Harold Stirling Vanderbilt
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|Harold Stirling Vanderbilt|
Vanderbilt at the helm of his J-class yacht Enterprise.
July 6, 1884|
Oakdale, New York
|Died||July 4, 1970
Newport, Rhode Island
|Occupation||railroad executive, yachtsman, bridge player|
|Parents||William Kissam Vanderbilt & Alva Erskine Smith|
He was born in Oakdale, New York, the third child and second son of William Kissam Vanderbilt and Alva Erskine Smith. To family and friends he was known as "Mike". His siblings were William Kissam Vanderbilt II and Consuelo Vanderbilt. As the great-grandson of the shipping and railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, he was born to great wealth and privilege: as a child he was raised in Vanderbilt mansions, travelled frequently to Europe, and sailed the world on yachts owned by his father.
He was educated by tutors and at private schools including St. Mark's School, Harvard College (AB 1907), and Harvard Law School, which he attended from 1907 to 1910 but did not receive a degree. He then joined the New York Central Railroad, the centerpiece of his family's vast railway empire, of which his father was president.
In March 1917 Vanderbilt was commissioned a lieutenant (junior grade) in the United States Naval Reserve. When the United States entered World War I he was called to active duty on 9 April 1917 and was assigned as commanding officer of the scout patrol boat USS Patrol No. 8 (SP-56) which operated out of Newport, Rhode Island.
On 20 July he was reassigned to command the Block Island, Rhode Island anti-submarine sector and on 17 November the New London, Connecticut anti-submarine sector. On 17 July 1918 he was reassigned to the US Navy forces in Europe and reported to Submarine Chaser Detachment 3 at Queenstown, Ireland in August. He was promoted to lieutenant on 21 September and served with Detachment 3 until the unit was disbanded on 25 November 1918. He was placed on inactive duty on 30 December 1918.
- Detroit, Toledo and Milwaukee Railroad
- Genesee Falls Railway
- Kanawha and Michigan Railway
- Kanawha and West Virginia Railroad
- New Jersey Junction Railroad
- New York Central Railroad
- New York and Harlem Railroad
- Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad
Following the death of his brother William in 1944, he remained the only active representative of the Vanderbilt family involved with the New York Central Railroad. He served as a director and member of the executive committee until 1954 when the New York Central subjected to a hostile takeover by business tycoon Robert R. Young.
Sailing career and the America's Cup
As a boy, Harold Vanderbilt spent part of his summers at the Vanderbilt mansions, the Idle Hour estate in Long Island, New York on the banks of the Connetquot River, Marble House at Newport, Rhode Island, and later at Belcourt (the Newport mansion of his stepfather, Oliver Belmont). As an adult, he pursued his interest in yachting, winning six "King's Cups" and five Astor Cups at regattas between 1922 and 1938. In 1925, he built his own luxurious vacation home at Palm Beach, Florida that he called "El Solano." In addition to being his vacation home, El Solano is also notable for being purchased by former Beatle John Lennon shortly before his murder in 1980.
In 1930, Harold achieved the pinnacle of yacht racing success by defending the America's Cup in the J-class yacht Enterprise. His victory put him on the cover of the September 15, 1930, issue of Time magazine. In 1934 Harold faced a dangerous challenger in Endeavour, as the British boat won the first two races. However, Vanderbilt came back in his yacht Rainbow to win three races in a row and defend the Cup. In 1937 Harold defended the Cup a third time in Ranger, the last of the J-class yachts to defend the Cup. They were posthumously elected to the America's Cup Hall of Fame in 1993. Later in life Vanderbilt would become Commodore of the New York Yacht Club and would be intimately involved in many successful America's Cup defenses.
In the fall of 1935, Harold began a study of the yacht racing rules with three friends: Philip J. Roosevelt, President of the North American Yacht Racing Union (predecessor to US SAILING); Van Merle-Smith, President of the Yacht Racing Association of Long Island Sound; and Henry H. Anderson. "The four men began by attempting to take the right-of-way rules as they were and amending them. After about six weeks of intensive effort, they finally concluded that they were getting exactly nowhere. It was the basic principles, not the details, that were causing the problems. They would have to start from scratch."
In 1936, Vanderbilt, with assistance from the other three had developed an alternative set of rules, printed them, and mailed a copy to every yachtsman that Harold knew personally or by name in both the United States and England. These were virtually ignored, but a second edition in 1938 was improved, as were following versions. Vanderbilt continued to work with the various committees of the North American Yacht Racing Union until finally in 1960 the International Yacht Racing Union (predecessor to the International Sailing Federation or ISAF) adopted the rules that Vanderbilt and the Americans had developed over the previous quarter century.
Harold Vanderbilt had a keen interest in the success of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, founded in 1873 through the financial sponsorship of his great-grandfather, Cornelius Vanderbilt. A longtime member of the university's Board of Trust, he served as its president between 1955 and 1968. He helped guide the institution through a time in history when racial integration of the student body was a divisive and explosive issue. In 1962 Vanderbilt attended one of the first meetings of the Vanderbilt Sailing Club and provided funding for the club to purchase its first fleet of dinghies, Penguins. The university annually offers several scholarships named in his honor, and on the grounds in front of Buttrick Hall, a statue was erected in his honor.
Vanderbilt was also a card game enthusiast who, in 1925, originated changes to the scoring system by which the game of contract bridge supplanted auction bridge in popularity. Three years later, he endowed the Vanderbilt Trophy awarded to the winners of the national team-of-four championship. In 1932 and again in 1940 he was part of a team that won his own trophy; it remains one of the most prized in the game.
Vanderbilt invented the first forcing club bidding system which has dominated world championship play ever since; he penned several books on the subject of bridge, most notably "The Vanderbilt Club."
In 1969, the World Bridge Federation (WBF) made Vanderbilt its first honorary member. When the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL) Hall of Fame was inaugurated in 1964, Vanderbilt was one of the first three persons elected.
- WBF Honorary Member 1969
- ACBL Hall of Fame 1964
- ACBL Honorary Member of the Year 1941
- Wetzlar Trophy 1940
In addition to sailing, Vanderbilt was a licensed pilot, acquiring a Sikorsky S-43 "Flying Boat" in 1938.
In 1930, after a property dispute with the Town of Palm Beach, Harold Vanderbilt moved several miles south to an undeveloped area called Manalapan where he purchased 500 feet of oceanfront property and built a mansion called Eastover. In 1931 he filed papers to incorporate the Town of Manalapan, and became the Town's first mayor. In 1934, his sister, Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan, built her own mansion on Hypoluxo Island, across the water from Eastover.
In 1963, Harold Vanderbilt assisted the Preservation Society of Newport County in acquiring the Marble House summer estate in Newport, Rhode Island, sold by his mother more than thirty years earlier. Successful in their bid, the property was converted into a museum.
Harold Stirling Vanderbilt died in 1970. He and his wife, Gertrude Conway Vanderbilt, are interred at Saint Mary's Episcopal Cemetery in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, their graves marked with only a simple flat stone.
A sailing drink, Stirling Punch, was named in Vanderbilt's honor.
Harold Vanderbilt's private railroad car, New York Central 3, was recently renovated and operates luxury charter trips at the rear of regularly scheduled Amtrak and Via Rail Canada trains.
|Ancestors of Harold Stirling Vanderbilt|
- "Sailing World Hall of Fame", Sailing World Magazine. April 24, 2002. Sailing World Magazine
- Time Magazine. September 15, 1930.
- Harold S. Vanderbilt (1931). Enterprise the Story of the Defense of the America's Cup in 1930. Charles Scribner's sons Press.
- Harold S. Vanderbilt (1939). On the wind's highway: Ranger, Rainbow and racing. Charles Scribner's sons Press.
- Who Was Who in America, Volume 5, 1969 - 1973
- (MacArthur, Robert C., Room at the Mark, Boston, 1991)
- The Nottingham Club, Neapolitan Club, Blue Club, Precision Club, and other strong forcing club systems are an outgrowth of the Vanderbilt Club. Polish Club, Unassuming Club and other weak club systems are an outgrowth from the Vienna System (Stern Austrian System, 1938).
- "Town of Manalapan". Historical Society of Palm Beach County.
- "Video". CNN. August 18, 1980.