Cornelius Vanderbilt III

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Cornelius Vanderbilt III
Cornelius Vanderbilt III LOC.jpg
Vanderbilt III c. 1910–1915
Born (1873-09-05)September 5, 1873
New York City
Died March 1, 1942(1942-03-01) (aged 68)
Miami Beach, Florida
Cause of death
Cerebral hemorrhage
Resting place
Moravian Cemetery
Residence 640 Fifth Avenue
Other names Neily Vanderbilt
Education St. Paul's School
Yale University
Political party
Spouse(s) Grace Graham Wilson
Children Cornelius Vanderbilt IV
Grace Vanderbilt
Parents Cornelius Vanderbilt II
Alice Claypoole Gwynne

Cornelius "Neily" Vanderbilt III (September 5, 1873 – March 1, 1942) was an American military officer, inventor, engineer, and yachtsman, and a member of the prominent American Vanderbilt family.


He was born in New York City on September 5, 1873 to Cornelius Vanderbilt II and Alice Claypoole Gwynne. He was educated by private tutors at St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire before attending Yale University where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1895. Against his father's wishes, in August 1896 he married Grace Graham Wilson, the youngest child of New York banker Richard Thornton Wilson, Sr. and Melissa Clementine Johnston. Remaining at Yale until 1899, he earned a Bachelor of Philosophy degree and, having a great deal of interest in the mechanical and engineering aspects of his family’s railroad business, he also earned a degree in mechanical engineering.

Upon his father's death in 1899 Neily received only $500,000 in cash and the income from a $1 million trust fund. The bulk of his father's $70 million estate went to Neily's brother, Alfred, who then helped Neily by giving him $6 million. However, as a result of his parents' attitude towards his marriage, it would be 27 years after his father's death before he finally reconciled with his aging mother. Neily and Grace remained married for the rest of their lives and had two children, Cornelius IV (1898–1974), who would marry seven times, and a daughter, Grace (September 25, 1899 - January 28, 1964).[1]

Neily Vanderbilt was an inveterate tinkerer with all things mechanical and during his lifetime he patented more than thirty inventions for improving locomotives and freight cars, including several which brought him a significant royalty income. Some of the most important were a corrugated firebox for locomotives that resulted in a substantial increase in fuel efficiency plus a cylindrical styled tank car for the transport of bulk oil as well as a revolutionary type of locomotive tender. In addition, on his travels to London and Paris he saw the potential for adapting their subway systems for New York City and partnered with August Belmont, Jr. to establish the Interborough Rapid Transit Company for the construction of the city's first subway.

In 1906 he was admitted as an hereditary member of the Rhode Island Society of the Cincinnati by right of his descent from Surgeon Henry Collins Flagg of the Continental Army.

Military service[edit]

In 1901, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Twelfth Infantry Regiment of the New York National Guard and remained a member of the National Guard for 33 years. He was promoted to first lieutenant in December 1902 and served as an aide de camp to the Governor of New York from September 1903 to December 1904. He was promoted to captain in June 1907 and served as an aide to the division commander from October 1908 until is promoted to lieutenant colonel and inspector general in June 1912.

He served on the Mexican border in 1916, and in World War I served overseas as commander of the 102nd Engineer Regiment with the rank of colonel. Rising through the ranks to brigadier general, he was placed in command of the 25th Infantry Brigade.[2]

For his services during the war, he was decorated with the Distinguished Service Medal by the government of the United States, the New York State Conspicuous Service Cross, made a commander of the Order of the Crown from Belgium and awarded that country's Croix de Guerre. The government of France invested him as a Commander of the Legion of Honor. He was also entitled to the Mexican Border Service Medal and World War I Victory Medal.

His citation for the Distinguished Service Medal, awarded in 1919, is as follows:

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Army Distinguished Service Medal to Brigadier General Cornelius Vanderbilt, United States Army, for exceptionally meritorious and distinguished services to the Government of the United States, in a duty of great responsibility during World War I. As Commanding Officer, 102d Engineers, and as Engineer Officer of the 27th Division, General Vanderbilt's marked qualities of leadership and thorough training and instruction developed a high state of military efficiency in his command, as demonstrated throughout its entire service.

Postwar life[edit]

Following the First World War, Vanderbilt and his wife frequently returned to Europe, becoming friends and guests of numerous members of European royalty including former Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, and his brother, Prince Henry of Prussia, King Albert I of Belgium, Crown Prince Olav of Norway, Queen Marie of Romania, Reza Pahlavi of Iran, and every British monarch since Queen Victoria.

As with other members of the Vanderbilt family, yachting was one of Neily Vanderbilt's favorite pastimes as an escape from a busy life that included a seat on the Board of Directors of a number of major American corporations. He was a member of the nine member syndicate which built the yacht Reliance for the successful defense of the America's Cup in 1903.[3] He was commodore of the New York Yacht Club from 1906 to 1909. In 1910, he piloted his 65 foot sloop Aurora to victory in the New York Yacht Club's race for the King Edward VII Cup in Newport, RI.[4]

In 1940, he sold the mansion he inherited in 1914 from his uncle George, located at 640 Fifth Avenue in New York City, to members of the Astor family. The family retained occupancy of the house there three years after his death from a cerebral hemorrhage while vacationing in Miami Beach, Florida aboard his yacht in 1942. The mansion, built in 1880 by William Henry Vanderbilt, was originally one of two sharing that block designed with identical exteriors and together known as the "Twin Mansions." Neily's wife Grace lived there until 1944 when she moved into the William Starr Miller House at 1048 Fifth Avenue which still stands today as the Neue Galerie.[5] She died on January 7, 1953. They are buried together in the Vanderbilt family mausoleum in the Moravian Cemetery in New Dorp on Staten Island, New York.[6]



  1. ^ Vanderbilt, Arthur T., II (1989). Fortune's Children: The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt. New York: Morrow. ISBN 0-688-07279-8. 
  2. ^ Vanderbilt, Arthur T., 312
  3. ^ New York Times. April 29, 1903.
  4. ^ New York Times. August 13, 1910.
  5. ^ Stuart, Amanda (2006). Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt: The Story of a Daughter and a Mother in the Gilded Age. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-621418-1. 
  6. ^ Vanderbilt, Cornelius (1956). Queen Of Golden Age: The Fabulous Story Of Grace Wilson Vanderbilt. New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 1-258-03824-2.