George Washington Vanderbilt II was the grandson of American business mogul Cornelius Vanderbilt who at the time of his death was the wealthiest man in the United States. The story of American business and enterprise will be incomplete without a mention of the Vanderbilt family. The family was founded by the business titan Cornelius Vanderbilt who by a dint of hard work, perseverance, foresight, and a bit of ruthlessness, built a business empire that had interests in shipping and railroads.
George Washington Vanderbilt II Biography
George Washington Vanderbilt II was the youngest child of William Henry Vanderbilt – heir to the Vanderbilt fortune. He was born on November 14, 1862, in New York. As was common with most aristocratic kids, the young Vanderbilt attended a bunch of private schools but was predominantly homeschooled by private tutors. Family records have it that George showed early signs of a keen mind and was largely introverted.
At the age of twelve, he was already immersed in reading and was developing a culture of documenting each book he read in a private diary. As he approached adulthood, George had acquired a huge appetite for traveling and touring various countries, learning various languages in the process.
While his older brothers concentrated on running the family business empire, George ran the family farm at New Dorp, New York. A year after completing his first building, at 9 West 53rd Street, in 1887, he set out to build his own mansion – Biltmore for which he bought up 125,000 acres of woodland in North Carolina. At this sprawling edifice, he busied himself with horticulture, scientific farming, animal bloodline breeding, and forestry. Biltmore is credited as the first professionally managed forest in the U.S.
Beyond his interests in wildlife and forestry, George funded the building of public libraries in the country. He also bequeathed his impressive private collection of 23,000 volumes to posterity.
George was the last of the eight children born to Maria Louisa and William Henry Vanderbilt. He had two older brothers and five older sisters. His oldest sibling was Cornelius Vanderbilt II (1843–1899). The others are Margaret Louisa Vanderbilt (1845–1924), William Kissam Vanderbilt (1849–1920), Emily Vanderbilt (1852–1946), Florence Adele Vanderbilt (1854–1952), Frederick William Vanderbilt (1856–1938), and Eliza Osgood Vanderbilt (1860–1936).
Other Facts About George Washington Vanderbilt II
Narrowly Missed The Ill-fated Titanic Voyage
George and his wife Edith had bought tickets for the maiden voyage of the Titanic only to cancel their journey on the 9th of April barely a week to the sinking of the famous ship. It is said that his wife’s sister was the one who prevailed on the couple and convinced them that a maiden voyage might pose unexpected surprises.
Though they didn’t make the trip, their luggage was on board. Georges’s servant Edwin Wheeler, died as a second-class passenger as he most likely made the trip to accompany his master’s luggage.
Of all of his siblings, George has the least involvement in the family business as he had interests beyond business. He was an introvert and bookworm who took more time to research wildlife and forestry amongst others. During his lifetime, he built the largest private home in the United States, a 250-room mansion named Biltmore Estate. The property sits on a 175,856 square foot expanse of land and was designed by Architect Richard Morris Hunt.
George Washington Vanderbilt II inherited $1 million from his granddad Cornelius Vanderbilt and when he turned 21, he inherited another $1 million from his father. When his dad died on the 8th of December 1885, he inherited $5 million and an additional $5 million income from a family trust fund.
He Was an Avid Reader
While most members of his family had interests in expanding the family’s fortunes or starting a business, George was more withdrawn from the limelight. A favorite of his father, George favored a more quiet and studious life. From the age of 12 until his death at the age of 51, George read an astonishing 3159 books. That’s an average of eighty-one books a year.
George Washington Vanderbilt II died at the rather young age of 51 in Washington, D.C from complications following an appendectomy. He passed away on the 6th of March, 1914, and was buried in the Vanderbilt family mausoleum in New York.