Vanderbilt family

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This article details the family of Cornelius Vanderbilt. For other uses, see Vanderbilt.
Vanderbilt Mausoleum (edit).jpg
Ethnicity Dutch-American
Current region United States East Coast
Earlier spellings Van der Bilt, van Derbilt
Place of origin De Bilt, Netherlands
Notable members Cornelius Vanderbilt
William Henry Vanderbilt
Anderson Cooper
John Hammond
Estate Vanderbilt houses
Name origin and meaning Dutch Van de[r] Bilt ("from De Bilt")

The Vanderbilt family is an American family of Dutch origin that was prominent during the Gilded Age. Their success began with the shipping and railroad empires of Cornelius Vanderbilt, and the family expanded into various other areas of industry and philanthropy. Cornelius Vanderbilt's descendants went on to build grand mansions on Fifth Avenue in New York City, luxurious "summer cottages" in Newport, Rhode Island, the palatial Biltmore House in North Carolina, and various other opulent homes.

The Vanderbilts' prominence lasted until the mid-20th century, when the family's ten great Fifth Avenue mansions were torn down and other Vanderbilt houses were sold or turned into museums. The family's downturn in prominence has been referred to as the 'Fall of the House of Vanderbilt'.[1] Despite the family's current reduction in fortune, the Vanderbilts were one of the wealthiest American families in history.

Branches of the family are found on the United States East Coast. Sandra Topping, granddaughter of Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt and the former Margaret Emerson, had two daughters, Alexandra Baker and Whitney Baker. Contemporary descendants include fashion designer Gloria Vanderbilt, her youngest son, journalist Anderson Cooper, musicians Joey Page and John P. Hammond, and screenwriter James Vanderbilt. Actor Timothy Olyphant is also a descendant[citation needed] through the Emily Thorn Vanderbilt branch of the family.


The Breakers, built in 1892–1895 for Cornelius Vanderbilt II.

Anthony and Abraham van Salee were the ancestors of the Vanderbilts, the Whitneys, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and Humphrey Bogart.

They were among the earliest arrivals to 17th century New Amsterdam. In a number of documents dating back to this period, they are both described as "mulatto".[2] The prominence of the family began with Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794–1877), the fourth of nine children born to a Staten Island family of modest and simple means. His great-great-great-grandfather, Jan Aertszoon or Aertson (1620–1705), was a Dutch farmer from the village of De Bilt in Utrecht, Netherlands, who emigrated to the Dutch colony of New Netherland as an indentured servant in 1650. Jan's village name was added to the Dutch "Van der" (from the) to create "Van der Bilt" which evolved into Vanderbilt when the English took control of New Amsterdam (now New York). The family is associated with the Dutch patrician Van der Bilt.[3]

Cornelius Vanderbilt left school at age 11 and went on to build a shipping and railroad empire that, during the 19th century, made him one of the wealthiest men in the world.

The Vanderbilt family owned land in Corwith Township, Michigan, which was settled about 1875. When the Vanderbilt-owned Michigan Central Railroad came through in 1880, the village of Vanderbilt, Michigan, was established. Although Cornelius Vanderbilt always occupied a modest home, members of his family would use their wealth to build magnificent mansions. Shortly before his death in 1877, Vanderbilt donated US$1 million for the establishment of Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Members of the family dominated what was known as the "Gilded Age", a period when Vanderbilt men were the merchants of American life through their prominence.

Some of Cornelius Vanderbilt's grandchildren and great grandchildren gained fame as successful entrepreneurs while several achieved prominence in other fields such as Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt (1877–1915), who went down on the RMS Lusitania. His son Alfred Jr. became a noted horse breeder and racing elder. Harold Stirling Vanderbilt (1884–1970) gained fame as a sportsman, winning the most coveted prize in yacht racing, the America's Cup, on three occasions. His brother "Willie K" launched the Vanderbilt Cup for auto racing. Cornelius Vanderbilt IV (1898–1974) became an accomplished writer, newspaper publisher, and film producer. However, others made headlines as a result of drug and alcohol abuse and multiple marriages.

Cornelius Vanderbilt had been awarded a gold medal by the United States government during the American Civil War for donating his steamer S.S. Vanderbilt to the Union forces. Inheritance of this medal became the symbol for the titular head of the Vanderbilt family.

In 1855, Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt donated 8.5 acres (34,000 m²) of property to the Moravian Church and cemetery at New Dorp on Staten Island, New York. Later, his son William Henry Vanderbilt donated a further 4 acres (16,000 m²). A plot was kept for the Vanderbilt family in the Moravian Cemetery and several of them are buried there in the family mausoleum including the family founder. Their mausoleum was redesigned in 1885 by architect Richard Morris Hunt.

The noted economist John Kenneth Galbraith said that several generations of Vanderbilts showed both the talent for acquiring money and the dispensing of it in unmatched volume, adding that they dispensed their wealth for self-gratification and very often did it foolhardily.

Confirmation as to the validity of Galbraith's views is that only forty-eight years after the death of Cornelius Vanderbilt, one of his direct descendants died penniless. Within seventy years of his passing, the last of the ten great Vanderbilt Fifth Avenue mansions in New York City had been torn down. In 1973, the first Vanderbilt family reunion took place at Vanderbilt University.

The family's modern legacy includes Vanderbilt University as well as Vanderbilt Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, which runs alongside Grand Central Terminal, the New York City rail hub built by the Vanderbilt family. The most recent Vanderbilt decedents are currently living in Pennsylvania the daughters of Stephanie Vanderbilt, Madeleine and Sadie Elizabeth Van Housen.

The Vanderbilt family had a number of relatives living in New York, including the Windmiller and Goldberg families, both of which are currently among the richest families on Long Island. Another split portion of the heritage now lives in the southern United States.

Fortune's Children: The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt, written by distant cousin Arthur T. Vanderbilt II, was published in 1989.

Family connection (listed by ancestry/generation)[edit]

Family connection (chronological listing)[edit]

The following list includes etiquette guru Amy Vanderbilt although it is believed she descended from either an uncle or brother of Cornelius Vanderbilt and is therefore not an official descendant-member of this family. As well as Illegitimate grand child Deryck Gray-Vanderbilt of Alfred Vanderbilt . The list also includes Josiah Hornblower (1975) [2], a distant cousin of the Vanderbilt and Whitney family who was featured in the 2003 documentary Born Rich. In addition the list shows Alfred G. Vanderbilt's daughter Rita L. Vanderbilt (née. Macdonald).

By birth[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Fortune's Children: The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt
  2. ^ "The Van Salee Family". Frontline (PBS). Retrieved March 29, 2014.
  3. ^ List of Dutch patrician families in the Nederland's Patriciaat 1910-2007/2008
  4. ^ From Gloria Vanderbilt article.
  5. ^ "Leaders of Society Expected at Lenox; Great Preparations Made for Field-Sloane Wedding — Social Functions of the Week," Special to The New York Times, July 6, 1902, Magazine Section, p. 28
  6. ^ a b c d "At Home With Wendy Burden: A Vanderbilt Descendant Laughs Off Dysfunction" by Joyce Wadler, The New York Times, March 24, 2010 (March 25, 2010 p. D1, NY ed.). Retrieved 2010-03-27.
  7. ^ "‘The spirit of what my sons loved’" by Jill Spitznass, The Portland Tribune, Nov 12, 2002, updated Oct 30, 2009. Retrieved 2010-03-28.
  8. ^ "Vanderbilt’s In My Life" Blog entry at Vanderbilt Family Genealogy; [1], blogger; August 30, 2008. Retrieved 2010-03-27.
  9. ^ "Miss Havemeyer Bride of J.W. Webb" The New York Times, February 9, 1910. Retrieved 2010-03-28.
  10. ^ a b Karp, Walter, "Electra Webb and Her American Past", American Heritage, April/May 1982 (33:3) Retrieved 2011-07-21.
  11. ^ a b c From Electra Havemeyer Webb article.
  12. ^ "Dunbar W. Bostwick, Harness Racing Innovator, Dies at 98" by Wolfgang Saxon, The New York Times, January 28, 2006. Retrieved 2010-03-28.
  13. ^ a b Wilmerding, John (Currie) Entry, Dictionary of Art Historians. Retrieved 2010-03-27.
  • Vanderbilt, Arthur T., II (1989). Fortune's Children: The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt. New York: Morrow. ISBN 0-688-07279-8. 

Further reading[edit]