Cornelius Vanderbilt (27 May 1794 - 4 Jan 1877) also known informally as "Commodore Vanderbilt", was an American business magnate and philanthropist who built his wealth in railroads and shipping. Born poor and having but a mediocre education, he used perseverance, intelligence, and luck to work into leadership positions in the inland water trade, and invest in the rapidly growing railroad industry. He is best known for building the New York Central Railroad>/p>
He began working on his father's ferry in New York Harbor as a boy, quitting school at the age of 11. At the age of 16, Vanderbilt decided to start his own ferry service. According to one version of events, he borrowed US$100 from his mother to purchase a periauger (a shallow draft, two-masted sailing vessel), which he christened the Swiftsure. However, according to the first account of his life, published in 1853, the periauger belonged to his father and the younger Vanderbilt received half the profit. He began his business by ferrying freight and passengers between Staten Island and Manhattan. Such was his energy and eagerness in his trade that other captains nearby took to calling him the Commodore in jest, a nickname that stuck with him all his life.
As one of the richest Americans in history and wealthiest figures overall, Vanderbilt was the patriarch of a wealthy, influential family.
Though Vanderbilt had relinquished his presidency of the Stonington Railroad during the California gold rush, he took an interest in several railroads during the 1850s, serving on the boards of directors of the Erie Railway, the Central Railroad of New Jersey, the Hartford & New Haven, and the New York & Harlem (popularly known as the Harlem). In 1863, Vanderbilt took control of the Harlem in a famous stockmarket corner, and was elected its president. He later explained that he wanted to show that he could take this railroad, which was generally considered worthless, and make it valuable. It had a key advantage, it was the only steam railroad to enter the center of Manhattan, running down 4th Avenue (later Park Avenue) to a station on 26th Street, where it connected with a horse-drawn streetcar line. From Manhattan it ran up to Chatham Four Corners, New York, where it had a connection to the railroads running east and west.
Once in charge of the Harlem, Vanderbilt encountered conflicts with connecting lines. In each case, the strife ended in a battle that Vanderbilt won. He bought control of the Hudson River Railroad in 1864, the New York Central Railroad in 1867, and the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railway in 1869. He later bought the Canada Southern as well. In 1870, he consolidated two of his key lines into the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, one of the first giant corporations in United States history - Wikipedia.