Vanderbilt family

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Vanderbilt Mausoleum (edit).jpg
The Vanderbilt mausoleum at the Moravian Cemetery in New Dorp, Staten Island, N.Y.
Current region United States East Coast
Earlier spellingsVan der Bilt, van Derbilt
EtymologyVan der Bilt ("from de Bilt")
Place of origin De Bilt, Netherlands
Estate(s) Vanderbilt houses

The Vanderbilt family is an American family of Dutch origin who gained prominence 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 Asheville, North Carolina; and various other opulent homes.


The Vanderbilts were once the wealthiest family in America. Cornelius Vanderbilt was the richest American until his death in 1877. After that, his son William acquired his father's fortune, and was the richest American until his death in 1885. The Vanderbilts' prominence lasted until the mid-20th century, when the family's 10 great Fifth Avenue mansions were torn down, and most other Vanderbilt houses were sold or turned into museums in what has been referred to as the "Fall of the House of Vanderbilt". [1] [2]

Branches of the family are found on the United States East Coast. Contemporary descendants include journalist Anderson Cooper, actor Timothy Olyphant, musician John P. Hammond and screenwriter James Vanderbilt.


Cornelius Vanderbilt in 1846. Cornelius Vanderbilt 1846 (cropped).jpg
Cornelius Vanderbilt in 1846.
The Breakers, built in 1892-1895 for Cornelius Vanderbilt II, Newport, Rhode Island The Breakers Newport.jpg
The Breakers, built in 1892–1895 for Cornelius Vanderbilt II, Newport, Rhode Island
Frederick William Vanderbilt's home, now known as the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site, Hyde Park, New York. Vanderbilt Mansion - IMG 7939.JPG
Frederick William Vanderbilt's home, now known as the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site, Hyde Park, New York.

The progenitor of the Vanderbilt family was Jan Aertszoon or Aertson (1620–1705), 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 to the Van Kouwenhoven family in 1650. [3] [4] The name of Jan's village, in the genitive case, was added to the Dutch "van" ("from") to create "Van der Bilt", which evolved into "Vanderbilt" when the English took control of New Amsterdam (now Manhattan). The family is associated with the Dutch patrician Van der Bilt. [5]

His great-great-great-grandson, Cornelius Vanderbilt, began the rise of the Vanderbilt dynasty. He was the fourth of nine children born into a Staten Island family of modest means. Through his paternal great-great grandmother, Abigail Southard, he descends from Republic of Salé President Jan Janszoon and his son Anthony Janszoon van Salee. They were among the earliest arrivals to 17th-century New Amsterdam. In a number of documents dating back to that period, Anthony is described as tawny or mulatto, [6] as his mother was of Berber origin from Cartagena in the Kingdom of Murcia. [7] [8] Cornelius Vanderbilt left school at age 11 and went on to build a shipping and railroad empire that, during the 19th century, would make him one of the wealthiest men in the world. Starting with a single boat, he grew his fleet until he was competing with Robert Fulton for dominance of the New York waterways, his energy and eagerness earning him the nickname "Commodore", a United States Navy title for a captain of a small task force. Fulton's company had established a monopoly on trade in and out of New York Harbor. Vanderbilt, based in New Jersey at the time, flouted the law, steaming in and out of the harbor under a flag that read, "New Jersey Must Be Free!" He also hired the attorney Daniel Webster to argue his case before the United States Supreme Court; Vanderbilt won, thereby establishing an early precedent for America's first laws of interstate commerce.

The Vanderbilt family lived on Staten Island until the mid-1800s, when the Commodore built a house on Washington Place (in what is now Greenwich Village). Although he always occupied a relatively 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.

The Commodore left the majority of his enormous fortune to his eldest son, William Henry Vanderbilt. William Henry, who outlived his father by just eight years, increased the profitability of his father's holdings, increased the reach of the New York Central Railroad, and doubled the Vanderbilt wealth. He built the first of what would become many grand Vanderbilt mansions on Fifth Avenue, at 640 Fifth Avenue. William Henry appointed his first son, Cornelius Vanderbilt II, as the next "Head of House".

Cornelius II built the largest private home in New York, at 1 West 58th Street, containing approximately 154 rooms, designed by George B. Post. He also built The Breakers in Newport, Rhode Island.

Cornelius II's brother, William Kissam Vanderbilt, also featured prominently in the family's affairs. He also built a home on Fifth Avenue and would become one of the great architectural patrons of the Gilded Age, hiring the architects for (the third, and surviving) Grand Central Terminal. He also built Marble House at 596 Bellevue Avenue in Newport, Rhode Island.

George Washington Vanderbilt II, the 3rd and youngest son of William Henry Vanderbilt and youngest brother of Cornelius II, hired architect Richard Morris Hunt and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted to construct Biltmore Estate on 125,000 acres near Asheville, North Carolina. The 250 room mansion and 175,856 square feet of floor space remains on top of the list of largest houses in the United States to date.

While some of Cornelius Vanderbilt's descendants gained fame in business, others achieved prominence in other ways, e.g.:

In 1855, Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt donated 45 acres (~182,000 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 four acres (16,000 m2). The Vanderbilt Mausoleum was designed in 1885 by architect Richard Morris Hunt and landscaped by Frederick Law Olmsted.

Vanderbilt family tree

Members (by year of birth)

The following list includes Amy Vanderbilt (1908–1974), as it is believed she descended from either an uncle or brother of Cornelius Vanderbilt and is therefore not a descendant of Cornelius Vanderbilt.

  1. Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794–1877)
  2. William Henry Vanderbilt (1821–1885)
  3. Cornelius Jeremiah Vanderbilt (1830–1882)
  4. Cornelius Vanderbilt II (1843–1899)
  5. Margaret Louisa Vanderbilt (1845–1924)
  6. William Kissam Vanderbilt (1849–1920)
  7. Emily Thorn Vanderbilt (1850–1946)
  8. William Knapp Thorn (1851–1911)
  9. Florence Adele Vanderbilt (1854–1952)
  10. Frederick William Vanderbilt (1856–1938)
  11. Eliza "Lila" Osgood Vanderbilt (1860–1936)
  12. George Washington Vanderbilt II (1862–1914)
  13. Cornelius Vanderbilt III (1873–1942)
  14. Alice Louise Vanderbilt Shepard (1874–1950)
  15. Gertrude Vanderbilt (1875–1942)
  16. Elliott Fitch Shepard Jr. (1876–1927)
  17. Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt (1877–1915)
  18. Consuelo Vanderbilt (1877–1964)
  19. William Kissam Vanderbilt II (1878–1944)
  20. Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt (1880–1925)
  21. James Watson Webb II (1884–1960)
  22. Harold Stirling Vanderbilt (1884–1970)
  23. Gladys Moore Vanderbilt (1886–1965)
  24. Flora Payne Whitney (1897–1986)
  25. John Spencer-Churchill, 10th Duke of Marlborough (1897–1972)
  26. Cornelius Vanderbilt IV (1898–1974)
  27. Lord Ivor Spencer-Churchill (1898–1956)
  28. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney (1899–1992)
  29. Muriel Vanderbilt (1900–1972)
  30. Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt (1900–1976)
  31. Governor William Henry Vanderbilt III (1901–1981)
  32. Mary Cathleen Vanderbilt (1904–1944)
  33. Frederick Vanderbilt Field (1905–2000)
  34. Amy Vanderbilt (1908–1974)
  35. John Henry Hammond Jr. (1910–1987)
  36. Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt Jr. (1912–1999)
  37. George Washington Vanderbilt III (1914–1961)
  38. James Watson Webb III (1916–2000)
  39. Whitney Tower (1923–1999)
  40. Gloria Laura Vanderbilt (1924–2019)
  41. George Henry Vanderbilt Cecil (1925–2020)
  42. John Spencer-Churchill, 11th Duke of Marlborough (1926–2014)
  43. William Amherst Vanderbilt Cecil (1928–2017)
  44. Lady Rosemary Spencer-Churchill (born 1929)
  45. Christopher Denys Stormont Finch-Hatton, 16th Earl of Winchilsea (1936–1999)
  46. John Wilmerding (born 1938)
  47. John Paul Hammond (born 1942)
  48. Kenneth Peter Lyle Mackay, 4th Earl of Inchcape (born 1943)
  49. Jonathan Edward Pease (born 1952)
  50. John LeBoutillier (born 1953)
  51. Charles James Spencer-Churchill, 12th Duke of Marlborough (born 1955)
  52. Lady Henrietta Mary Spencer-Churchill (born 1958)
  53. William Douglas Burden III (born 1965)
  54. Anderson Hays Cooper (born 1967)
  55. Daniel Finch-Hatton, 17th Earl of Winchilsea (born 1967)
  56. Timothy David Olyphant (born 1968)
  57. James Platten Vanderbilt (born 1975)
  58. George John Godolphin Spencer-Churchill, Marquess of Blandford (born 1992)
  59. Tobias Finch-Hatton, Viscount Maidstone (born 1998)

See also

Related Research Articles

William Henry Vanderbilt American businessman and philanthropist

William Henry "Billy" Vanderbilt was an American businessman and philanthropist. He was the eldest son of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, an heir to his fortune and a prominent member of the Vanderbilt family. Vanderbilt became the richest American after he took over his father's fortune in 1877 until his own death in 1885, passing on a substantial part of the fortune to his wife and children, particularly to his sons Cornelius II and William. He inherited nearly $100 million from his father. The fortune had doubled when he died less than nine years later.

Cornelius Vanderbilt II American businessman

Cornelius Vanderbilt II was an American socialite, businessman, and a member of the prominent United States Vanderbilt family. He was the favorite grandson of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, who bequeathed him $5 million, and the eldest son of William Henry "Billy" Vanderbilt and Maria Louisa Kissam. In his turn he succeeded them as the chairman and the president of the New York Central and related railroad lines in 1885.

William Kissam Vanderbilt

William Kissam Vanderbilt I was an American heir, businessman, philanthropist and horsebreeder. Born into the Vanderbilt family, he managed his family's railroad investments.

Vanderbilt houses

From the late 1870s to the 1920s, the Vanderbilt family employed some of the United States's best Beaux-Arts architects and decorators to build an unequalled string of New York townhouses and East Coast palaces in the United States. Many of the Vanderbilt houses are now National Historic Landmarks. Some photographs of Vanderbilt's residences in New York are included in the Photographic series of American Architecture by Albert Levy (1870s).

Frederick William Vanderbilt 19th and 20th-century American businessman

Frederick William Vanderbilt was a member of the American Vanderbilt family. He was a director of the New York Central Railroad for 61 years, and also a director of the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad and of the Chicago and North Western Railroad.

Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt

Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt Sr. was a wealthy American businessman, and a member of the Vanderbilt family.

Gladys Vanderbilt Széchenyi

Gladys Moore Vanderbilt, Countess Széchenyi, was an American heiress from the Vanderbilt family and wife of Hungarian Count László Széchenyi.

Christopher Guy Heneage Finch-Hatton was the 15th Earl of Winchilsea and 10th Earl of Nottingham. He acceded to the titles in 1939 on the death of his father, Guy Finch-Hatton, 14th Earl of Winchilsea. His mother was Margaretta Armstrong Drexel, the daughter of banker Anthony Joseph Drexel of Philadelphia.

Guy Montagu George Finch-Hatton, 14th Earl of Winchilsea and 9th Earl of Nottingham OBE DSC was an English peer and banker. Finch-Hatton was brother to renowned big-game hunter Denys Finch Hatton and his daughter married Whitney Straight, of the American Whitney family.

Emily Thorn Vanderbilt

Emily Thorn Vanderbilt was an American philanthropist and a member of the prominent Vanderbilt family. She financed the creation of New York's Sloane Hospital for Women in 1888 with an endowment of more than $1,000,000.

Vanderbilt is a surname, and may refer to:

Alice Claypoole Vanderbilt

Alice Claypoole Vanderbilt was the wife of Cornelius Vanderbilt II and reigned as the matriarch of the Vanderbilt family for over 60 years.

Grace Vanderbilt

Grace Graham Wilson Vanderbilt was an American socialite. She was the wife of Cornelius Vanderbilt III. She was one of the last Vanderbilts to live the luxurious life of the "head of society" that her predecessors such as Alice and Alva Vanderbilt enjoyed.

Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt

Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt was a member of the Vanderbilt family. He was the father of Gloria Vanderbilt and maternal grandfather of Anderson Cooper. An avid equestrian, Vanderbilt was the founder and president of many equestrian organizations. He gambled away most of his inheritance.

James Watson Webb II was an American polo champion and insurance executive. He was a grandson of William Henry Vanderbilt and James Watson Webb.

Eliza Osgood Vanderbilt Webb

Eliza Osgood Vanderbilt Webb was an American heiress.

Florence Adele Vanderbilt Twombly

Florence Adele Vanderbilt Twombly was an American heiress and a member of the prominent Vanderbilt family. She and her husband built Florham, a gilded age estate in Madison, New Jersey.

Margaret Louisa Vanderbilt Shepard

Margaret Louisa Vanderbilt Shepard was an American heiress and a member of the prominent Vanderbilt family. As a philanthropist, she funded the YMCA, helping create a hotel for guests of the organization. She was married to prominent New York City lawyer, banker, and newspaper editor Elliott Fitch Shepard.

Hamilton McKown Twombly

Hamilton McKown Twombly was an American businessman.

Cathleen Vanderbilt American heiress

Mary Cathleen Vanderbilt Cushing Lowman Arostegui was an American heiress and member of the Vanderbilt family.


  1. "Review of Fortune's Children: The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt". The New York Times. September 24, 1989.
  2. Vanderbilt, Arthur T., II (1989). Fortune's Children: The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt . New York: Morrow. ISBN   0-688-07279-8.
  3. Dorothy Kelly MacDowell. Commodore Vanderbilt and his family: a biographical account of the Descendants of Cornelius and Sophia Johnson Vanderbilt. 1989. University of Wisconsin
  4. "American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America", Colin Woodard. Penguin, Sep 29, 2011. Retrieved 13 May 2017
  5. List of Dutch patrician families in the Nederland's Patriciaat 1910–2007/2008 (PDF).
  6. "Origins of the Black Atlantic", Laurent Dubois, Julius S. Scott. Routledge, Jan 11, 2013. p. 150
  7. "The Van Salee Family". Frontline. PBS. Retrieved March 29, 2014.
  8. "Jan Jansen van Haarlem and Anthony Jansen van Salee", Brian A. Smith. Washington D.C. 2013