aqueles que gozavam dos favores do governo, como monopolistas e aristocratas. Eles buscavam uma economia de mercado verdadeiramente livre, leis universais de incorporação e o fim dos monopólios sancionados pelo Estado. Foi uma guerra contra uma forma de capitalismo em nome de outra.

Stiles apresenta um caso convincente de que Vanderbilt foi uma figura importante na luta para derrubar uma forma mais antiga e aristocrática de capitalismo. Embora fosse apolítico, nem whig nem democrata, e se envolvesse na política apenas quando isso se adequava a seus objetivos comerciais imediatos, Vanderbilt era, em muitos aspectos, o Jacksoniano perfeito. Repetidamente, ele desafiou as franquias sancionadas pelo estado administradas por grandes pessoas politicamente conectadas em Nova York e Nova Inglaterra. Ele estabeleceu linhas de barcos a vapor rivais, usando seu conhecimento detalhado de construção de navios e os caprichos do mar para levar franquias estabelecidas à falência. Ele afundou outros no tribunal. E ele dificilmente foi tímido quando se tratou de usar uma retórica democrática para desacreditar seus inimigos de primeira linha, ao mesmo tempo em que ocultava seus objetivos predatórios.

A velha guarda patrícia se imaginava uma elite desinteressada, dotada de educação, conhecimento e independência para agir no interesse público, mas, na verdade, à medida que a sociedade de mercado estendia seu alcance, a velha guarda comportava-se como homens de negócios comuns, ansiosos por reter suas vantagens comerciais especiais. Como Stiles convincentemente observa, as antigas famílias patrícias da & # 8220Nova York & # 8217 continuaram nesta era mais competitiva e igualitária, carregando sua riqueza e preconceitos com eles. Seu elitismo combinava com a fé Whig em uma economia empreendedora, mas ordeira. & # 8221

Vanderbilt, por outro lado, pode ter pregado as virtudes democráticas do mercado livre, mas ele estava perfeitamente preparado para impor seu próprio controle monopolista quando a oportunidade se apresentasse, ou para aceitar dinheiro de resgate de seus concorrentes para que eles pudessem continuar a operar seus monopólios. Stiles chama Vanderbilt de & # 8220 revolucionário egoísta & # 8221 e de & # 8220 milionário radical & # 8221 porque ele percebeu que a ideologia do laissez-faire poderia desempenhar um duplo dever como defesa e ataque à riqueza. Em agosto de 1834, Vanderbilt publicou um artigo de demagogia democrática dirigido a seus rivais patrícios no New York Evening Post, um jornal comprometido com a política anti-monopólio Jacksoniana radical. Seu apelo foi escrito em nome de uma de suas empresas de barcos a vapor, nitidamente chamada de People & # 8217s Line, que funciona entre Nova York e Albany: & # 8220Assim, concidadãos têm este monopólio aristocrático, seguro como eles se consideram em riqueza e poder, atacado desenfreadamente um indivíduo cujo esforço constante tem sido evitar uma competição com eles & # 8230 a questão agora é, o público irá aprovar as empresas combinadas em um ato de opressão autoritária, ou eles irão patrocinar e encorajar alguém que está determinado a resistir à agressão e injustiça & # 8230 . O Rio do Norte é a grande estrada do povo e não pertence exclusivamente aos Monopolistas. & # 8221

Toda essa verborragia capitalizou os riffs de propaganda da era & # 8217s, promotores de terras adoradores de Mammon, incorporadores de cidades e corretores de ações de canais e ferrovias. É uma mistura irresistível de igualitarismo democrático pomposo e cobiça inabalável satirizada por Charles Dickens em Martin Chuzzlewit. É muito difícil dizer se Vanderbilt realmente se acreditava um guerreiro contra o monopólio ou simplesmente alugou a retórica aos centímetros da coluna. O que está claro é que ele defendeu o capitalismo condenando-o. Mais importante, Stiles observa uma ironia mais profunda da época: que a corporação, que se originou como uma criatura do estado, sujeita pelo menos em teoria às suas regras e regulamentos, se tornaria, em vez disso, nas décadas a seguir o mestre do estado, livre de constrangimentos públicos ou qualquer obrigação de servir ao interesse público, graças à convulsão social e política antimonopólio inspirada por pessoas como Cornelius Vanderbilt e Andrew Jackson.

Por todas as suas virtudes, O primeiro magnata dedica pouca atenção à maneira como essa atmosfera cultural mais ampla alimentou os mitos napoleônicos que chegaram a envolver empresários como Vanderbilt. As origens sociais modestas do Comodoro e sua ascensão a alturas poderosas imitaram as de Napoleão, um homem do nada que se tornou imperador. Essa é uma versão do sonho americano e sua promessa de oportunidades ilimitadas e autoinvenção sem fim. É a razão de tantos Vanderbilt reverenciados. Grandes fortunas e como foram feitas, uma celebração clássica dos heróis americanos feitos por eles mesmos, publicada em 1871, descreveu Vanderbilt & # 8217s & # 8220 mente de cristal, o coração de adamantio, a mão de aço e a vontade de ferro. & # 8221 De uma forma mais distanciada e desapaixonada , Stiles endossa este retrato romântico do Comodoro. Ciente de que era odiado e ressentido por muitos, especialmente por seus rivais de negócios derrotados, Stiles, no entanto, apregoa a reputação de Vanderbilt & # 8217 como um grande homem, um gênio econômico rude, um magnata primordial e arquiteto do mundo moderno.

O endosso constitui a própria espinha dorsal da O primeiro magnata. Os títulos do livro & # 8217s três partes & # 8211 & # 8220Capitão, & # 8221 & # 8220Commodore & # 8221 e & # 8220King & # 8221 & # 8211 transmitem a imagem de um guerreiro triunfante. Os títulos, na verdade, repetem as denominações pelas quais Vanderbilt veio a ser amplamente conhecido, mas uma vez adotados como temas organizadores de uma biografia, eles desenvolvem vida própria. Stiles nunca questiona seriamente a linguagem extravagante usada por contemporâneos para descrever Vanderbilt, como o encômio emitido pelos diretores de seu império ferroviário após a morte do Commodore & # 8217s. O & # 8220 esplendor & # 8221 de seus & # 8220 triunfos pessoais maravilhosos & # 8221 emprestou-lhes & # 8220 o toque de romance & # 8230. Começando em uma posição humilde & # 8230 ele se ergueu por seu gênio, sua energia indomável e sua previsão clara & # 8230. Foi para sua honra duradoura que sua política uniforme era proteger, desenvolver e melhorar os interesses com os quais ele estava conectado, em vez de buscar um lucro egoísta e desonroso. & # 8221 Stiles & # 8217s prosa própria não é sem floreios grandiosos. Suas imagens e metáforas tornam-se maduras enquanto ele descreve Vanderbilt lançando & # 8220a sombra sobre milhões de pessoas & # 8221 e subindo & # 8220 como o pico de uma montanha acima das nuvens. & # 8221 Ao longo dele ele implanta o vocabulário do construtor de império napoleônico, a dramaturgia de combate e heroísmo temerário. Ele admira o nervo do Commodore & # 8217s & # 8220iron & # 8221 durante o Pânico de 1873, como ele estava no & # 8220full comando enquanto outros quase desmaiaram de medo & # 8221 e fala sobre o quão sozinho entre os titãs das ferrovias Vanderbilt permaneceu & # 8220 ininterrupto e ininterrupto. & # 8221

Essa abordagem aumenta as apostas, pressionando Stiles para fazer mais ou menos, para inflar o pedestre, emprestando-lhe uma grandeza que não justifica. Um resultado é que o livro atola no meio do caminho conforme Stiles avança em um negócio após o outro em um esforço entorpecedor para demonstrar a perspicácia superior de Vanderbilt & # 8217. Milhares e milhares de palavras são investidas na descrição dos meandros do empreendimento do Comodoro & # 8217s na Nicarágua, exigindo alguns esforços heróicos da parte do leitor para acompanhar o que está acontecendo. Ao mesmo tempo, Stiles se esforça para conectar as maquinações comerciais mais simples de Vanderbilt & # 8217s a questões de importância nacional muito maior & # 8211o conflito setorial sobre a escravidão, o colapso do Partido Whig & # 8211 mas essas tentativas planejadas de emprestar a sua vida cotidiana um peso histórico maior quase sempre fracassar.

Dourar a imagem do Primeiro Magnata tem consequências piores. Vanderbilt conscientemente construiu uma dinastia familiar, baseada principalmente em suas propriedades na ferrovia. Stiles sabe disso, mas, determinado a pintar um quadro de Vanderbilt como o arquiteto da modernidade e da corporação moderna em particular, ele acaba combinando o capitalismo dinástico com seu sucessor corporativo. A Vanderbilt & # 8217s New York Central não exerceu inicialmente a gestão racionalizadora e burocrática já instalada em outras ferrovias importantes, e mesmo depois que o Commodore assumiu o comando, ele praticou o tipo de controle pessoal e familiar que ele & # 8217d favoreceu durante toda a sua vida. Se ele se envolveu em uma grande reorganização da estrada ao longo das linhas corporativas, transformando-a em uma hierarquia complexa e impessoal dirigida por um quadro de profissionais técnicos e administrativos, Stiles fornece ao leitor muito poucas evidências disso. Além disso, a corporação moderna se comporta de maneira bem diferente, tanto no mercado quanto na arena política, de seu predecessor dinástico. Aqui está o que uma dinastia soa: & # 8220A lei, a meu ver, é lenta demais para mim quando tenho remédio em minhas próprias mãos & # 8230. Deixe as outras partes irem à justiça se quiserem, mas por Deus, acho que sei o que é a lei, estou farto dela. & # 8221 Vanderbilt & # 8217s palavras não são aquelas de um processo corporativo sem rosto sensível à sua empresa & # As intrincadas interações de 8217 com burocratas do governo e os tribunais, alguém cuja lealdade e posse em qualquer empresa específica é contingente e dificilmente informado pelas ambições patriarcais da linhagem familiar. O capitalismo dinástico repousa sobre uma identidade de interesses e perspectivas entre seus proprietários e administradores, uma vez que são mais ou menos as mesmas pessoas que a empresa moderna corta esse vínculo. Stiles parece intencionalmente cego para a distinção, então a intenção é provar que Vanderbilt & # 8217s ultrapassam a estatura histórica.

Isso porque, para Stiles, associar Vanderbilt com modernidade é axiomaticamente uma coisa boa. Ele admira as aventuras visionárias e pioneiras do magnata no novo mundo de ações e títulos corporativos e outras formas de valores hipotecários de papel sujeitos às flutuações imprevisíveis do mercado. Não há como negar que a ascensão do capitalismo financeiro foi uma transformação revolucionária, uma ruptura radical com uma perspectiva econômica tradicional, cuja medida de valor permaneceu ligada a manifestações tangíveis de propriedade física, real, moeda de ouro e semelhantes. A nova maneira de fazer as coisas permitiu a mobilização de recursos de capital líquido e seu investimento em todos os tipos de empreendimentos produtivos. Vanderbilt tornou-se um jogador importante nesta misteriosa economia paralela. Ele enfrentou especuladores rivais pelo controle de várias ferrovias, mais notoriamente a Erie, conhecida em todos os lugares como a & # 8220scarlet woman of Wall Street & # 8221 por causa da forma como foi saqueada e relançada por manipuladores de ações como Daniel Drew, Jay Gould e o Comodoro. Para Stiles, esse é o fim da história: Vanderbilt como pioneira das finanças modernas.

Mas esses mecanismos financeiros também geraram uma economia de papel de valor fictício que pode superestimar grosseiramente ou subestimar o valor real dos ativos tangíveis que deveriam representar, criando as condições para booms, quedas e pânicos periódicos. Stiles rejeita as reservas dos contemporâneos de Vanderbilt & # 8217 sobre este estranho mundo novo como antiquado, paroquial e míope. Ele pressupõe que a noção de valor real é uma ilusão, que o mercado é o único e último árbitro de tudo o que vale. Essa é a visão moderna. Mas essas ansiedades antigas e pouco iluminadas sobre o & # 8220 valor fictício & # 8221 & # 8217t não parecem tão retrógradas à luz de nosso recente colapso financeiro e seu impacto na & # 8220 economia real & # 8221 nem na época do Comodoro & # 8217 durante os pânicos e depressões de 1837, 1857 e 1873 (o mais devastador de todos).

Brahmins da costa leste como Henry e Charles Francis Adams, Oliver Wendell Holmes e E.L. Godkin estava entre os muitos críticos de Vanderbilt e da ascensão da gigante corporação. Eles, junto com legiões de oponentes menos conhecidos do Comodoro dentro do movimento trabalhista nascente e entre fazendeiros angustiados e zangados e empresários medianos, originaram o estigma de barão ladrão que obscureceu Vanderbilt e seus colegas magnatas até o século XX. Mesmo o New York Times reconheceu a existência de uma & # 8220 aristocracia moderna do capital & # 8221 e descreveu a nova geração de capitalistas corporativos como & # 8220 os tiranos da sociedade moderna. & # 8221 Stiles trata essa linguagem como incoerente, mas sem explicar por quê. É verdade que existe uma profunda diferença histórica entre o aristocrata e o capitalista. Mas o significado político da analogia feita pelo Vezes e outros foram claros o suficiente.

Stiles acha que Adams, Godkin e outros críticos patrícios do Primeiro Magnata eram cínicos. Afinal, eles odiavam os sindicatos, lamentavam que a América Anglo-Protestante estivesse sendo mesclada por imigrantes, temiam e deploravam a política democrática de massa, consideravam os populistas um feno e ficavam chocados tanto com a vulgaridade do novo magnata quanto com seus desordenados potência. Stiles diz que essas visões desagradáveis ​​desacreditam os brâmanes & # 8217 a crítica fulminante dos barões ladrões & # 8217 a ganância, a corrupção e a exploração. Mas a acusação é um tiro barato e também reflete uma espécie de esnobismo intelectual. Afinal, as críticas dos Brahmins & # 8217 ecoaram nas acusações contra os barões ladrões feitas pelos Cavaleiros do Trabalho, partidos políticos dos trabalhadores agrícolas e verdes e ligas anti-monopólio, homens e mulheres não contaminados pelas visões reacionárias de seus superiores sociais. Mas esses atores políticos anônimos ou menos conhecidos não aparecem em O primeiro magnata. Eles são tão invisíveis para Stiles quanto eram nocivos para Godkin.

Cornelius Vanderbilt gostava de homenagear a si mesmo. Um monumento duradouro & # 8211e peça vital da centralização da ferrovia que melhorou substancialmente a eficiência econômica do New York Central & # 8217s & # 8211 foi o Grand Central Terminal original, concluído em 1871. Stiles empilha diante do leitor uma montanha de estatísticas sobre o volume extraordinário e diversidade de materiais usados ​​para construir a estação. É impressionante. Mas há outro conjunto de números que Stiles não mostra interesse em compilar ou analisar. Durante esta fase de formação da industrialização, 35.000 trabalhadores morreram a cada ano em acidentes industriais. Em 1910, um quarto de todos os trabalhadores nas indústrias de ferro e aço ficava ferido uma vez por ano, em parte por causa da falha da gerência em instalar dispositivos de segurança ou encurtar as horas de trabalho. Entre 1890 e 1917, 158.000 mecânicos e operários foram mortos em oficinas de reparo de ferrovias e casas redondas. Só em 1888-89, dos 704.000 funcionários da ferrovia, 20.000 ficaram feridos e quase 2.000 mortos. Na Central de Illinois, entre 1874 e 1884, um em cada vinte treinadores morreu ou ficou incapacitado entre os freios, ferroviários que faziam o trabalho mais perigoso, a proporção era de um em sete (e entre os encarregados das ferrovias o número era quase tão 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? Se não, porque não? 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 Mouse, 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 Prometeu 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 Prometeu 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 Virgínia 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

Enquanto o 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. 

Enquanto o 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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