A Story Worth Telling

On April 14th, 1865, just five days after the end of the Civil War, president Abraham Lincoln is the last of the more than 600.000 deceased victims who perished during America’s bloodiest conflict. The country is divided. And the experiment called democracy has not worked out. But, what readers might or might not ignore, is that this is also the birth of a new era: the country is evolving and experiencing new developments and improvements. And the void left by the greatest statesman the United States of America has ever had will be filled by a new race of leaders: Rockefeller, Ford, Carnegie, etc. They were the first generation of what readers nowadays know as entrepreneurship. They were today’s Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, etc. They were the people who first established the foundations for the so-called American Dream. They ruled, both literally and metaphorically, the boundaries of this nation. A group of highly intuitive, intelligent men like never seen before, during the next five decades, will be responsible for reshaping the United States of America, pushing the country towards the excellence. Due to their vision of the world, they inspired thousands of other Americans like Patrick Dwyer who kept on transforming not only the country but also the world with their philanthropic acts and their work.

In 1865 in the city of New York, the most suitable man for leading America is not a politician: he happens to be a simple man who started from scratch and built his own empire. Forty years ago, at the age of 16, Cornelius Vanderbilt bought a small ferry with a 100 dollars loan. Soon, he earned the reputation of being a ruthless businessman, capable of taking advantage of the others just to obtain whatever he desired. During those days, the competition amongst rivals was limited to brain vs. brain; effort vs. effort. The business process was somewhat similar to the Wild West, where a winner would go away rich, or richer, and the loser would remain poor or bankrupt. Vanderbilt was a man whose short temper was legendary: he would engage in fights with his rivals and walk away after beating them up. Sooner than later, his single ferry went on to become a whole fleet with which he would transport both goods and passengers across the seas to whichever country they were bound. Vanderbilt had previously realized the importance — and profitability — of transporting goods and people, and he knew that for this to be possible a certain infrastructure was required; infrastructure the government was not willing to provide, therefore, he decided to be the one to provide and build the foundations of the maritime substructure. During the next forty years, Cornelius Vanderbilt went on to build the world’s largest ship Empire. Years later, just before the civil war, he would achieve the unthinkable: after realizing the magnificence of the first American railroad — whose construction happened to be in progress at that time —, Vanderbilt sold his entire fleet and invested in the railroads instead, realizing that these trains would shorten the transportation times from one corner to another within the nation. His capacity to foresee the future implications of whatever thing was going on was a huge part of his subsequent success. His investments in the railroad industry proved to be highly profitable, in fact, after the civil war, Vanderbilt was America’s richest person with a net worth of 65 million dollars — or 75 billion dollars at the present time —, however, even though he had amassed such fortune, he could not escape the devastating and crushing consequences of the Civil War: his son, George, died in the war.

albany-indus_american-financial-titan_patrick-dwyer-merrill-lynch_cornelius-vanderbilt
Image courtesy of Richard Welty at Flickr.com

This was a huge tragedy for Vanderbilt who had envisioned himself in his son; thus, the Commodore — as he was known — was forced to trust in his less brilliant son, William. Tormented by his loss, and right after William failed at several important negotiations, the competition no longer sees Vanderbilt’s empire as a threat. Nonetheless, Vanderbilt was a very wise and intelligent man capable of turning an apparent drawback into an opportunity: he had the Albany bridge closed — which was the only entering route to New York —. With this bridge closed, the other trains were unable to access the city of New York. By isolating New York, thousands of tons of freight could not access the city, which ended up hurting his competitors badly. The rumor hit Wall Street and the stock prices of the freight companies — his competitors — dropped, and Vanderbilt seized the opportunity and bought all their shares, thus, he went on to found the New York Central railroad. He was the sole ruler of the railroad industry.

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Image courtesy of Tony Webster at Flickr.com

Railroads helped America to develop much faster since it was then possible to connect both the east with the west and vice versa.

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