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Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) was an American tycoon who made his fortune in the railroad and shipping industry.
Cornelius was born in Staten Island, New York. His father operated a ferry and Cornelius started working on the ferry at a young age. By the age of 16, Cornelius decided to start his own ferry business. Cornelius married his cousin, Sophia Johnson in 1813. Together they had thirteen children. While still working his own ferry business, he was approached by Thomas Gibbons to captain his steamboat. During the years he worked for Gibbons he not only learned how to captain a ship, but he also learned very important business skills. After Gibbon’s death, Vanderbilt continued to use the steamboat as a way to earn an income. His shipping business was a very important part of the Industrial Revolution in the United States. Vanderbilt dominated the steamboat industry and began running the railroads that connected the factories to the steamboats. In 1847, he became the president of the Providence and Boston Railroad. During this time he also invested in many real estate in New York. During the California Gold Rush, Vanderbilt switched from his river steamboats to steamboats that were able to ocean liners.
Vanderbilt and the Railroad
During the 1850s, Vanderbilt serve on the board of several different railroad companies. These railroads included:
- The Erie Railway
- The Central Railroad of New Jersey
- The New York and Harlem
- The Hartford and New Haven.
He later became the president of the New York and Harlem line and brought his son Billy on as vice-president.
Vanderbilt died on January 4, 1877. At the time of his death his wealth was estimated at $100 million dollars. Most of this money was willed to Billy and his four sons. He also willed smaller amounts of money to his daughters, wife, and other sons.