Cornelius"The Commodore"Vanderbilt

By: Jinah Choe

Life Influences


  • (pg 7), grew up in a humble house
  • "wooden furniture hand cut from hand hewn lumber" and "clothes hand sewn from hand spun wool"
  • parents were Phebe Hand Vanderbilt and Cornelius Vanderbilt

lived in Port Richmond, (Staten Island) "most ancient kind of community" whose air was "pungent with the smell of animal manure", farm life= responsibility and hard work (pg 19)

  • was the 4th child, May 27, 1794, named Cornele, short for Cornelius
  • went to school for 3 months, "agonizing process of memorization..." quit at age 11, due to death of older brother Jacob
  • took place of older brother's position as assistant to father, worked alongside father and learned about boats, ferrying cargo and passengers
  • parents gave him mixture of traits of "ambition, inventiveness, practicality, and toughness"
  • father instilled "straightforward and blunt demeanor," came off as cold

Life Influences

Influential People:

  • His mother and father
  • at 16 years old, he persuaded his parents to lend him a loan of $100 to start his own ferry business
  • offered lowest rates and won out other ferry companies
  • his father taught him about freight and ferry business when he employed him as an assistant, father his older brother Jacob died
  • mother shows him a life of hard work and endurance, and took after her

Life Influences


  • defining moment was a race
  • rode a horse against neighbor's slave child
  • 6 years old, "beginning of his self image was of competition- and victory" (pg 19)
  • natural taste of competition within the household full of children
  • wanted to be the best, raised on competition
  • also got tired for working for his father, wanted to succeed and work on his own

defining quote

"If you don’t have competition, you don’t have competitors to skin. "

This is because Cornelius Vanderbilt lives on competition. He needs competition in order to make his business boom. He also believes in buying out every other competitor, in order to stay at the top.

Compare and Contrast

  • In todays time, Cornelius Vanderbilt might have gotten the same response as he did back then. Back then, most of the public respected his efforts and his accomplishments, most held high regard. Cornelius Vanderbilt was a blunt, and straightforward man, who came off cold, whose personality was shaped by his father. He believed that business should be strictly business and should not related in other aspects like religion, etc. He was a modest and private man who never believed in making flashy donation in order to gain favor from the public. He probably would have been questioned and angered many people, by his lack of donation, while his net worth in todays currency was $150 billion ($100 million back then), carrying 1/9th of the American currency back then. Vanderbilt was a proud, accomplished, and natural gifted in the art of competition and sales, and he still would have been today. Still helping out the federal government, by accepting their requests and offers.
  • If I had his talent in demanding his own prices, and being able to cut prices way down below other companies, and beating out all competition, I would use the money to help the poor. I would offer jobs on steamships and railroads for the poor, to lift them out of poverty. And since he had a ton of money to go around for the entire world, I would donate much of the profits to poverty filled neighborhoods and charities. I wouldn't have denied helping out to build hospitals for injured soldiers, and would help in any way possible to facilitate the war. I would be a philanthropist, and have a different point of view of donations, than Vanderbilt did. I would improve living conditions in many parts of the world, and succeed to keep people out of poverty.

Original Political Cartoon

Big image

Original Political Cartoon

This represents Vanderbilt's domination over the other companies. The two main train/railroad and steamship above, on top of land, labeled Vanderbilt, represents Vanderbilt's company, along with his success. The two steamships sinking represents other steamship and ferry companies drowning in the success of Vanderbilt, dying away and never having a change. This also applies to the trains crushed under the railroad of Vanderbilt, the railroad companies cannot compare or even come close to Vanderbilt's cunning tactics and prices. As Stiles said in his book, "He was a shopkeeper of the sea.." and he lives up to his proud nickname, "The Commodore."

American Experience

Cornelius Vanderbilt forever changed America. He impacted the economy and transportation. He bought out all of his other businesses for railroad companies and steamboat companies. Competition was his middle name and second nature, and he dominated these industries, that's why he was called "the Commodore." Beating out other competition was easy for him, he offered the lowest wages and used ruthless tactics to get his way. He made transportation more reliable and affordable for all Americans. Although his business ways weren't always the best for the economy, like manipulating the stock market, by flooding it with stocks, causing Black Friday, he did in fact change and shape the economy for the better. He also made an impact on the Civil War, by responding to Abraham Lincoln's request for a steamship, to help the Union succeed against the Confederates, which it did. His philanthropic donation of $1 million to the creation of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, saved both the north and south. In the end, he helped mend the north and south after the end of the war.

Additional Requirements


Its difficult to say he was an actually philanthropist, and most people around his time thought so as well. Mark Twain insults Vanderbilt by saying "You observe that I haven't said anything about your soul, Vanderbilt. It is because I have evidence that you don't have any." But Vanderbilt was a very quiet man, who didn't approve of making flashy donations of trying to gain the public's favor. He denied getting involved with donating to legislative bodies (hospitals for injured troops) and churches, since he was a businessman, and stuck to that way of life.

His causes

  • the Vanderbilt, his biggest steamship, to the Union Navy
  • establishment of Vanderbilt University

Motivation for his cause

For the donation of his ship, it was because Abraham Lincoln called and asked for his help.

For the donation of Vanderbilt University, was after the sudden death after his first wife, Sophia. He became interested in mending the North and South after the Civil War. He married Frank Crawford, who was a confederate, charmed by her southernness. McTyeiere, (in New York for hospital treatments), a husband of Frank Crawford's cousins, became acquaintances with Cornelius through frequent visits to the mansion, because of his new relationship with Mrs. Vanderbilt. McTyeiere was a bishop of Southern Methodist church, and explained to Cornelius that their communion authorized the creation of a new university. Seeing this opportunity to help out the South, Cornelius donated $1 million to the cause. He also donated because he believed that the $1 million donation would balance out. Since he donated the $1 million worth steamship to the Union, he believed that this donation to the South would balance.


Used by Union to help take over the boat called "the Virginia." Also helped hunt down for Confederate's "the Alabama."

Enabled Vanderbilt University to open "as an exceptionally privileged institutions, rich beyond any comparable university save the very oldest private colleges in the Northeast."


  • donated money
  • fitted/built his ship for the Union Army


  • donated his best ship, $1 million to build
  • gave up $1 million to university


  • invest in dart train or more modern ships
  • possibly invest in airplanes, and get rich off of offering the cheapest and more reliable airlines/ flights
  • donate to improve poverty stricken places and people
  • donate to make more business universities
  • offer more business related classes, to support young entrepreneurs