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Vanderbilt family facts for kids

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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 spellings Van der Bilt, van Derbilt
Etymology Van 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".

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.


Vanderbilt Mansion - IMG 7939
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. 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.

His great-great-great-grandson Cornelius Vanderbilt began the prominence of the family, the fourth of nine children born to 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 this period, Anthony is described as tawny or mulatto, as his mother was of Berber origin from Cartagena in the Kingdom of Murcia. 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.:

  • Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt (1877–1915), was a passenger on the RMS Lusitania and died when it sank.
  • Alfred's eldest son, from his first marriage, William Henry Vanderbilt III was Governor of Rhode Island.
  • Alfred's second son Alfred Jr. became a noted horse breeder and racing elder.
  • Harold Stirling Vanderbilt (1884–1970) gained fame as a sportsman. He invented the contract form of bridge and won the most coveted prize in yacht racing, the America's Cup, on three occasions.
  • Harold's brother William Kissam "Willie K" Vanderbilt II launched the Vanderbilt Cup for auto racing.
  • Gloria Vanderbilt (1924–2019) was a noted artist, designer, actress and author.
  • Gloria's son, Anderson Cooper, is a Peabody Award and Emmy Award-winning journalist, author, and television producer and personality.
  • Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney was a sculptor, art patron and collector, and founder of the Whitney Museum of American Art

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

  • Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794–1877)
    • William Henry Vanderbilt (1821–1885)
      • Cornelius Vanderbilt II (1843–1899)
        • Alice Gwynne Vanderbilt (1869–1874)
        • William Henry Vanderbilt II (1870–1892)
        • Cornelius Vanderbilt III (1873–1942)
          • Cornelius Vanderbilt IV (1898–1974)
        • Gertrude Vanderbilt (1875–1942)
          • Flora Payne Whitney (1897–1986)
          • Barbara Whitney (1903–1983)
        • Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt (1877–1915)
          • Governor William Henry Vanderbilt III (1901–1981)
          • Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt Jr. (1912–1999)
            • Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt III (b. 1943)
              • James Platten Vanderbilt (born 1975)
          • George Washington Vanderbilt III (1914–1961)
        • Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt (1880–1925)
          • Cathleen Vanderbilt (1904–1944)
          • Gloria Laura Vanderbilt (1924–2019)
            • Leopold Stanislaus "Stan" Stokowski (born 1950)
            • Christopher Stokowski (born 1952)
            • Carter Vanderbilt Cooper (1965–1988)
            • Anderson Hays Cooper (born 1967)
              • Wyatt Morgan Cooper (b. 2020)
        • Gladys Moore Vanderbilt (1886–1965)
          • Countess Cornelia "Gilia" Széchényi (1908–1958)
          • Countess Alice "Ai" Széchényi (1911–1974)
          • Countess Gladys Széchényi (1913–1978)
            • Christopher Denys Stormont Finch-Hatton, 16th Earl of Winchilsea (1936–1999)
              • Daniel Finch-Hatton, 17th Earl of Winchilsea (born 1967)
                • Tobias Finch-Hatton, Viscount Maidstone (born 1998)
          • Countess Sylvia Anita Gabriel Denise Irene Marie "Sylvie" Széchényi (1918–1998)
          • Countess Ferdinandine "Bubby" Széchényi (born 1923)
      • Margaret Louisa Vanderbilt (1845–1924)
        • Florence Shepard (1869–1869)
        • Maria Louise Shepard (1870–1948)
        • Edith Shepard (1872–1954)
        • Margaret Shepard (1873–1895)
        • Alice Louise Vanderbilt Shepard (1874–1950)
          • Dave Hennen Morris Jr. (1900–1975)
          • Louise Morris (1901–1976)
          • Lawrence Morris (1903–1967)
          • Noel Morris (1904–1928)
          • Emily Hammond Morris (1907–1995)
          • Alice Vanderbilt Morris (1911–1986)
        • Elliott Fitch Shepard Jr. (1876–1927)
      • William Kissam Vanderbilt (1849–1920)
        • Consuelo Vanderbilt (1877–1964)
          • John Spencer-Churchill, 10th Duke of Marlborough (1897–1972)
            • John Spencer-Churchill, 11th Duke of Marlborough (1926–2014)
              • Charles James Spencer-Churchill, 12th Duke of Marlborough (born 1955)
                • George John Godolphin Spencer-Churchill, Marquess of Blandford (born 1992)
              • Lady Henrietta Mary Spencer-Churchill (born 1958)
            • Lady Rosemary Spencer-Churchill (born 1929)
          • Lord Ivor Spencer-Churchill (1898–1956)
        • William Kissam Vanderbilt II (1878–1944)
          • Muriel Vanderbilt (1900–1972)
        • Harold Stirling Vanderbilt (1884–1970)
      • Emily Thorn Vanderbilt (1850–1946)
        • Florence Adele Sloane (1873–1960)
          • William Douglas Burden (1899–1978)
            • Katharine Sage Burden (born 1927)
              • Katharine Sage Sohier (born 1954)
            • Andrew White Burden (b. 1935)
              • William Douglas Burden III (born 1965)
        • Emily Vanderbilt Sloane (1874–1970)
          • Adele Sloane Hammond (1902–1998)
          • John Henry Hammond Jr. (1910–1987)
            • John Paul Hammond (born 1942)
        • Lila Vanderbilt Sloane (1878–1934)
      • Florence Adele Vanderbilt (1854–1952)
        • Alice Twombly (1879–1896)
        • Florence Vanderbilt Twombly (1881–1969)
          • Alice Twombly Burden (1905–1905)
          • William Armistead Moale Burden (1906–1984)
          • Shirley Carter Burden (1908–1989)
        • Ruth Twombly (1884–1954)
        • Hamilton McKown Twombly Jr. (1887–1906)
      • Frederick William Vanderbilt (1856–1938)
      • Eliza "Lila" Osgood Vanderbilt (1860–1936)
        • Vanderbilt Webb (1891–1956)
        • James Watson Webb II (1884–1960)
          • Lila Vanderbilt Webb (1913–1961)
            • John Currie Wilmerding Jr. (born 1938)
          • James Watson Webb III (1916–2000)
        • William Seward Webb Jr. (1887–1956)
        • Vanderbilt Webb (1891–1956)
      • George Washington Vanderbilt II (1862–1914)
        • Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt (1900–1976)
          • George Henry Vanderbilt Cecil (1925–2020)
          • William Amherst Vanderbilt Cecil (1928–2017)
    • Emily Almira Vanderbilt (1823–1896)
      • William Knapp Thorn (1851–1911)
      • Caroline Roberts Thorn (1858–1949)
        • Jeannette Thorn Kissel (1889–1957)
          • Aline Thorn Pease (born 1919)
          • Richard Thorn Pease, 3rd Baronet (1922-2021)
            • Richard Peter Pease (born 1958)
            • Nichola Pease (born 1961)
          • Derrick Alix Pease (1927–1998)
            • Jonathan Edward Pease (born 1952)
    • Cornelius Jeremiah Vanderbilt (1830–1882)

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

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