Beautiful New York

A Celebration of the City

The Top 100 Greatest New Yorkers — #15

Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794 – 1877)

Courtesy of Vanderbilt University Special Collections and University Archives.

Without Cornelius Vanderbilt, there would be no Grand Central Terminal, no Park Avenue, and no Staten Island Ferry. Poor and uneducated, the 16-year old Staten Island native borrowed $100 from his mother to start the first regularly scheduled ferry service to Manhattan. His detractors nicknamed him “the Commodore” and the name stuck. He had begun what would become the most powerful shipping empire in the world. Not content with boats alone, Vanderbilt later took over several railroads and established others. The New York Central and Hudson River Railroad became one of the first giant corporations in the U.S. After his death, his sons and grandsons continued the railroad empire, eventually electrifying the trains and placing them underground. Above them was paved Park Avenue, the first city street designed specifically for motor vehicles. The trains all went to Grand Central Terminal, voted by the AIA the most beautiful interior in New York that can be seen without paying admission. The Commodore’s statue stands majestically in front of the terminal, reminding us all of how it began.

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2 Comments

  1. My favorite branch of the Vanderbilt family tree is Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney- oh that museum! One can assume that Donald Trump’s least favorite Vanderbilt scion is Anderson Cooper

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