Around this same time Vanderbilt's legacy in the railroad
industry began in 1863, near the age of 70, when he took control of the
New York & Harlem Railroad in 1863, much to the chagrin of Daniel
Drew. By the time Vanderbilt took over the railroad it operated between New York City
and Chatham Four Corners (what is now Chatham). Overall the NY&H
was a rather rundown operation although it did provide service directly
to downtown Manhattan, a point not lost on the Commodore. A year
later he took control of the Hudson River Railroad in 1864, which
operated parallel to the NY&H between Albany and New York City.
Vanderbilt, of course, had already established himself as a
no-nonsense businessman who could be ruthless in getting what he wanted.
He oversaw significant growth of the NY&H and laid its future
foundations as a world-class carrier. He immediately changed the
railroad's name to the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad when
he merged the original New York Central Railroad with the Hudson River
Railroad. Later including the New York & Harlem as well, the
NYC&HR held a commanding presence in New York City and after gaining
control of the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern it reached Chicago on
a northern route that was virtually flat (late known as the Water
Level Route), in comparison to PRR's main line through the Alleghenies.
The NYC&HR would go on to become the legendary New York Central
The NYC&HR was again renamed as the New York Central Railroad when it merged with the LS&MS in 1914. Throughout the early 20th century the New York Central System continued to expand reaching Boston; Pittsburgh, PA; Wheeling, WV; the coalfields of southern West Virginia via the Toledo & Ohio Central; Columbus, OH; Cincinnati, Cleveland, and St. Louis via the Big Four Route (the Cincinnati, Cleveland, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad), Columbus, OH; Detroit (and virtually the rest of Michigan via the Michigan Central); and even Montreal, Quebec and Ontario, Canada. Through the years the railroad gained control of notable railroads to reach these markets including the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie, Indiana Harbor Belt, and the aforementioned Big Four.
In 1867 he sparked the "Erie War" with Jim (James) Fisk, Jay Gould, and Daniel Drew when he attempted to gain control of the Erie Railroad to include with his NYC&HR system. This would be the only time Gould ever bested Vanderbilt. During this time the Erie Railroad was one of the most successful systems in the country and what essentially started as an argument between the two turned into a battle of wills as Vanderbilt attempted to corner Erie's stock. In response, Gould and his associates attempted to artificially inflate the Erie's stock value (also known as "watered stock"), which is fraud and against the law. However, Gould only defeated Vanderbilt by bribing the New York state legislature, which allowed the stock to be legalized.
Over the years Cornelius Vanderbilt had entered disputes with
many in the business world such as Drew, Fisk, and others. However,
nearly all of these associates he became friends with later on in life,
except Gould who often tried to smear Vanderbilt in the public after the
Erie incident. The Commodore passed away
January of 1877 at the age of 82 amassing a fortune of nearly $100
million, which would be worth more than $143 billion in today's dollars
making him one of the richest Americans in history. In his will
Vanderbilt left $95 million of his fortune directly to his son William
with his eight daughters receiving between $250,000 and $500,000 each.
Unlike James Hill and a number of the other famed railroad tycoons
Vanderbilt was not much of a philanthropist, endowing only $1 million of
his fortune to the greater good, which went to the Central University
in Nashville, Tennessee that became Vanderbilt University.
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