William Henry Vanderbilt III
|William Henry Vanderbilt III|
|59th Governor of Rhode Island|
January 3, 1939 – January 7, 1941
|Lieutenant||James O. McManus|
|Preceded by||Robert E. Quinn|
|Succeeded by||J. Howard McGrath|
|Born||November 24, 1901|
|Died||April 14, 1981(aged 79)|
|Spouse(s)||Emily O'Neill Davies|
|Parents||Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt
Ellen "Elsie" French
|Alma mater||Princeton University|
William Henry Vanderbilt III (November 24, 1901 – April 14, 1981) was Governor of Rhode Island and a member of the wealthy and socially prominent Vanderbilt family.
Born in New York City, he was the son of Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt and Ellen "Elsie" French. Vanderbilt's father was a great-grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, who founded the family fortune in railroads and shipping. William Vanderbilt's parents divorced in 1908 and through his father's second marriage he had two half-brothers, Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt II, and George Washington Vanderbilt III. In 1915, his father perished in the sinking of the RMS Lusitania. In 1934, his cousin on his mother's side, Ellen Tuck French, married John Jacob Astor VI, bringing together two of America's most famous families.
First World War
Shortly before the United States declared war on Germany during the First World War, Vanderbilt dropped out of St. George's School upon his appointment as a midshipman in the U.S. Naval Coast Defense Reserve to rank from March 20, 1917. As he was only 15 at the time, he was one of the youngest Americans to have served in the war. (It is unclear how he was able to join the service at such a young age but, probably, his family connections were a factor.)
During his service in the Navy, Vanderbilt served on the torpedo test ship USS Vesuvius from April 17 to May 31, 1917, the Naval Torpedo Station in Newport from June 1, 1917 to March 7, 1918, aide for information Second Naval District from March 7 to July 15, 1918, in Norfolk, Virginia from July 23 to September 16, 1918, New London, Connecticut from September 19 to November 14, 1918 and as a plank owner of the newly commissioned destroyer USS Evans from November 11, 1918 to August 30, 1919. While serving on the Evans Vanderbilt was served aboard her on a cruise to Europe from June to August 1919.
Educated at St. George's School in Middletown, Rhode Island (Class of 1919) and the Evans School in Mesa, Arizona, he attended Princeton University but dropped out during his first year. In 1940, Vanderbilt received an honorary LL.D. from Bates College.
When he turned 21, the then legal age of majority, in 1922, Vanderbilt inherited a $5 million trust fund plus the 450 acre (1.8 km²) Oakland Farm in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, one of his father's estates that included a number of thoroughbred horses. He made the farm his permanent home until the end of the Second World War.
Vanderbilt married Emily O'Neill Davies, granddaughter of Daniel O'Neill, owner of the Pittsburgh Dispatch newspaper, and daughter of Frederick Martin Davies on November 1, 1923 at Grace Church, New York. Emily was the grandniece of Frederick Townsend Martin, a prominent writer of the 1920s. The couple gave birth to a daughter, Emily "Paddy" Vanderbilt on May 12, 1925 in New York. The couple's marriage was troubled and Emily sued for divorce in Paris in the summer of 1926, but reconciled. She again sued for divorce in Newport, Rhode Island which was granted in June 1928.
Vanderbilt secondly married Anne Gordon Colby of West Orange, New Jersey on December 27, 1929. They had three children: Anne Vanderbilt Hartwell of Williamstown, Elsie Vanderbilt Aidinoff of New York City, and William H. Vanderbilt Jr., of Ketchum, Idaho
The Short Line
In 1925 Vanderbilt started a coach bus company, called The Short Line, carrying passengers between Newport and Providence. Within a few years he expanded the business to serve points throughout New England and New York. The Short Line was purchased by George Sage in 1955 and, in 1970, was renamed Bonanza Bus Lines. Bonanza eventually merged with the Coach USA bus line in 1998 and was sold to Peter Pan Bus Lines in 2003. The Short Line's original terminal building in Newport still stands and is located near the intersection of Spring and Touro streets.
As a state senator and successful business leader, Vanderbilt was also a champion of the Mount Hope Bridge which connects Aquidneck Island with the mainland on the road north to Providence, Rhode Island from Newport. He was named the Chairman of the Mount Hope Bridge Commission and gave the opening address at the bridge's dedication on October 24, 1929.
Vanderbilt was a member of the Republican Party. In 1928 he was a delegate to the Republican National Convention from Rhode Island and that year was elected to the State Senate. Vanderbilt served in the Rhode Island State Senate for six years (1929 - 1935) and then took time off to be with his sick wife, Anne Gordon Colby. On her recovery, he re-entered political life and successfully ran for Governor of Rhode Island in 1938. He served one term from January 1939 to January 1941. However, his refusal to dole out patronage to fellow Republicans weakened his power base and a scandal over wire-tapping by a private detective firm he had hired to investigate election fraud, cost him re-election in 1940.
In May 1941 Vanderbilt, a Naval Reservist, was called to active duty with the rank of lieutenant commander and initially assigned to the Panama Canal Zone. He was promoted to commander on August 15, 1942. He was later assigned to the staff of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. He was promoted to the rank of captain prior to the end of the war.
Service in the OSS during World War Two
In 1942 Vanderbilt was Executive Officer of the Special Operations Branch of the Office of Strategic Services under William Donovan.
Retirement and death
After his discharge from the Navy at the end of the war, Vanderbilt left Rhode Island and retired to a farm in South Williamstown, Massachusetts. Oakland Farm and its 150 acres in Portsmouth, Rhode Island was sold and divided into housing lots by the end of the 1940s. 
For his service in the Navy, Vanderbilt was entitled to the following medals -
- Victory Medal
- American Defense Service Medal
- American Campaign Medal
- Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal
- World War Two Victory Medal
- United States Navy Register, 1918. pg. 349.
- St. George's School in the War, pg. 151.
- "Wm. H. Vanderbilts Have a Daughter". New York Times. 13 May 1925. Retrieved 2009-03-30.
- "Emily Vanderbilt Marries S. Thayer". New York Times. 8 December 1928. Retrieved 2009-03-30.
- Rhode Island Historical Society
- New York Times, May 6, 1941. ; U.S. Navy Reserve Register, 1943
- Blair, William G. (April 16, 1981). "William H. Vanderbilt, 79, Dead.". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-08-04.
William Henry Vanderbilt, a former Governor of Rhode Island who was a great-great-grandson of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, the 19th century railroad magnate, died Tuesday night at his home in South Williamstown, Mass. He was 79 years old. Mr. Vanderbilt, a Republican, served in the State Senate from 1928 to ...
- "Died". Time (magazine). 1981-04-27. Retrieved 2008-08-04.
William Henry Vanderbilt, 79, farmer-philanthropist and sometime politician who served as Governor of Rhode Island from 1938 to 1940 and was the great-great-grandson of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, the 19th century railroad magnate; of cancer; in Williamstown, Mass.
Robert E. Quinn
|Governor of Rhode Island
J. Howard McGrath