Cornelius Vanderbilt was born in 1794 and died in 1877, but he has been the namesake of Vanderbilt University since the mid-19th century. The university’s original name was Peabody Normal School before it was renamed to honor Vanderbilt in 1873.
In fact, Vanderbilt was a shipping and railroad magnate who also made his fortune in real estate speculation. He began his career as a ferry operator between New York City and Staten Island, but his success with the Hudson River Steamboat Company led him to expand his operations across the country. The railroad empire he created became known as the Central Railroad of New Jersey (CNJ), which he later sold for
Vanderbilt’s wealth allowed him to pursue other business ventures including steamboats, steamships and railroads throughout the U.S., Europe and South America until his death in 1877 at age 83. He had no children or heirs so he left most of his estate to charity organizations such as universities like Yale University, Columbia University and Cornell University along with hospitals such as Bellevue Hospital Center in New York City where he lived out his final years.
In addition, Vanderbilt co-founded the New York Central Railroad, which became part of the New York Central System. He was one of the wealthiest people in history, with a net worth of more than
100 billion when he died in 1877.