It was Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt who first created the extraordinary wealth of his family. Born into poverty in 1794, he died the richest man in the United States in 1877, with railroads and shipping the main sources of his wealth. His son William carried on making money and he too was the richest man in the country when he died in 1885. But after that, things went off the rails. Read on to find out how one of America’s most fabulous fortunes evaporated over the years.
10. The Breakers
It must have seemed to the various Vanderbilts that the money tree would never cease to produce its rich fruit. We can speculate that this very thought was in the mind of Cornelius II when he built his enormous Italian Renaissance-style pile in Newport, Rhode Island. He was one of the third generation of wealthy Vanderbilts – inheriting $70 million from his father, William Henry “Billy”. Boasting 70 rooms and spectacular ocean views, The Breakers was completed in 1895.
And this palatial joint wasn’t even the main residence of Cornelius and his family. It was merely a summer home. Building The Breakers cost around 150 million in today’s dollars. This wasn’t enough to break the bank for the Vanderbilts back then, but it can be seen as a first extravagant step in their ultimate downfall. Cornelius only had four summers to enjoy his holiday home – he died in 1899.