Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Cornelius Vanderbilt III
Cornelius Vanderbilt III (September 5, 1873 - March 1, 1942) was a distinguished American military officer, inventor, engineer, and yachtsman, and a member of the prominent American Vanderbilt family.
Called "Neily" by his close friends, he was the great-grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, and son of Alice Claypoole Gwynne and Cornelius Vanderbilt II. Born in New York City, he was educated by private tutors at St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire before attending Yale University where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1895. Against his father's wishes that actually led to physical blows, in August of 1896 he married Grace Graham Wilson . Remaining at Yale until 1899, he earned a Bachelor of Philosophy degree and, having a great deal of interest in the mechanical and engineering aspects of his family’s railroad business, he also earned a degree in mechanical engineering.
Ostracized by his parents and even to some extent by his siblings, on his father's death in 1899 Neily Vanderbilt received only $500,000 in cash and the income from a $1 million trust fund. The bulk of his father's $70 million estate went to Neily's brother, Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt who then helped undo some of his father's enmity and gifted Neily the amount of $6 million. In addition, his uncle, George Washington Vanderbilt, left him a Fifth Avenue three-story brownstone mansion where he and his wife lived for many years. However, as a result of his parent's attitude towards his marriage, it would be 27 years after his father's death before he finally reconciled with his aging mother. Neily and Grace Vanderbilt remained married for the rest of their lives and had two children, Cornelius, Jr., born in 1898 who would marry seven times, and a daughter Grace, born in 1900.
Neily Vanderbilt was an inveterate tinkerer with all things mechanical and during his lifetime he patented more than thirty inventions for improving locomotives and freight cars, including several which brought him a significant royalty income. Some of the most important were a corrugated firebox for locomotives that resulted in a substantial increase in fuel efficiency plus a cylindrical styled tank car for the transport of bulk oil as well as a revolutionary type of locomotive tender. In addition, on his travels to London and Paris he saw the potential for adapting their subway systems for New York City and partnered with August Belmont, Jr. to establish the Interborough Rapid Transit Company for the construction of the city's first subway.
In 1901, he was made a Second Lieutenant in the Twelfth Infantry Regiment of the New York National Guard and remained a member of the military for 33 years. He fought in the border wars with Mexico in 1916, and in World War I served overseas as commander of the 102nd Engineers. Rising through the ranks to Brigadier General, he was placed in command of the 25th Infrantry Brigade. For his services during the War, he was given the Distinguished Service Medal by the government of the United States, the New York State Conspicuous Service Medal, made a commander of the Order of the Crown of Belgium and awarded that country's Croix de Guerre. The government of France made him a Commander of the Legion of Honor.
Following the War, Vanderbilt and his wife frequently returned to Europe, becoming friends and guests of numerous members of European royalty including Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, and his brother, Prince Henry of Prussia, King Albert I of Belgium, Crown Prince Olav of Norway, Queen Marie of Romania, Reza Pahlavi of Iran, and every British monarch since Queen Victoria.
As with other members of the Vanderbilt family, yachting was one of Neily Vanderbilt's favorite pastimes as an escape from a busy life that included a seat on the Board of Directors of a number of major American corporations. In 1910, he piloted his yacht to victory in the New York Yacht Club's race for the "King Edward VII Cup."
In 1940, he sold his Fifth Avenue mansion in New York City to members of the Astor family but remained living there until his passing from a cerebral hemorrhage while vacationing in Miami Beach, Florida aboard his yacht in 1942. His wife Grace Vanderbilt lived another eleven years, passing away on January 7, 1953. They are buried together in the Vanderbilt family mausoleum in the Moravian Cemetery in New Dorp on Staten Island, New York.
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