Cornelius Vanderbilt

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Cornelius Vanderbilt (27 May 17944 January 1877) was an American business magnate and philanthropist who built his wealth in railroads and shipping. Born poor and with but a mediocre education, his luck, perseverance and intelligence led into leadership positions in the inland water trade, and the rapidly growing railroad industry. He is best known for building the New York Central Railroad. As one of the richest Americans in history, he was the patriarch of the Vanderbilt family and provided the initial gift to found Vanderbilt University.


  • Let them do what I have done.
    • Often attributed, but without a contemporary source, as a remark on being asked to contribute to charity for the poor. See for example Commodore (2009) by Edward J. Renehan


  • Gentlemen,
    You have undertaken to cheat me. I won't sue you, for law is too slow. I'll ruin you.
    Yours truly,
    Cornelius Vanderbilt
    • Said to be the entirety of a letter to Charles Morgan and C. K. Garrison, quoted in an obituary, "Commodore Vanderbilt's Life" (5 January 1877) New York Times. Stiles, in The First Tycoon (2009) doubts this. He notes that there is no earlier source, that Vanderbilt was no stranger to the courts, and that he never otherwise closed letters with "yours truly."


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