Harold S. Vanderbilt was the last of the Vanderbilts to be actively involved in the railroad empire founded by his great grandfather, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and his grandfather, William Vanderbilt during the nineteenth century. His parents were William Kissam Vanderbilt and Alva Erskine Smith. Following the death of his father in 1920, Harold Vanderbilt inherited, among others equity in nine railway companies including the famous New York Central Railroad System. He served as a director and member of the executive committee of the New York Central System until 1954, when he reached the age of 70.
Vanderbilt’s fame was not so much in railroading as it was in two recreational activities, one active and one not so active. Vanderbilt was a keen sailor and he participated for most of his life in competitive sailing events. But what brought him fame was his participation in yacht racing. Earlier on he was involved in regatta racing. He won six “King’s Cups” and five “Astor Cups” at regattas between 1922 and 1938.
In 1930, Vanderbilt achieved the pinnacle in yacht racing by defending and winning the America’s Cup in his J-class yacht, the “Enterprise”. This victory put his picture on the cover of Time Magazine in 1930. In 1934, Vanderbilt tried again to win the America’s Cup, but lost to the British. But Vanderbilt came back in 1937 with his yacht named the “Rainbow”, and won the America’s Cup for the second time for the American side. His wife Gertrude was also an avid sailor and served on the crew of the “Rainbow” during its winning effort in 1937. In recognition of their accomplishments, both Harold Vanderbilt and his wife Gertrude were posthumously elected to the America’s Cup Hall of Fame in 1993.
The other recreational activity Vanderbilt became involved in was Contract Bridge. For much of his adult life Vanderbilt was a renowned bridge player, and supporter of the game. In 1928 he endowed the Vanderbilt Trophy, a trophy which is awarded to the winners of the national team-of-four championship. In 1932 and in 1940, he was personally part of a team that won the championship, and as a result he won the trophy which he had endowed several years before twice. To this day the Vanderbilt Trophy remains the most prized in the game of Contract Bridge.
For all of his efforts for the game of bridge, Vanderbilt was honored by the bridge players community in the following areas. Vanderbilt won the Wetzlar Trophy in 1940. In the American Contract Bridge League he was named an honorary member in 1941, and was inducted into its Hall of Fame in 1964. And finally, in 1969, a year before his death, Vanderbilt became an honorary member of the World Bridge Federation.
Harold Stirling Vanderbilt was educated at Harvard College, from where he received his A.B. in 1907. He then went to Harvard Law School, from which he graduated in 1910. Upon graduation from Law School, Vanderbilt joined the New York Central Railroad, where he served in various capacities until 1954. From the above one can see that Vanderbilt was not just a playboy engaged in yacht racing and bridge playing, although the latter two recreational activities provided him with a measure of fame.
As a final point it should be pointed out that Vanderbilt also had a keen interest in the success of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. His great grandfather, Cornelius Vanderbilt had provided the seed money, in 1873, to found the university. Harold, the great grandson was able to devote his efforts to help the university remain successful. He was a long time member of the University’s Board of Trustees, and served as president of the Board of Trustees from 1955 to 1968.
Harold Stirling Vanderbilt passed away in 1970 at the advanced age of 86 years. His life had been a rich one, and he had been able to participate in a number of recreational and work activities that must have given him a clear sense of satisfaction.
The information for the biographical profile above was obtained from the web sites of Wikipedia, and other sites related to the Game of Bridge, and the sport of Yacht Racing.
At the end of the bio profile of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt is an extensive description how the Vanderbilt in this bio profile fits in with the other prominent Vanderbilts who preceded or followed him. Please refer to it for further understanding of the Vanderbilt family tree.
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