Vanderbilt: I'm a Hustla

Cornelius Vanderbilt 1794-1877

Cornelius Vanderbilt 1794-1877

On my first day of work in The Helmsley Building at 230 Park Avenue 9 years ago, I was told I was sitting where Cornelius Vanderbilt‘s old offices used to be.  I don’t know if this is true, but here are a few things about Vanderbilt that are:

From the NYT Book Review of “The First Tycoon”:

He dropped out of school at age 11.

He was one of the first Americans to lean how to build and operate steam ships.

Midway through the Civil War, he loaned his largest and fastest ship to the Union Navy to chase down Confederate raiders.

In the fall of 1869, Vanderbilt arrested a Wall Street panic by pumping millions of dollars into companies on the verge of failing (during a panic that he helped cause in order to screw with a rival railroad tycoon).

He constructed Grand Central Terminal with his own millions.

Vanderbilt was the richest man in 19th-century America; at his death in 1877, he possessed, at least on paper, one-ninth of all the American currency in circulation.

Cornelius was a natural-born hustler.  The Commodore was taking over the New York shipping business in his teens:

By his 20th birthday, Vanderbilt had made enough cash to compete for trade up and down the coast. While a tiny number of men his age were leisurely studying the classics in Cambridge and Princeton, Vanderbilt became a prosperous “shopkeeper of the sea.”

I am always fascinated by the stories of self-made men, those who did not come from wealthy or connected backgrounds but who are driven to success by something inside of them that, in many cases, cannot be explained.

Full Review: The First Tycoon by TJ Stiles (NYT)

Buy it here: The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt

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