William Vanderbilt
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William Henry Vanderbilt (1821 - 1885)

William Henry "Billy" Vanderbilt
Born in New Brunswick, Middlesex, New Jersey, United Statesmap
Ancestors ancestors
Husband of — married 28 Sep 1841 (to 1885) in Bethlehem, Albany, New York, United Statesmap
Descendants descendants
Died at age 64 in New York City, New York County, New York, United Statesmap
Profile last modified | Created 30 Oct 2009
This page has been accessed 6,379 times.


Notables Project
William Vanderbilt is Notable.

Billy was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey in 1821.

Christened 2 Jan 1822 in Moravian Church, New Dorp, Richmond, New York, U. S. A.

Appeared in the 1850 U. S. Census in Southfield, Richmond, New York. The household included: Wm. age 29, occupation farmer; Maria L. age 28; Cornelius age 6; Margaret age 5; William age 0; Alex Holmes age 28; Thos Holmes age 26; Washington Holmes age 23; Agustus Holmes age 15; Henry Jackson age 35; Elisa Jackson age 36; Phebe Jackson age 5; John Jackson age 0.

Appeared in the 1855 New York Census in Southfield, Richmond. The household included: Wm. age 34, occupation farmer; Maria L. age 33; Cornelius age 11; Maggie age 10; William age 6; Emily T. age 4; Florence age 1; John Stokes age 34, occupation servant; Michael Scott age 40, occupation servant; James Lennon age 28, occupation servant; John Gaynor age 27, occupation servant; Thomas Morse age 29, occupation servant; Robert Fullom age 21, occupation servant; Thomas Mccullough age 40, occupation servant.

Appeared in the 1870 U. S. Census in New York City, New York. The household included: William H. age 50, occupation rail road; Louise age 48; Emily age 18; William K. age 21; Florence age 16; Fredrick age 15; Lillie age 10; George age 7; Michael Foly age 22, occupation servant; Kate Devin age 40, occupation servant; Nary Dunn age 30, occupation servant; Kate Neville age 35, occupation servant; Eliza Riley age 28, occupation servant; John Jackson age 25, occupation coachman.

He inherited nearly $100 million from his father, railroad mogul Cornelius Vanderbilt in 1877. The fortune was increased to almost $194 million when he died in 1885.

  • His father Cornelius frequently berated and criticized him, calling his oldest son a "blockhead" and a "blatherskite". Billy longed to show his father that he was not, in fact, a blatherskite (a person who talks nonsense), but never dared stand up to his father. A major turning point in their relationship occurred on the family trip to Europe on the steamship Vanderbilt in 1860, after which, the two became very close and Billy was given a greater role in business matters.
  • In 1841, Billy married Maria Louisa Kissam (1821–1896), daughter of Reverend Samuel Kissam and Margaret Hamilton Adams. They had eight children.
  • William Henry Vanderbilt and John Pierpont Morgan (J.P. Morgan) both financially backed Thomas Alva Edison and these two gentlemen are largely responsible along with Thomas Alva Edison (the inventor) for electrifying our lives thusly transforming America first then the world. But did you know that Thomas Edison set William Henry Vanderbilt's house in Manhattan on fire when he turned on the electric lights for the first time? Yes it's true ! The Triple Palace, also known as the William H. Vanderbilt House, was an elaborate mansion at 640 Fifth Avenue between 51st Street and 52nd Street in Manhattan, New York City and the scene of this event.
  • " How Thomas Alva Edison set W. H. Vanderbilt's house on fire MAGGIE KOERTH 1:53 PM THU MAR 25, 2010 "
  • This anecdote, taken from Edison's autobiographical notes, may well be one of the most awkward moments in the history of public relations. So, William Henry Vanderbilt was an early investor in Thomas Edison's electric lighting endeavors, and it wasn't terribly surprising that Vanderbilt wanted to be one of the first kids on the block, so to speak, to get the new lights installed at his own house. This was prior to 1882—and the opening of the first centralized power plant—so the lights were run by an on-site generator installed in the basement. Sadly, the first demonstration of Vanderbilts' lighting system went a bit awry.
  • (Written by Thomas Alva Edison) Quote from "The Papers of Thomas A. Edison, Volume 6". Edited by Paul B. Israel, Louis Carlat, David Hochfelder, Theresa M. Collins and Brian C. Shipley. Published by Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007.
  • "About 8 o'clock in the evening we lit it up and it was very good. Mr. Vanderbilt, his wife and some of his daughters came in and were there a few minutes when a fire occurred. The large picture gallery was lined with silk cloth interwoven with fine metallic tinsel. In some manner, two wires had got crossed with the tinsel, which became red-hot and the whole wall was soon afire … [the fire is put out] … Mrs. Vanderbilt became hysterical and wanted to know where it came from. We told her (err..umm..ahh) we had the plant in the cellar, and when she learned we had a boiler there, she said she would not occupy the house; she would not live over a boiler. We had to take the whole installation out."
  • Lessons learned: Better insulation on your electrical wiring = good. Tinsel in your wallpaper = bad. Mrs. Vanderbilt = totally freaked out by the wrong thing.
  • Edison's early wild successes (the Vanderbilt parlor fire notwithstanding), and the almost instantaneous consumer demand, this technological development was on the fast track to totally and forever banish the night to the nether regions and finally humans had no more concerns of what would happen once night had fallen upon them. For we mere mortals now commanded the light of Apollo . Zeus gave the job of bringing out the sun each day to his own son, Apollo. And now Thomas Alva Edison with the wealth of William Henry Vanderbilt and John Pierpont Morgan behind him put the power of Apollo in our hands and our homes...as long as you pay your electric and gas bill each month !

Appeared in the 1880 U. S. Census in New York City, New York. The household included: William age 56, occupation Pres. Of Ny Central Rail Road Company; Margaret age 56; Lila age 18; George age 16; John Hetherington age 38, occupation butler; Bridget Hetherington age 34, occupation servant; John Hetherington age 6; Mary Hetherington age 4; Margaret Hetherington age 3; Alice Hetherington age 7 months.

William died of an apparent stroke on 8 Dec. 1885 at his home in Manhattan during a meeting with Robert Garrett, president of B&O Railroad. An account in Ira Morris's Memorial History of Staten Island states that they had a heated argument about B&O expansion on Staten Island, whereupon William collapsed and died. Also present according to Morris was James R. Robinson, a Staten Island builder. His role in the discussion is not explained, but Morris says he had "long been on the most intimate terms" with the Vanderbilt family.[1] Robinson, presumably Morris's source, was not mentioned in William's New York Times obituary, which says the others were talking amicably about "Mr. Garrett's establishing terminal facilities on the island."[2] However another source indicates there was indeed contention over the railroad plans and that Vanderbilt was "outgeneralled" on behalf of B&O for control of the Staten Island Rapid Transit Railroad.[3]

Buried in Vanderbilt Family Cemetery and Mausoleum, New Dorp, Richmond Staten Island, New York, United States of America.


  1. Ira K. Morris, Morris's memorial history of Staten Island, New York (New York: Memorial Pub. Co, 1898-1900), 2:138 Archive.org.
  2. New York Times 12/9/1885, p. 1, Newspapers.com.
  3. Selden C. Judson, Illustrated sketch book of Staten island, New York, its industries and commerce (New York: S.C. Judson, 1886), p. 41, Archive.org.

"United States Census, 1850," database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MC16-CRP : 24 December 2020), Wm Vanderbilt, Southfield, Richmond, New York, United States; citing family , NARA microfilm publication (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

"New York State Census, 1855," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:K6QG-B12 : 3 March 2021), William H Vanderbilt, E.D. 2, Southfield Township, Richmond, New York, United States; citing p. , line #32, family #4, county clerk offices, New York; FHL microfilm 946,687.

"New York, Marriages, 1686-1980," index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/F6W9-1PJ : accessed 07 Sep 2014), Wm. H. Vanderbilt in entry for William Douglas Stoane and Emily Thorn Vanderbilt, 10 Dec 1872; citing reference ; FHL microfilm 1561855.

"Massachusetts, Church Records, 1630-1943", database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QLJ8-Z1CK : 11 October 2019), William Henry Vanderbilt and M ? Louisa Krisam, [REFERENCE-ERROR].

"United States Census, 1870", database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M869-X77 : 29 May 2021), W H Vanderbilt, 1870.

"United States Census, 1880," database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MZ6D-9HB : 14 January 2022), William Vanderbilt, New York City, New York County, New York, United States; citing enumeration district , sheet , NARA microfilm publication T9 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), FHL microfilm .

"New York, New York City Municipal Deaths, 1795-1949," database, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2WJR-J66 : 3 June 2020), William Henry Vanderbilt, 8 Dec 1885; citing Death, Manhattan, New York County, New York, United States, New York Municipal Archives, New York; FHL microfilm 1,373,978.

"Find A Grave Index," database, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJ1-1FND : 14 June 2022), William Henry Vanderbilt, ; Burial, New Dorp, Richmond Staten Island, New York, United States of America, Vanderbilt Family Cemetery and Mausoleum; citing record ID 1059, Find a Grave, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/1059/william-henry-vanderbilt.

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Vanderbilt-5 and Vanderbilt-67 appear to represent the same person because: clear duplicate
posted by Mark Burch
Vanderbilt-120 and Vanderbilt-5 appear to represent the same person because: These are both the same Profile, can you please merge. Thank You ~ Eric
posted by [Living Daly]

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Categories: Vanderbilt | New Brunswick, New Jersey | Bethlehem, New York | Notables