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The Blog

The Cast: Chapters 3 & 4

The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt is populated by a large cast of secondary characters. Here are a few from chapters 3 and 4, "A Tricky God" and "Nemesis."

William Gibbons: The son of Thomas Gibbons, he inherited his father's steamboat business in 1826. William was younger than Vanderbilt, but he had more trouble adapting to the emerging competitive economy. Unable to cope with the stress of rival lines (some of them incorporated, a new phenomenon), he sold his boats in 1829. Vanderbilt, who had always been running his own businesses on the side, thereafter worked only for himself.

Robert L. Stevens: Foremost of the sons of Col. John C. Stevens, the developer of Hoboken, Robert proved to be an important inventor (designing, among other things, the modern railroad rail) and businessman. He and his brothers organized the Camden & Amboy Railroad in New Jersey, and were partners in the de facto steamboat monopoly on the Hudson River. Vanderbilt narrowly survived a deadly wreck on the Camden & Amboy in 1833.

Jacob Vanderbilt: Vanderbilt had an older brother named Jacob, who died when Cornelius was 11—an event that may have had great repercussions, for it turned Cornelius into the oldest son. His parents named a later child Jacob as well. Cornelius tutored him in the steamboat business, and hired him as a captain. Jacob went into business for himself, and narrowly survived the explosion of a boat he co-owned on the Hudson River in 1831. With the boat destroyed, Cornelius stepped in to take over the route to Peekskill that Jacob had run.

Daniel Drew: Famous as Vanderbilt's enemy in a notorious fight for the Erie Railway in 1868, known as the Erie War, Drew spent most of his life as Vanderbilt's secret partner. He had been a cattle drover, and went into business in Manhattan in the livestock trade. The experience this gave him with street-level finance eventually led him into a career on Wall Street. He first encountered Vanderbilt in 1831 with a steamboat of his own, in a fight over the Peekskill route on the Hudson. He forced Vanderbilt to buy him off, winning his respect and starting a lifelong friendship.

Philip Hone: An aristocratic merchant and Whig mayor of New York. Though he is not known to have had a personal relationship with Vanderbilt, their lives often intersected, and Hone's diary offers fascinating commentary on Vanderbilt and the world they shared.

William Comstock: A tough veteran of the steamboat business, Comstock served as general agent of the Boston & New York Transportation Company, a steamboat corporation that monopolized much of Long Island Sound's traffic—until, that is, Vanderbilt entered the Sound in 1835. His foul-tempered letters to successive presidents of the company reveal how much other businessmen respected—and feared—Vanderbilt.

Dr. Jared Linsly: Linsly, Vanderbilt's personal doctor, tended to him in 1833 after the train wreck on the Camden & Amboy. Vanderbilt credited Linsly with saving his life, and kept him on as his physician for the rest of his life.

Daniel B. Allen: Husband of Ethelinda, Vanderbilt's oldest daughter, Allen was a native of Staten Island and childhood friend of his brother-in-law William H. Vanderbilt. In the early 1830s, he went to work for Cornelius Vanderbilt, eventually becoming the operational manager of his steamboat lines. He would serve as his father-in-law's capable lieutenant, with one painful interruption, until 1864. A morally upright man with a military air, Allen earned the respect of Vanderbilt, who often gave him important missions—and the latitude to carry them out as he saw fit.

Lambert Wardell: Wardell was a native of Shrewsbury, New Jersey, who went to work as Vanderbilt's personal clerk in 1837. Quiet, discreet, and unambitious, he earned Vanderbilt's complete trust. He worked for Vanderbilt for the next forty years, loyally serving in his office and never betraying a secret.

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