90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
PLEDGE NOW
The Age of Vanderbilt
Portrait of Cornelius Vanderbilt (Vanderbilt University, Special Collections and University Archives)

Portrait of Cornelius Vanderbilt (Vanderbilt University, Special Collections and University Archives)

The buccaneering capitalism of America’s first century throws an interesting light on our economic crisis today.

In the age of steamships, railroads, and gold rush, the titan of titans — up by the bootstraps to unimaginable wealth — was Cornelius Vanderbilt, America’s first tycoon. From a boyhood farming on Staten Island, he built out a country and an economy that we still live in.

A new biography takes us through steam engine, jungle, and robber baron years to the roots of our finance system today.

This hour, On Point: Cornelius Vanderbilt, America’s first tycoon.

You can join the conversation. Tell us what you think — here on this page, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

Guests:

T. J. Stiles, an independent historian who focuses on 19th-century America. His new book is “The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt.” He’s also the author of “Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War.”

You can read an excerpt from “The Last Tycoon” at RandomHouse.com. Plus, Stiles’ own website offers a great deal of background on Vanderbilt and the research that went into the book.

Jack Beatty, On Point news analyst and senior editor at The Atlantic. He’s the author of “Age of Betrayal: The Triumph of Money in America, 1865-1900″ (2007) and the editor of “Colossus: How the Corporation Changed America” (2001).

Daguerrotype image of Cornelius Vanderbilt from before the Civil War.

Daguerreotype image of Cornelius Vanderbilt from before the Civil War.

On his site, T.J. Stiles offers a long list of “misconceptions,” “falsehoods” and “myths” about Cornelius Vanderbilt that he says his biography corrects. Here’s a sampling (scroll down this page for the full list):

Vanderbilt cheated at cards.

Vanderbilt hated trains.

Vanderbilt was a boor who chewed tobacco, drank heavily, and spat on carpets.

Vanderbilt and Daniel Drew were enemies.

Vanderbilt’s only maneuver on Wall Street was the corner.

Vanderbilt was a corrupt chief executive who hurt his own stockholders to make personal profits.

Vanderbilt was an unfeeling brute who abused his family, especially his epileptic son Cornelius Jeremiah.

Vanderbilt contracted syphilis in 1839, began to suffer dementia in 1868, and was used as an uncomprehending puppet by his son William H. for the rest of his life.

Here are some more historical images from Stiles’ site.

The Original Grand Central Depot
The Original Grand Central Depot
The Hudson River as Vanderbilt knew it, with a sidewheel steamboat passing the Hudson highlands.
The Hudson River as Vanderbilt knew it, with a sidewheel steamboat passing the Hudson highlands.
Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
ONPOINT
TODAY
Apr 24, 2015
The Rev. Jamal Bryant leads a rally outside of the Baltimore Police Department's Western District police station during a march and vigil for Freddie Gray, Tuesday, April 21, 2015, in Baltimore. (AP)

Loretta Lynch gets a vote. Race and anger in Baltimore. Migrant crisis in the Mediterranean. Petraeus, sentenced. Our weekly news roundtable goes behind the headlines.

Apr 24, 2015
Dick West (Dr. Walter Richard West, Wah-pah-nah-yah or Wapah Nahya, Light Foot Runner), 1912−1996, Southern Cheyenne, Oklahoma. Cheyenne Sun Dance—The Third Day, 1949. Paper, casein, 24 5/8 x 35 1/8 inches. © 2013 Philbrook Museum of Art, Inc., Museum purchase, 1949.20, Photo: John Lamberton.

Artists of earth and sky. Rawhide, bear claw, eagle feathers and the glory of America’s Plans Indians, on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

RECENT
SHOWS
Apr 23, 2015
In this Sunday, April 12, 2015 pool photo Pope Francis, right, is greeted by Catholicos Aram I, second left, and the head of Armenia's Orthodox Church Karekin II, left, during an Armenian-Rite Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, at the Vatican. Pope Francis on Sunday marked the 100th anniversary of the slaughter of Armenians by calling the massacre by Ottoman Turks "the first genocide of the 20th century" and urging the international community to recognize it as such. (AP)

One hundred years after the genocide, Armenians are still working through the story. Writers Litty Mathew and Eric Bogosian join us.

 
Apr 23, 2015
In this file photo, Waiter Spencer Meline serves a customer at Ivar's Acres of Clams restaurant on the Seattle waterfront Wednesday, May 14, 2014.  Seattle's minimum wage will rise to $15 an hour by August 2015. (AP)

The tipping economy in America. It’s huge. It’s being challenged. It may be changing.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
Your Favorite Musical Memories Of Rain
Wednesday, Apr 22, 2015

When we say ‘rain,’ you say ‘…?’ (Here’s what you really said when we said ‘rain.’)

More »
6 Comments
 
Three LIVE Tracks From Flor De Toloache
Friday, Apr 17, 2015

Fantastic live tracks from the amazing women of Flor de Toloache.

More »
1 Comment
 
Our Week In The Web: April 17, 2015
Friday, Apr 17, 2015

Interactions on Facebook, campaign time begins and a truck full of bees.

More »
2 Comments