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tv   Book TV  CSPAN  November 21, 2009 11:00pm-12:00am EST

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right? and horace clarke to name just a few. it is a terrific read. so james parton once wrote of the young thomas jefferson that along with his command of five foreign languages he could calculate an eclipse, a survey an estate, tie an artery, plan and the state, break a horse, dance and minuet, and play the violin. in the same vein one could say that cornelius vanderbilt. design a steamship, sail it over an open ocean, open a shipping line, consolidated rail road,
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.. thank you amiri mattis debt including the minister of department ramallah was who are
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here so i just love it to make that very important thank you. that that difference, the transition is visible than the bell's levin one thing that point out vanderbilt himself with those pioneering paving than the way toward corporate future and also in some ways a representative of an older business world. with the merchant friends of the medichi mold as i put it, and by creating this huge corporation the new york central hudson river railroad, it was i think in many ways a pioneer of the giant corporations we have been talking about, but things primary rival for largesse and most important corporation was the pennsylvania railroad. one of the four primary row wrote and the country after the civil war called the trunk lines and the pennsylvania railroad is very interesting because its managers represent very much kind of the modern model of management and, and their
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managers were andrew carnegie's mentors, tom essays got to us superintendent and vice president and president the railroad and j. edgar thompson. vanderbilt was someone who purchased a controlling share of the stock in the corporation, moved into management and then what he would do is he would not take a salary. he would take only for enumeration through dividends of his stocks and this is of course a model we have moved away from. now we expect shares to grow in value, but that is not the primary interest. at that time he was the primary thing investors look four, a steady return every year in dividends of vanderbilt had to make his railroads pay. yet to make it profitable year in and year out for him to get any money out of them. by contrast the pennsylvania railroad, they also paid dividends fairly successful up to a point. >> by the way this is how mostly, house stocks were to the
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time, you must pay dividends. investors weren't so concerned with the stock going up in the on as much as it paid. >> prizes tended to fluctuate but you didn't see steady ever-increasing growth. as a matter fact that would have been had sufficient to people. they would have thought there was manipulation going on. the pennsylvania railroad have these professional managers who were not with majority shareholders, the what they did is they did things to make money hwan aside. they were pioneers of the shell corporation. thomas a. scott was famous in one case, he was so politically influential that he got a bill through the pennsylvania legislature in the got the governor to sign it 34 minutes after was introduced so they were very powerful and they would use their political influence to set up the shell corporations and they would funnel their railroad business to these corporations so they controlled, and in many ways that would funnel money how the company and they ran it fairly
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well up to a point, but when the panic of 1873 hit their railroad had to stop paying dividends and the shareholders finally began to look into what they were doing. vanderbilt's rhoads continue to pay dividends throughout the panic. lessee put it he ran the corporations as though they were private personal property so how did we get here? you see the origins of that within vanderbilt's like fine the separation from ownership and voters and shareholders who want really paying attention and that creates an incentive for the agents running the company to start to engage in stuff on the side and not to be looking for the long-term health of the company. it is an incentive and a guarantee of malfeasance by d.c. the origin. >> where is vanderbilt seems to have always been amazingly hands on. >> i think that is true and at the end of this life much, you know when he was a railroad chief he testified before the
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state legislative committee. they said are you a practical manager? are you somebody without setting timetables? he said i don't manage anything in that is not entirely true because when he thought something was wrong all of a sudden he was on top of that and people felt his wrath with, of which he always had an abundance. her for the most part many got to the railroad which he related operational control but the always had that i, someone who was always watching. >> interestingly he always seems to out compete other vines whether on steamships or on railroads, always said that certain genius for sing how expenses could be cut and customers could be lured away. >> it is not a very sexy subject but that is the consistence rate that you see in managers, successful managers, the most successful robber barons. ender kannady is a good example, rockefeller. they cut costs and there were more successful. vanderbilt once said econfina
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steamship or railroad montford 20% less than the guy who ran it before him or somebody running along side him that he would just close up his business. >> infected the end of the book when you have these populist movements from out west who have a huge complaint agents the railroad which is they are this preferential and often secret pricing system why, moving some people's good for free and vanderbilt asked and he said basically fine, we would be happy to compete on an equal basis. there is no problem with that. >> what they are saying is they are complaining about the special legislation, that thomas a. scott would be passed them the rat rats would get special laws passed in certain states and vanderbilt's response to that complaint was yeah sure, the greatest love is that law is the same for everybody i am on board. as long as the rules are the same i can beat anybody was his attitude. >> in that sense what was a very rough-and-tumble business time with you defined business or
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public ethics, you get the sense he really was something of an honorable man and in this sense or had something of his own sense of honor in have conducted business. >> that is a really interesting traded his because his business peers had to sort of-- belove hate is the wrong way to put it, sort of respect hate. whoever was in business with him. but one of the things, one of the reasons why the book is longer than that might have been is why i tried to write more than a business story. it is about the making of modern american culture and you alluded in your comments to the end of the traces of feudalism or the culture where of deference that was held over in the 19th century for a while from the 18th century, and in vanderbilt's first years in steamboats, i found these letters from these old gentry
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families saying they are undercutting prices. this is scandalous. have you ever heard of anything so scandalous? they are cutting prices. this is awful. the idea of an individualistic competitive economy where it was basically normal was this major cultural shift. actually gordon would talks about this in the radicalism of the american revolution, the ness wouldn' culture, the idea of individualism and competitiveness was a huge shift in bev rebel was very much at the forefront. but meanwhile there was a new code of honor that was emerging and it was sort of like the good sportsmanship almost any way, and rather than gentleman-- we are all gentlemen so let's cut deals with each other, which they did also-- the long story, read the book but the new code was more about rabid then they gentlemanly code it was more like a fair fight code and he
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very much stuck to that. he would say i found letters here in the library with someone saying the center vanderbilt and we made a deal and i wanted it in writing. you know that my word is as good as my bonded it was important to him to develop that reputation. >> as you say you have all of these what was there might be putting a ferry boat across the peers of the other guy's ferry boat could not talk with, tearing up or burning down the other guy's ferry station might be okay. >> really crazies races. one thing about the purview of the book, the insane race between henry clay and the other steam shipped on the hudson, it lasts all day. amazingly while grace. they are just basically throwing people off the boat that their stops and barely pausing to take them on because they are racing each other and at the end henry clay plause--'s boiler exploded and killed 150 people outside of younkers.
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this is basic commuter transportation at the time. like rebels laboi trains are racing each other. >> that is very true not only that but it was a spectator sport. it really matter to people that they were on the fastest buck. >> many of them or panic and hanging on for dear life would cheering on their steamboat. >> there were two sets of passengers, the ones who were serious about with-- woman speak in your book, but that's, all of that was sort of in a kind of consciously we worked and a sense of honor. that was okay, but then all these people end up really respecting the commodore for fighting him to the death, steamship lines and rail lines, but then you get down to jay gould and big jim fisk it seems to have just tainted and a lot of people seem to have tainted because they stepped over the whole bilmes.
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>> and that is interesting too in the sense that you go from his early era of steamboats for a lot of business reasons really were very competitive, competition oriented business because steamboats were not that expensive as big pieces of capital hwan, physical capital. people could get together and build a one. you could move it between markets. if you are competing for a while and either one or lost you could just take it somewhere else and one of my favorite examples of that what, of that era is, that is in the book is in 1838, the staten island ferry road are ordered his captain of his theory to ram a rival ferry, and i found these court accounts from people who were on that ferry in it was just unbelievable. >> and the almost did. >> the passengers on the other ferry when they got to staten island, they ripped down the
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ferry house and nearly murdered the president. unbelievable. then you get to the railroad era and what is different about railroad? they are fixed pieces of infrastructures so you can have a price war but what is going to happen at the end? you have to come to some sort of terms because the other guy is still there and to the nature of railroads, because they were so capital-intensive and that such a large workforce, even if you had no business at all, you are running hardly hanni trains your fixed expenses from just maintaining and having a railroad for nervously high and they didn't go up very much. when you started to run more and more trains so rural that was in bad shape would cut prices even if they were losing money. it was better than losing even more money from not having the business so railroads who are stuck. there's an incentive to undercut prices of the and coburn-- manderville takes part in a
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gentleman's agreement. in early america under the culture deference reappears because of business logic or you have these cartels and they have elaborate cartels were they had commissions and they would hire a commissioner and fire people from individual will roads were undercutting prices and at the same time, curiously vanderbilt himself by the end of this light is rising in social stature, so he has, he has taken on a business that this sort of inclined towards gentlemanly and agreements because of the nature of the business but he himself is becoming more and more gentlemanly himself. toward the end of this life is personality, his demeanor was much more refined than it was when he was a young steve vote camp said. it is a personal business parallel and then jay gould end jim this, rung, brash young upstarts and they are doing things like telling about secret deals to the press. they are deliberately trying to insult and demean the commodore
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one thing and he becomes sort of a obsessed with them, even though they are railroad, the erie was never in a position to do him a lot of harm. it became this famous rivalry in the american press between these business plan. >> they actually start printing stock certificates. they get a printing press and start printing stock certificates without anything behind them, just pure larceny. they flee to new jersey at some point but they avoid actual jail time some help. >> yeah, there were strict laws that regulated how much you could do, how many shares the issue of the company in this is something that i don't need to go into up on stage but it has to do with whole kind of cultural foremen's around the rise of securities and people really felt that stock, a share of stock represented $100 worth of fixed capital. it was represented that something real so when you
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increased shares without building new business, and the physical infrastructure it was widely seen by even the most intellectual figures as fraud selwyn vanderbilt gun into business with gould then fisk and daniel drew over the erie railroad, and he was trying to corner the market in shares of leagis started printing shares like crazy and it was very famous episode where vandell got a judge to issue arrest warrants. here they are at their offices at one of the leading far this corporations of america's can bring in racing away from the police with literally bales of green bags and stock and you know they set up shop in what they called for taylor when over in new jersey, yes. the garden state welcome them and gave them a corporation in new jersey. so, to try to settle the matter jay gould literally went to albany with a suitcase full of cash and there are some hilarious figures from the new
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york state legislature. they could see both sides of the should depending-- how big the sued case was. [laughter] who ended finally, vanderbilt miraculously managed to pay back a lot of what he had lost but it is an incredible episode. >> kind of never forgive them for it although they were trying to contact big jim fisk through seances. >> one of my favorite examples of that, about the time of the civil wars one vanderbilt starts to go seances and as a point on the book this is the high point of spiritualism in american life in the civil war, the better part of a million people died so people started going to mediums all the time to contact the dead. vanderbilt definitely did it. i don't think the jury business, based in the business decisions on the séances not only because he continued to be successful. i personally don't believe in spiritualisms so i don't think the mediums were contacting the dead so i think they were saying a lot of nonsense when they
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conjured up the ghost. vanderbilt klute into that even though he still went to séances. there is a great incident you are referring to lowry called up the ghost of jim fisk after phys stedman shot by the rifle for a mistress so this comes out and vanderbilt of them a few questions about stock in a chorus dancers made no sense at all. vanderbilt said what you talking about? we will see it was right, you or me and he is arguing with the gust of jim this. the nester to joke with each other, how do you like it on the other side? fix says he will find else soon enough. it is a hilarious and send and he found comfort with séances but i don't think he based in the decisions on them. that rivalry, there is a quote that i never found a good source for it for vanderbilt saying, like so many of vanderbilt's quotes but it is still one of my favorites because it does summarizes attitude toward jay gould. he supposedly said it never pays
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to kick a skunk, and i never unfortunately, i wish i could document it. look at undocumented so i left it out of the book will just tell you now because it was his attitude. >> a good attitude to have. >> though in the end i have to say he actually in the most important battles either held his own or came out with jay gould by jay gould managed to embarrass him which is one of the reasons why he was so embittered. for example during one or the erie railway jay gould and jim fisk cut the price of cattle cars in the west, so of course the new york central railroad follows in finally the new york central railroad went from $150 a car for cattle to 1 dollar a car so meanwhile secretly jay gould and jim fisk for buying thousands of heads of cattle out in chicago and they are shipping them over to new york central for almost nothing in once they
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did it they made the loud announcement to the press. they couldn't just make a profit they had to embarrass vanderbilt. it was the trivial dispute but it was the kind of getting under his gann which just drove him nuts. by contrast, this is something we talked about before, with other businessmen they would have vicious fights and end up being friends afterwards. >> not personal, it is business and it is funny too because this story in a berkley shows the hulls dam of vanderbilt's luttman he is one of the people he is competing with, daniel drew this knupp tories character who was supposedly, probably not true but started watering stock, started off as career driving liberals talking to new york. that is how you got beat the market in the early 19th century, you drove a down there and he was supposedly feeding it lots of salt and watering it up nicolette pond which is where the court houses are now downtown, this huge pond.
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he would drive the cattle down there. they would drink the water and go on and that was filled then. with the whole city grew up around it in by the end of his career, he is fighting these wars over transporting cattle by the thousands or the millions from halfway across the country. this is the change theroux rhodes have brought. but, to talk about another skunk for a moment, william walker, who was what was called filibuster, nothing to do with the senatorial maneuver but at the time referred to kind of a freebooter, somebody would go down and try to take over a country and there is quite of a rash in the 40's and '50's. americans to decided to go down with a handful of mercenaries and maybe start fighting in a civil war in the latin american countrymen tried to take it over. this was considered a great
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thing by kind of southern and confederate leaning individuals who thought that this would be a natural feel to expand slavery. >> especially in the case of cuba, which after the fall of the spanish empire in latin america, of course cuba remained the czar, the jewel of the spanish overseas possessions and there is large-scale slavery there already, and there were a lot of cubans were fighting very hard for independence as well, and there was also the large cuban population in new york, which my classmate alexandro perez is writing about. and come iq but especially, the southerners are looking to expand slavery, but walker has who ended up landing in san francisco, he made-- invaded mexico unsuccessfully with the handful of men and then he got a contract to fight for one side
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of the nicaraguan civil wars of the sale of lit 56 men to fight for one side and almost a perpetual civil war in nicaragua was a country where two times and vanderbilt's career, made radical changes in his career in the california gold watch was the first of these worried been involved in steamboat lines out of new york for the northeast, and then when the gold rush started, he abruptly got out of that then went into transatlantic in california bound steamships. the main route of commerce and for much migration was by steamship them to panama, crossing the panama, up to another steamship on the pacific. bender build started a rival line to try to build the canal and they would carry people across the waterways of nicaragua by votes insured lindh crossing, a very successful. he sold out, went on a grand
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tour of europe engaging in other various upstairs and then started buying control of this company, the accessory transit company once again. let the very moment he was doing that walker sailed off to nicaragua. by look, he was a terrible general. >> his generalship usually consisted of ordering frontal attacks against completely well dug-in positions. >> which reflected the filibuster attitude, the north american attitude toward latin america of. we are americans so one of us is worth ten of them so even though he has dug in behind fortified walls and he has a rifle, don't worry you americans go get them, go, go. fortunately once, by luck really, he carries out one maneuver. by lucky manages to win. by luck the leading general and the head of state for his side died and he ends up being the strong man. candy vinn speak spanish.
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he is the strongman in nicaragua and thousands of americans are excited by the success, start coming down or want to come down and join him in meanwhile, this is a story which completely overturns the whole presumptions about how this story played out. with the papers i found here, the legal papers that a lawyer has been coming here in the manuscripts department, most people said, vanderbilt's rivals within the company knew he was taking controls of the convinced walker, give us control of the rights to carry passengers and then we will bring free reinforcements and vanderbilt realized he was betrayed. in fact, a friend of walker's went to the san francisco region of the company, one of the guys who ends up the train vanderbilt then says look cos going to be destroyed. he said, how do you you know? he is my friend and he told me it would be destroyed. he is going to give the rights to meow think and i don't have
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the ships, so i will sell the rights to you. there was this hilarious exchange where garrison said, well, i couldn't do anything against the company but you know if they fall i don't really want to fall with them so okay. this whole story plays out with these political, corrupt political figures, the self interested characters who are woven through the 1850's especially. it was like a part of american culture was political corruption and walker carried it off to nicaragua. anyway, walker gives their rights to vanderbilt's enemies have become as enemies and vanderbilt tries to get-- they destroy the company as vanderbilt tries to get control again vanderbilt unsuccessfully tried to get the u.s. government in the british to intervene. they don't want to help for various reasons. >> and walker is doing all of these things like he brings back slavery in nicaragua. >> unbelievable and he had no
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interest gildea these napoleonic vision said he would cop role of latin america, so needless to say, the neighbors of nicaragua got a little worried about him so vanderbilt carried out this private foreign policy and started negotiating with the neighbors-- he found this guy who had been acquitted of murdering his captain it was his first mate, was acquitted because the one saw him do it. when in the captain's cabin, came out and the captain had been bludgeoned. vanderbilt sent amock to costa rica were literally a crate of gold and a bunch of rifles and he led a commando raid, some wonderful scenes, that sees all these steamboats and cut of walker from his reinforcements and it really is, something out of a comrade novel. it is just remarkable. >> or marquez. this one american scott i think it was down there. captain scott and vanderbilt of some money from something so because of this he is obstructing everything vanderbilt is doing, refusing to
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hand over these ships. beaches kind of holding oughten finally candle payson back. >> the entire war, thousands of people would live lived it vanderbilt send them a guy initially who said tell scott that i on the company, take control of the steamboats. the bridges-- british had a fleet there and protected the fleets from walker and it would have cut everything off almost at the beginning. this local guy who vanderbilt hired when he was 17 years old, of the first the boat captain, the local guy says hell no, i am the $17,000 in and tell i'm paid i am not cooperating so as a result this entire international war involving five countries plays out, and then later, when vendor built, they win the war in vanderbilt san stomached tuygan to take control list team velten chases them off with a raval foresting i'm going jiechi you must you pay me. this one unknown character because of his personal debts that hasn't been paid hands of
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changing the history of 45 countries. >> the only one that sees vanderbilt like himself. it would have been most logical for the canal to go to nicaragua too, in terms of the waterways available there. >> it seems though, i don't know the later history of what happened. i do know that one of the consequences of this entire episode in which william walker, this north american takes over nicaragua, reinstitutes slavery is what vanderbilt found when he tried to get the business going again, so he won the war. the nicaraguans would allow him to once again carry passengers across nicaragua and then they said we just can't accept the idea of north americans coming in large numbers again. we almost lost our nationality. we just can't do it. >> in the midst of this whole war he ends up burning down the capital and he just really run the country. >> absolutely. it really was devastating angeli
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and international criminal. usa dr. evil of his day on the real one. >> something we have completely blinded from our past, it doesn't exist in america anymore. it was made into a very bad, not very bad but weird ed harris marlee matlin milby some years ago. >> a movie with a message that had helicopters coming in. >> right, cars and it is very strange. another part of vendor built at warthen, the whole thing for, in which she went out to fight with the merrimack or send a ship out to fight with the merrimack which is the first ironclad which the confederacy had billed which really threaten the entire civil war plan of the union which was to basically blocade the south and all of a sudden the south is built this ironclad ship that can sink, terrifying income seven sinked to american warships immediately. it looks vulnerable, the canon
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shells burst of, bounce off the debts of vendor built has come up with his own ship to combat this. >> again, this goes to the nature of vanderbilt because he was somebody who, i am sure you never read adam smith but he firmly believed in the invisible hand and he believed that, we make progress as a society by everybody pursuing their own interest as fiercely as possible and and he firmly believe that, it is almost my duty as a citizen, you pursue your interest in the fight for it and he thought that was what everybody should do but one of the exceptions to that is, he was deeply patriotic and he named-- he had three sons in the name them after he rose, george washington, william henry harrison and cornelius vanderbilt, so when the civil war came around, he tried to give is largest which cost
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nearly $1 million, he tried to give it to the union navy and they said no. he was in little. nobody thought the war with less cell lung. it is going to beat a white elephant for the navy and he said no. submanderville ended up being forced a actually against his will to seize it for very large sums, a complicated story that we will have the free market people shaking their heads because he really was a crazy result. but, then the merrimack came steaming out of norfolk harbor, sings of the union ships then of course we all know the monitored came down and union ironclad battles them to a standstill in the standard version as the end of the story but at that point there was only one ship that could handle the merrimack for code had a simple mechanical breakdown of the bin helpless. so secretary of war stanton telegraphed vanderbilt and said can you help, so he rush to washington and met with lincoln
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himself. lincoln said what can you do? he said i will take my largesse steamship and bring it down so-- he said probably what will happen is they won't risk the merrimack against it. they will bottle it up in court and that is actually what ended up happening so lincoln said how much you going to charge? free, i am giving it to use it within a few days, he did various things to protect it from shot in shell and brought it down personally with extraordinary authority from lincoln to personally decide which should be officered in deployed. and lenni met with union personnel, naval personnel, you know eeyore doing, you can take it and that is how it bottled up the merrimack in never rested against the vanderbilt. >> it was much faster than the merrimack so could that possibly we ended before it could sink it. >> or simply run it down and then he reequipped it as a cruiser to go after the
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confederate commerce alabama, and my chapter on the civil war there's this whole kind of long distance dual between captain simms of the alabama who wants to get revenge against vanderbilt for giving this expense and shipped to the union navy. there is a great little story that played out as a result of that. >> yeah. a hard man to live with it seems. a hard man on his family, constantly. the kind of hint that he took out a lot of his frustration, possibly to got a lot of his business anxieties and all at home. and was particularly hard on his sons, who wanted him to set up-- live up to standards he himself set up so the oldest william has a breakdown of their working for sure time on wall street and starts a farm on staten island. it is very successful and he eventually comes back and inherits most of the fortune in
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the business. but the other two, corneil is an epileptic and has a huge gambling problem, and is kind of a ne'er-do-well his whole life. and then george washington is the most mysterious, who signs up, goes to west point and then in the union army, but goes awol? >> he actually, something that i found that in the national archives and the staff there, the youngest son of george washington vanderbilt, was by all accounts vanderbilt's riden joy because of the three sons he was the only one who liked vanderbilt himself was athletic. vanderbilt was someone of immense personal capabilities. >> tall, 200 pounds, straight as an indian was the term. >> standing straight and tall as an indian as his longtime clerk put it. this is a guy who got involved in one fistfights when he was in
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his 50s. he was not-- he was not just good in business. he was also a good card player and an excellent horse racer. he was somebody who was just always out to compete and win under all circumstances and here his sons were, one as he put it corneil is a gambling addict in epileptic. it was possible he was, yeah. ayn his son william was very good in business but budgie and unathletic and kind of a sad sack personally in his demeanor. so here was george washington vanderbilt, a tall, athletic and started the civil war. he went awol, he was court-martialed and convicted which did not end a career back then. returned to duty, was never designed to combat duty i found, ended up getting sick and died during the civil war of
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consumption for guthie didn't even diane the battlefield. sandra pelt was very broken up about it and i think contribute to his interest in spiritualism. the thing about corneil is he takes up a lot of space and the book only because he was an important part of vanderbilt's life and not only because there's a lot of material about him but because he was everything is father wasn't. he was physically afflicted. he was morally, the way vanderbilt sought, they didn't have the language for diction than that we do now, he was a real addict so he was boastful, he was a cheat, he was stealing money. >> ended up-- chorus really for some reason became his special patron and friend in horace greeley died with corneil ali cam tens of thousands of dollars. it was a source of great shame and anger for vanderbilt yet he never caught him off completely and his first wife said his attitude towards corneil was stubborn inconsistencies.
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this relationship, it is important in and of itself but one of the ways in which i got access to the emotional complexity of vanderbilt, a man who because of these great personal capabilities comes across as you know just this kind to dimensional figure, the statue in front of grand central whereas in corneil, these conflicting feelings really brings out the very human side, very understandably complicated side of him. >> the whole tortured relationship with the first white to be put in an asylum for a while into a crowd. had a lot of ups and downs mostly around vanderbilt's probable yen for various mistresses. >> possibly, very hard to know. >> the think about the statute for a moment. the physical city that vanderbilt shaped. he was this land speculator long with everybody else it seems to in new york it the time, loaned money here and there, and bills these depots. it is amazing to me the rise in
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the fall of time. you have sane jones park, which was, gramercy park is modeled after an idea of what it looked like and it was in the space of 40 years it went from being a pot of land owned by trinity church to being the most fashionable neighborhood in the city come into being something of a rundown, kind of the vanden neighborhood, to being a real depot that vanderbilt built there, to being the entrance to the tunnel, the holland tunnel co nobody knows this place existed anymore in new york. this forgotten that of modern memory. >> somebody taking gramercy park in ripping it down and eternalizing it there. >> 150 years ago, 150 years later nobody had ever heard of clemency park and it is amazing how fast new york was changing and that is why they felt they
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free depo and put the original statute of the commodore up, with the freis which i guess has been lost. >> i don't know. i've been unable to track down. maybe people know what happened to it that this freeze that was on either side. it was very much like a gated park in lower manhattan, very much like gramercy park and they ripped it down and put this huge freight depot and at the top was a statue of vendor built and this huge bronze freeze on either side that depicted his career, sailboats, steamships and railroads and what not and that's part of the statute was moved to the front of grand central terminal. i don't know what happened to a but it is interesting because, obviously i think it is interesting-- but. [laughter] i know anarchists at wells fargo, and so i said i don't know if you liked the book
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because william fargo is an enemy in the book. he said well, wells fargo is still around. in new york central railroad isn't. i said, good point except this physical, in addition to his legacy in creating the corporate world in developing this kind of financial and economic kind of as i put it the unseen architecture of our world, he also built this infrastructure built the original grand central. the build what is falcotano live runs up park avenue, constructed a lot of the real infrastructure that today is a vital part of the city and there's a good reason for having is that you out in front of the modern grand central. >> there is the commodores standing in the traffic bricks around him. the cars are just overwound to society and transportation has still not succeeded in tearing down grand central, although they came close. the depot was there because
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there was a lot in the city against having steam powered rail below 42nd street because most of the city was below there and it would be a catastrophe for people being run over by it in the top of the scene of the train's coming down this french and i love the description, early on when the trains are coming to the original grand central they would actually decouple the engine from the rest of the train at a precise moment to keep the, too much steam from coming in, smoke from coming into the trade shed succumbing to new york your engine would slide off on to a railing and you are on powered train would glide in. just to think about how he must have been able to judge that, with a skill that must have been to not send the whole thing plummeting. >> presumably they slow down a little bit. >> i guess there were breaks on
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the car but what an amazing-- >> we have to think about how new york at this time was a low-rise city yet as dickens described in the 1840's which applied to the 1860's and '70's, it was a jumble heard of buildings with here in very stifle sticking up and that was new york. the original grand central was this just massive, the largest, the second-largest railroad depot in the world, gigantic building with this enormous glass shed roof with i think it was 14 tracks. when they constructed grand central and much of it was paid for by manderville personally. it came right al -- bought the stock that was issued for it personally, and this enormous piece of infrastructure in even though the building is not there today, it was a major contribution to the whole development of midtown and the spread of the area. it was there because of certain laws that it was his financial
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capacities and the planning of his son that brought it into play. >> the amazing difficulty of putting in modern industrial power transportation, and infrastructure and to this usually crowded city which new york has always been fairly ingenious about. >> try to build an underground rail system all the way down to-- and decided it would not pay in the end. >> looked into his subway actually. >> actually chartered a corporation to do and the end decided it would not pay. >> we decided that to this day too. unless we charge everybody $2.50. how was it in terms of-- >> we are getting short on time. >> in terms of writing the book how was it being with, you know you always hear a biographer say you do or don't, they don't want to spend that time with them. >> that is a good enough to go out on. brenda maddox who was a great
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biographer, i think she once wrote an article called what his love got to do with it? and i think there's a good point to that. if somebody is interested in the things that surround their life are interesting, then you know, it is okay if he is an saab some of the time. i mean, the secret for me is are their big questions, is there trauma, the story is interesting, are there big questions so that it speaks to something that interests me intellectually and finally they don't have to be nice that they have to be human and much of the struggle for me as a writer was, as they put it with corneil, pulling out the emotional complexity so that we may not want to expend an hour and a real red car with him but we can really understand where he was coming from and is full complexity as a human being comes out. when i started to get into that it was really fascinating for me and it began on a little level. it was okay for me it sometimes
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he was a very hard man because he was a human being and that made it something that i could connect with. >> and the complexities certainly comes across in this outstanding book. so, thanks very much for writing it and think of for being here. >> thank you. [applause] >> i guess that we have questions. [inaudible] >> do we have a mic for questions? >> okay, great. remember, no thronging. anybody? >> one of the quotes attributed to vanderbilt that may in fact the apocryphal i think comes from the william walker thereof
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but it may not, and it may not be true, it is he was furious at people and he said gentlemen, you have wronged me. i would sue you but the law takes too long. instead, i will ruin you. >> yes, that is an american business history. gence auman you have undertaken to cheat me. i will not sue you, the law is too slow, i will ruin you. yours truly, cornelius vanderbilt. the first time that appeared that i could find and i spend a little time looking was is obituary in the new york times in 1877 and they think and not to, not to black careful writer to something he learned that echoes testimony he gave in 1867 in a completely, 20 years later an unrelated issue when he had
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shot of all terrain trafficking new york city, and he said the lot to my mind is too slow when i have the power in my own hands to punish. he said, he said then i will take things into my own hands when i can. that was a specific incident that was years later and that the got translated into this letter which i don't think he ever rode. what happened is that he had gone off on his grand tour of europe in 1853 in a private yacht that was the size, it transatlantic steamship that became a liner afterwards. while he was away, his partners in the accessory transit company betrayed him and kicked him out of the company, held back money that was owed to him so when he came back he was outraged and set the stage for a big business battle. what he did was he would a letter to the press saying i'm going to sue. what he really did was exactly the opposite.
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esad if we can settle this and the courts will decide and of course the courts did not decide. he started to rival a mining competed until they paid him off essentially. >> so he was essentially american, he was going to sue first. >> as a matter of fact this is something that was very interesting in researching his book, that court records were absolutely critical and i stumbled into the old records division of the new york county clerk's office. of course i mentioned the lawyer's papers, and i decided i had never seen it in your county clerk's office cited in the history of this period and they just completed a computer, a computerized index of all the surviving court papers and their papers are going back to the 1600's. they would bring out-- that would be next to people getting certified copies of all divorce decrees and i was almost the only historian working there. they would bring out these bundled tapers wrapped in red tape and i would have to be careful not to break them one eye and folded them.
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it would have all of this testimony about secret deals that today would be illegal and that then they asked the court to enforce, inside trading. he was because they did not divide the profits properly, so, so his lawsuits, he sued again and again and he was sued again and again and often it was just a matter of leverage in business negotiations that he was never afraid of the courts. if he could do without the courts, he preferred that the to the end of his life he was in court all the time. >> it is interesting when we talk about our litsch aegis society today. >> the first lawsuit that defiled was in 1816 when he was 22 years old. the lawsuit for which the paper survived, as though yeah, a litigious society goes all the way back to the beginning. do we have any other questions?
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>> two questions. first, do you watch gossip girl? did you know there is an ascendent supposedly on the issue of the vanderbilts on gossip girl unless we one of them said they had season tickets to the mets games. i thought that is what it comes to, you have to be a vanderbilt to have season tickets. the second question-- >> give me a chance to answer that one first. please come and go ahead. >> in your estimation, did any of later figures, the ones that we now know as the robber barons, did they approach bender built achievement, let's see-- say andrew carnegie, who was probably the greatest of the group. was wondering of what you thought of the one to fall of, the next-generation? >> this is a difficult question because if you are a biographer you automatically are convinced
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that you are writing about the most important person who ever lived, so maybe my answer is unfair. i also think it is so subjective because even though they overlapped and vanderbilt dealt personally with rockefeller and the overlapped with carnegie also, who wanted to sell steel rails to bender built railroad empire. one difference about vendor built with these other figures who are incredibly important and that think a very good case could be made that there least as important as vanderbilt by the vanderbilt covered a long period fenimore formatives period so the corporate world and financial markets that rockefeller and carnegie and a lot of these later figures dealt with some of vanderbilt helped create. the united states as a qanta nets banning country, vanderbilt played a role in simply the geographical expansion of the u.s.. as i said in the making of or
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economic values, vanderbilt was at the heart of that. even as the young man printing and advertising that picked up jacksonian rhetoric very exquisitely, so i don't want in any way to diminish the importance of people like rockefeller and carnegie or later on for from many of these others. what they did is incredibly important in developing the economy and also in creating a lot of practices. jpmorgan of course in a very different way-- jeane strauts as written brilliantly about his importance and as a banker he intersected and dealt with so many other areas of industrial america, railroad and other areas so i don't want to diminish their important to a certain extent it is meaningless to say who is up and you is down, but the distinction that they said that would make is that vanderbilt covered this formatives period. born in the presidency of george washington, starting a business as the teenager before the war
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between 12 and there were a few million americans living on the coastal strip and in his days after making deals with john d. rockefeller personally still is very hard to match a career of that blank and over such a formatives period as well, said the case that i make, sort of humbly because these other guys are so important is that is much of the key to this particular segev agents. >> the most comparable figure seems to me in terms of the hands on building of something is ford, somebody to build, build the first cars he had, adapted the assembly line and race these cars an advertisement for them and worked out the whole plan to pay its workers enough to create a market for his products. we even for didn't switch suddenly midlife and go into building airplanes are something, which is essentially -- he did build tractors and things too-- that
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is true but by the time he is quasisenile and they kind of take the plant away from him and everything, but vander built is amazing, the hands on part of it is very, is almost unique. >> the giant lead see maid. one of the things about the book is it is almost a history of the american economy just because he had such an unairing sense for the kind of primary channel of commerce and he would seize upon it and become the most successful competitors so when philadelphia and new york were the main financial sectors that is where his transportation line rant and then the erie canal opened it he is operating in the hudson and industrial-- investor relations started with the-- sally entered the lines with newington in new york and in the gold rush. one step after another, he has an unerring sense for where the
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vital center of commerce was and goes directly to that and manages to find a route in the transportation system that had a decisive strategic advantage over its competitors and then made it pay in a way that nobody else could. the mic is coming. >> the personal fritz on him in terms of his own life, or security? he had so many enemies. >> that is an interesting question because there was a book the day wall street exploded. we have seen a lot of attention given to the fact that these titans have been threatened and attacked in the past. and vanderbilt's case, not that i know of. as a matter of fact even late in life when he was in the '70s and '80s and whether he really did this is an open question but he had a reputation for excepting all callers in his private office on west fourth street and washington square district.
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he would raise, as kevin baker mentioned earlier, he would raise its best writers personally through the rural roads of upper manhattan to engage in pick up races and as i said into the 1850's or 1840's, the man was in his 50s who and he occasionally got into fistfights. he had this reputation but i found corps records were the guys selling in vanderbilt's lawyer says vanner builded gently laid his hands upon him to remove him. the guy ends up somehow unconscious, locked in the pilot house. >> kind of drag racing in upper manhattan. >> he was the guy you whitesell feeca take care of himself and i don't think he ever came in for personal threats, at least none that he couldn't handle. >> it is interesting too, he dies just before the class war in the u.s. really heats up. later in the year he dies, a huge nationwide rail strike that gets very ugly and i guess he
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would have been in the thick of that hattie live. >> that is something that i try to bring out in my book. one reason i am glad that you are doing this event is that your novels bring out the multilayered society in new york. >> thanks. >> so wellen that is something of course i am focusing on as a wealthy individual, i can only touch upon it, but i tried to tug about the fact that this is a society which is growing more polarized, and which of the rise of large enterprises, the rise of the labor union-- movement in mass armies of people working for wages, so the social complexity of america develops through his life and so vendor built that would have been interesting to see what would happen if he remained alive in control for a year or two more because an 1877 was a violent nationwide labor conflict.
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a really interesting and troubling episode. >> then he goes for this guy who can't spell, his daughter, is his daughter the start this society 400? >> it was his granddaughter and i think it is interesting that william vanderbilt-- vitter built had what was considered a considerable matching but it is like the evil custom of the country where vanderbilt was in washington square, even though the people in that novel would have shown him for much of his life. beheaded substantial brownstone but nothing fancier than that but as soon as he died, as soon as the trial was settled his son and his grandchildren start putting up the huge gilded age palaces and i think it is interesting they waited until the old man was gone before they spend in lavishly and having these grand. i think he would have thought it was a lot of nonsense but he could


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