Summary of Commodore

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Tycoon “Commodore” Cornelius Vanderbilt is an important figure in the history of American business. Author Edward J. Renehan Jr. set out to “put a face” on Vanderbilt’s ambition, enterprise and mania for wealth, and he succeeded. You will get a solid understanding of the vast, rapid changes the U.S. experienced during Vanderbilt’s life and his significant role in that change. His descendants, including his granddaughter, designer Gloria Vanderbilt, and her son, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, continue to be prominent. Though this interesting, reportorial biography could have focused more on the historic context and economic impact of this financial giant, and a bit less on his all-too-human failings, getAbstract finds that it deserves to be read by anyone who is interested in American history.

About the Author

Edward J. Renehan Jr., the author of six books, is an occasional lecturer and an active participant in conservation efforts in his home state of Rhode Island.



A Life of Endless Work

Cornelius Vanderbilt’s father, also named Cornelius, was illiterate, bitter and coarse. He worked steadily as a skilled seaman with no view beyond his daily labor. He married Phebe Hand, who was his intellectual superior. Their son, the future Commodore, was born on May 27, 1794, the fourth of nine children. He showed a skill for riding horses and sailing at an early age. When his older brother Jacob died, the family took Cornelius, 11, out of school and he began his life of endless labor. He actually enjoyed working, and studied the harbors, ports, rivers, tides, ships and the overall business of shipping.

At 16, he cleared rocks and stumps from an acre of his father’s land to earn $100 to buy his own small boat. Even when he was an old man, the Commodore was still nostalgic about operating that first boat. Hungry for profit, he went out in storms when others stayed on shore. His reputation for seamanship, price-cutting, speed and full cargo loads brought him business. Soon, he bought a 65-foot sloop that carried more freight and passengers, and was less susceptible to weather. In 1813, Cornelius married Sophia Johnson. Their mothers were cousins...

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