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
Mar 31, 2015
Some of the hundreds of people who gathered outside the Indiana Statehouse on Saturday, March 28, 2015, for a rally against legislation signed Thursday by Gov. Mike Pence stand on the Statehouse's south steps during the 2-hour-long rally. (AP)

Indiana’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Critics call it anti-gay. Business leaders say bad for the economy. The governor’s not backing down. We’ll dive in.

Mar 31, 2015
Jazz icon Billie Holiday performs in New York City's Club Downbeat in February 1947.  (Library of Congress / Creative Commons)

A meditation on the life and music of Billie Holiday. The lady who sang the blues.

RECENT
SHOWS
Mar 30, 2015
Sweet Briar College, an all-women's liberal arts college in Virginia, announced in early 2015 that it would unexpectedly close its doors at the end of the school year. (Courtesy Sweet Brian College)

Fareed Zakaria weighs the value of a liberal arts education in our technology-driven time.

 
Mar 30, 2015
A stele and flowers laid in memory of the victims are placed in the area where the Germanwings jetliner crashed in the French Alps, in Le Vernet, France, Friday, March 27, 2015. The crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 into an Alpine mountain, which killed all 150 people aboard, has raised questions about the mental state of the co-pilot. (AP)

The pilot who crashed his plane in the Alps. What we know now. And what to do about pilots’ psychological health.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
Our Week In The Web: March 27, 2015
Friday, Mar 27, 2015

More on the incessant email debate, plus some goats living their best lives and the sad allure of Manhattan’s shuttered Pommes Frites.

More »
2 Comments
 
Mobile Payments Offer Convenience If You Keep Your Email Safe
Thursday, Mar 26, 2015

Thinking about moving your wallet to your phone? You can! And maybe you should? But TechCrunch senior writer Josh Constine has a few things to tell you before you do.

More »
1 Comment
 
Using Technology To Get Your Kids Outside
Thursday, Mar 26, 2015

The latest and greatest — using apps to make natural exploration more fun for your kids.

More »
Comment