Cornelius ("Commodore") Vanderbilt
When Cornelius Vanderbilt lay dying in his bed in his New York mansion in 1877 he was comforted in the knowledge that he was dying the richest man in the country. His whole life had been spent accumulating large amounts of money, first through shipping, then through railroad acquisitions. He was the first to admit of his obsession, which had driven him since he was a boy, "I've been insane on the subject of money making all my life" (Vanderbilt, 1989, p.27). His life was consumed with the soul purpose of making millions and spending very little. He was one of the first of the robber barons of the 19th century and lived up to that reputation. In an exerpt of Mark Twain's "Open letter to Commodore Vanderbilt" (Packard's Monthly) he expresses his disdain:
How my heart goes out in sympathy to you! How I do pity you, Commodore Vanderbilt! Most men have at least a few friends, whose devotion is a comfort and solace to them, but you seem to be the idol of only a crawling swarm of small souls, who love to glorify your most flagrant unworthiness in print; or praise your vast possessions worshippingly; or sing of your unimportant private habits and sayings and doings, as if your millions gave them dignity; friends who applaud your superhuman stinginess with the same gusto that they do your most magnificent displays of commercial genius and daring, and likewise your most lawless violation of commercial honor - for these infatuated worshippers of dollars not their own seem to make no distinctions, but swing their hats and shout hallelujah every time you do anything, no matter what it is.
I do pity you.
Born May 27, 1794 on Staten Island, N.Y., Cornelius, the...