|The Robber Barons
The leaders of this Second Industrial Revolution were men such as Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Carnegie, and J P Morgan. Many of these industrial and financial leaders chose to build very grand summer homes close to each other. The place where they did this was Newport, Rhode Island. The largest and most opulent of these homes was completed by Cornelius Vanderbilt II in 1895. It is called The Breakers. In his book on Newport Mansions, Thomas Gannon writes that “if the Gilded Age were to be summed up by a single house, that house would have to be The Breakers”.
|Cornelius Vanderbilt II
We approached the house through iron entrance gates with high stone pillars on either side. On entering the house, we found ourselves in the 50-foot high Great Hall from which the rest of the house may be accessed.
|George Washington Vanderbilt
|Biltmore in Asheville NC
|Vanderbilt mansion in New York
|Lakeshore Limited Amtrak train
Where did all the money come from to create this opulence? It was inherited from William’s father, Cornelius Vanderbilt I (1794-1877), a self made shipping and railroad tycoon who started from very humble beginnings. However, later in life, he was able to found Vanderbilt University with what was at the time America’s largest ever charitable donation. Cornelius I thought that William was a complete idiot and frequently expressed this view to William and to everyone else. William took all this abuse in his stride and did not argue with his father. This is probably why he inherited nearly all of his father’s $100 million dollar fortune, when his father died in 1877. This is equivalent to many billions in the dollars of today. Yet, by the time of William’s own death only nine years after that of his father, he had doubled his father’s fortune by expanding the Vanderbilt railroad interests. He was obviously anything but an idiot and was able to provide his own sons with the resources to create these wonderful homes.
This piece, written by Bob, was originally posted on our website on January 1, 2012.