William Henry Vanderbilt Biography

William Henry Vanderbilt

railroad developer, financier
Born: 5/8/1821
Birthplace: New Brunswick, N.J.

Being the son of Cornelius Vanderbelt did little to secure William a job in the family empire. His father regarded him as incompetent, and changed his opinion only when William had turned around the Staten Island Railroad (1857–63), which had been bankrupt. Based on this success, Cornelius made William vice-president of the New York & Harlem Railroad (1864). Having proven himself capable, William won his father's respect and, upon Cornelius's death (1877), he took over as president of the New York Central. William expanded the railroad empire further through acquisitions; he secured his position with favorable treatment to commercial customers, and covered his tracks with bribes to officials investigating the preferential treatment. He retired as president of the railroad in 1883, devoting himself to philanthropic causes and horses. He had doubled the considerable family fortune by the time of his death.

Died: 12/8/1885