William Henry Vanderbilt

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Template:Infobox Biography William Henry Vanderbilt (May 8 1821December 8 1885) was a businessman and a member of the prominent United States Vanderbilt family.

William Henry Vanderbilt was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He inherited nearly $100 million from his father Cornelius Vanderbilt and had increased it to about $200 million at his death less than nine years later. At the time, he was the richest man America had ever seen, and by some measures is perhaps still the richest man in American history. In 1841 he married Maria Louisa (Louise) Kissam (18211896), the daughter of a Presbyterian minister.

His father carefully oversaw his business training, at age 18 starting him out as a clerk in a New York banking house. After joining the executive of the Staten Island railway, he was made its president in 1862 then three years later he was appointed vice-president of the Hudson River railway. In 1869, he was made vice-president of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad Company, becoming its president in 1877. As well, he took over from his father as president of New York Central Railroad, the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad, the Canada Southern Railway Co., and the Michigan Central Railroad Company.

He had worked with his father and following his death, actively expanded the family's railroad empire. In 1883, his elder sons assumed key positions. It was in his time that the Vanderbilt women demanded recognition from the older but less moneyed leaders of New York City society, centered on the Astor family, whom the Vanderbilts had by then far outstripped in wealth.

William Henry Vanderbilt was involved in a number of philanthropic causes including the YMCA, funding to help establish the Metropolitan Opera and an endowment for the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University. In 1880, he provided the money for Vanderbilt University to construct the Wesley Hall building for use as the Biblical Department and library and included 160 dormitory rooms for students and professors, lecture halls, as well as a cafeteria. The building was destroyed by fire in 1932 and his son Frederick made another donation to help cover the insurance shortfall and allow a new building to be erected.

An art enthusiast, William Henry Vanderbilt's collection included some of the most valuable works of the Old Masters and over his lifetime, Vanderbilt acquired more than 200 paintings.

Among his holdings were:

In 1883, he resigned all his company presidencies and had his sons appointed as chairmen but left the day-to-day running of the businesses to experienced men appointed president.

William Henry Vanderbilt is perhaps most remembered for snapping "the public be damned" at an interviewer..in context, an irritated reaction to the other's suggestion that the New York Central Railroad system, which Vanderbilt controlled, ought to be operated as if it were a public trust.

He was an active philanthropist as well as builder of opulent Fifth Avenue mansions.

On his passing, he was interred in the Vanderbilt family mausoleum at the Moravian Cemetery in New Dorp on Staten Island, New York.

William Henry Vanderbilt's estate was divided among his eight children, the bulk of which went to his four sons.

Children of William Henry Vanderbilt and Maria Louisa (Louise) Kissam:

  1. Cornelius Vanderbilt II (1843-1899)
  2. Margaret Louisa Vanderbilt-Shepherd (1845-1924)
  3. William Kissam Vanderbilt (1849-1920)
  4. Emily Thorn Vanderbilt-Sloane (1852-1956)
  5. Florence Adele Vanderbilt -Twombly (1854-1952)
  6. Frederick William Vanderbilt (1856-1938)
  7. Eliza Osgood Vanderbilt-Webb (1860-1936)
  8. George Washington Vanderbilt II (1862-1914)

His last home is on the left in the image linked at the St. Thomas Episcopal Church, New York article.


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