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Cornelius Vanderbilt

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Cornelius Vanderbilt (May 27, 1794 – January 4, 1877) was an American business magnate who built his wealth in railroads and shipping. After working with his father’s business, Vanderbilt worked his way into leadership positions in the inland water trade and invested in the rapidly growing railroad industry. Nicknamed “The Commodore”, he is known for owning the New York Central Railroad. His biographer T. J. Stiles says, “He vastly improved and expanded the nation’s transportation infrastructure, contributing to a transformation of the very geography of the United States. He embraced new technologies and new forms of business organization, and used them to compete….He helped to create the corporate economy that would define the United States into the 21st century.”
As one of the richest Americans in history and wealthiest figures overall, Vanderbilt was the patriarch of the wealthy and influential Vanderbilt family. He provided the initial gift to found Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. According to historian H. Roger Grant: “Contemporaries, too, often hated or feared Vanderbilt or at least considered him an unmannered brute. While Vanderbilt could be a rascal, combative and cunning, he was much more a builder than a wrecker […] being honorable, shrewd, and hard-working.”