Born at Port Richmond, Staten Island, New York. He dropped out of school at age 11. Married a cousin, Sophia Johnson, December 19, 1813. She died in 1868 after bearing thirteen children. Married Frank Armstrong Crawford August 21, 1869.
He began a passenger and freight business at age 16. He prospered in the shipping business during the War of 1812. From 1818 to 1824 he fought the monopoly on New York shipping held by Robert Fulton. During the gold rush of the early 1850's, he managed a steamship line carrying passengers to California by way of Nicaragua.
In 1862 he was asked to assist in the war effort. He offered the service of his steamship Vanderbilt against the Confederate Merrimac. What may have been offered as a loan was accepted as a gift.
After the Civil War he bought up and improved railroads in New York. He merged several railroads into the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad. He built Grand Central Terminal in New York City employing thousands during the economic panic of 1873.
Late in life he donated $1 million to Central University at Nashville, Tennessee. The school was renamed Vanderbilt University. At the time of his death he left a fortune estimated at more than $100 million. He died in New York City.
Congress honored Vanderbilt with a gold medal by resolution March 17, 1862. The design was by Emanuel Leutze and Salathiel Ellis. The original medal was struck in New York. The dies were transferred to the mint in 1874 and restrikes (Julian PE-36) were produced in 1875. Modern copies (USM 523) have also been sold.
bio: ApCAB; DAB; Drake; EAB; Failor; Loubat; NCAB 6; TCBDA; WAB; WWWA-HSource credit: Pete Smith, American Numismatic Biographies