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Cornelius Vanderbilt II (November 11, 1843 – September 12, 1899) was an American socialite, heir, businessman, and a member of the prominent United States Vanderbilt family.[1] He was the favorite grandson of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, who bequeathed him $5 million, and the eldest son of William Henry "Billy" Vanderbilt (who bequeathed him about $70 million) and Maria Louisa Kissam. In his turn he succeeded them as head of the New York Central and related railroad lines in 1885.[2]

Cornelius Vanderbilt II
Cornelius Vanderbilt II by John Singer Sargent (1856-1925).jpg
Portrait of Vanderbilt by John Singer Sargent
Born(1843-11-11)November 11, 1843
DiedSeptember 12, 1899(1899-09-12) (aged 55)
ResidenceThe Breakers
EmployerNew York Central Railroad
Political partyRepublican
Alice Claypoole Gwynne
(m. 1867; his death 1899)
ChildrenAlice Gwynne Vanderbilt
William Henry Vanderbilt II
Cornelius Vanderbilt III
Gertrude Vanderbilt
Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt
Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt
Gladys Moore Vanderbilt
Parent(s)William Henry Vanderbilt
Maria Louisa Kissam
RelativesSee Vanderbilt family
Appletons' Vanderbilt Cornelius (capitalist) signature.png


Early lifeEdit

Cornelius Vanderbilt II was born on November 27, 1843 on Staten Island, New York to William Henry Vanderbilt (1821–1885) and Maria Louisa Kissam.[1][3]

His youngest brother, George Washington Vanderbilt II, commissioned Richard Morris Hunt to design and build Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. It was built between 1889 and 1895, and is still owned by Vanderbilt's descendants.


Vanderbilt established a reputation for a strong work ethic while clerking at the Shoe and Leather Bank in New York City. This endeared him to his grandfather, the 'Commodore', who was a strong believer in personal industry.[4]

Vanderbilt was active in numerous organizations including the Saint Nicholas Society of the City of New York, YMCA, Red Cross, Salvation Army, Trinity Church, St. Bartholomew's Church, Sunday Breakfast Association, and the Newport Country Club.[1]

Personal lifeEdit

Vanderbilt's Newport cottage, The Breakers, built in 1893 by Richard Morris Hunt

On February 4, 1867, he married Alice Claypoole Gwynne (1845–1934), daughter of Abraham Evan Gwynne and Rachel Moore Flagg.[5] The two met at St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church where both taught Sunday School.

Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt, II and her daughters, Gladys and Gertrude, having tea in the library at the Breakers Newport, Rhode Island, William Bruce Ellis Ranken, 1932

Together, they had:[2]

A stroke in 1896 compelled him to reduce his active business involvement. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage shortly after 6 a.m. on September 12, 1899, at his home, West Fifty-seventh Street, in Manhattan, New York City.[1] On his death in 1899, family leadership passed to his first brother, William Kissam Vanderbilt. His philanthropy had been such that he did not increase the wealth that had been left to him.[2] His estate at the time of his death was appraised at $72,999,867, $20 million of which was real estate.[11] $73 million is equivalent to $2.2 billion[12] in 2018 dollars.[12]


Through his son, Reginald, he was the grandfather of Cathleen Vanderbilt, Gloria Laura Vanderbilt, the socialite and fashion designer, and the great-grandfather of news anchor Anderson Hays Cooper and his late brother, Carter Vanderbilt Cooper.[2]

Through his son, Alfred, he was the grandfather of William Henry Vanderbilt III, Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt Jr., and George Washington Vanderbilt III.[2]


The Fifth Avenue mansions he, his brothers, and his sons lived in have been demolished, but the Newport, Rhode Island vacation home he built, The Breakers, still stands as a memory of his lifestyle.[2]


  1. ^ a b c d "MR. CORNELIUS VANDERBILT DEAD; Succumbed Suddenly Yesterday to Cerebral Hemorrhage. DUE TO STROKE OF PARALYSIS Wife and Daughter Gladys Only Members of His Family With Him. He Had Come to This City on Monday from Newport to Attend a Railroad Meeting -- Funeral Services to be Held on Friday". The New York Times. 13 September 1899. Retrieved 15 April 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Vanderbilt, 173-185.
  3. ^ "Wm. H. Vanderbilt Dead. He is Prostrated by Paralysis While Talking to Robert Jarrett, President of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and Dies Without Speaking. His Vast Wealth Estimated at Two Hundred Millions". The Washington Post. December 9, 1885. Retrieved 2008-08-01. William H. Vanderbilt died at his residence in this city, of paralysis, at half-past two o'clock this afternoon. He arose this morning at his usual hour, and at breakfast served to the members of the family, most of whom were present, he appeared to be in his usual health and in a more than usually happy frame of mind.
  4. ^ Vanderbilt, 177-9.
  5. ^ "Mrs. Vanderbilt Sr. Dies In Home At 89. Widow Of Financier, Long Ill. Was A Leader In Brilliant Era Of New York Society". The New York Times. April 23, 1934.
  6. ^ "Gen. C. Vanderbilt Dies On His Yacht. Great-Grandson and Namesake of Commodore Succumbs in Miami to Brain Hemorrhage. Family With Him At End. He Won Distinction as Soldier, Inventor, Engineer, Yachtsman. Often Host to Royalty". The New York Times. Associated Press. March 2, 1942.
  7. ^ Times Wide World (27 October 1930). "H.P. WHITNEY DIES AT 58 OF PNEUMONIA; ILL ONLY A FEW DAYS; Sportsman and Financier Succumbs Unexpectedly at HisFifth Avenue Home.CAUGHT COLD ON TUESDAY His Wife, the Former GertrudeVanderbilt, and Their ThreeChildren at Bedside.HE INHERITED A FORTUNE Built Up Vast Properties and Became One of Nation's Richest Men-- Famed for Racing Stables. One of America's Richest Men. H.P. WHITNEY DIES AT 58 OF PNEUMONIA Heir to Wealth and Prestige. Guggenheim Guided His Start. Known Also as Dog Fancier. Many Concerns Now Merged". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
  8. ^   Homans, James E., ed. (1918). "Vanderbilt, Alfred Gwynne" . The Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: The Press Association Compilers, Inc.
  9. ^ "Reginald Vanderbilt Dies Suddenly Today". The Meridien Daily Journal. 4 September 1925. Retrieved 15 March 2011.
  10. ^ Times, Special To The New York (4 October 1907). "MISS VANDERBILT WILL WED A COUNT; Gladys, Youngest Daughter of Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt, the Financee of Laszlo Szechenyi. HUNGARIAN HERE FOR BRIDE Young Court Chamberlain Is a Guest at the Breakers, Newport -- Betrothal Made in Europe Last Summer". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 April 2017.
  11. ^ "C. Vanderbilt's Personal Estate" (PDF). The New York Times. December 12, 1900. Retrieved August 25, 2017.
  12. ^ a b Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved January 2, 2019.

Further readingEdit

See alsoEdit