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Cornelius Vanderbilt Collects Dividends from Hudson River Railroad as Part of His Growing Railway Empire
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This double-sided ledger page from the Hudson River Rail Road Company includes signatures by stockholders for receipt of payments for the 11th and 12th dividends, paid in October 1867 and April 1868, respectively. The company paid its shareholders 4 percent dividends on capital stock twice each year—in April and October. This page is signed twice by Cornelius Vanderbilt, once for the October 1867 dividends on his own 22,740 shares and again for those of his son William H. Vanderbilt’s 2,133 shares. Cornelius Vanderbilt’s shares generated $90,960, while those of his son yielded $8,532.

These two pages include the names of 42 individuals and companies that were stockholders in the Hudson River Railroad. Most entries are for from one to a few hundred shares of stock, but Work, Davis & Barton owned 3,000 shares of stock. One of Vanderbilt’s rivals for control of the Erie Railroad, James Fisk Jr. (1835-1872), later asserted that Work, Davis, and Barton held the shares on behalf of Vanderbilt.

CORNELIUS VANDERBILT. Document Signed, Ledger for Dividends of Hudson River Railroad Company, October 15, 1867, April 15, 1868, New York, New York. 2 pp., 11¼ x 17¼ in.

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Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) was born in Staten Island, New York, as the descendant of some of the original Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam (New York). He began working on his father’s ferry as a boy and started his own ferry business between Staten Island and Manhattan at age 16. Other captains began calling him “The Commodore,” a nickname that remained with him for the rest of his life. In 1813, he married his first cousin Sophia Johnson (d. 1868), and they had thirteen children between 1814 and 1839. His oldest son William Henry Vanderbilt (1821-1885) became a businessman and philanthropist, who when his father died succeeded him as the richest American at the time. Cornelius Vanderbilt began working for Thomas Gibbons as a manager of his ferries. Gibbons went on to win the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case of Gibbons v. Ogden (1824) to overturn the New York steamboat monopoly of Robert Livingston and Robert Fulton. In 1829, Vanderbilt began operating his own steamboat lines out of New York, eventually dominating the steamboat business in Long Island Sound. In the 1840s, he began to invest in railroad lines, beginning with the New York, Providence, and Boston Railroad, which he took over in 1847. In the late 1840s, he began operating ocean-going steamships to meet the demand for migration to California and then transatlantic routes. During the Civil War, Vanderbilt donated his largest steamship to the Union Navy, for which he received a Congressional Gold Medal. In the 1850s and 1860s, Vanderbilt invested in and sometimes took control of several railroads; he sold the last of his ships in 1864 to concentrate on railroads. After his first wife died in 1868, he married a cousin in 1869 with the unusual name of Frank Armstrong Crawford (1839-1885). She convinced him to donate $1 million to establish Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. At his death in 1877, Vanderbilt left 95 percent of his $105 million estate to his oldest son William and William’s four sons and left his other living son and nine daughters comparatively little.

Hudson River Railroad Company was chartered in 1846 to extend railroad service from Rensselaer, New York, south to New York City. It opened fully in 1851, and its route on the east side of the Hudson River closely follows that on the modern Metro-North Railroad Hudson Line. Cornelius Vanderbilt purchased a controlling interest in the Hudson River Railroad in 1864, soon after he had purchased the parallel New York and Harlem Railroad, and he purchased the New York Central Railroad (running from Albany to Buffalo) in 1867. He merged the two companies as the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad Company in 1869, which became one of the first giant corporations in American history.

Condition: Lightly toned; isolated edge darkening; otherwise near fine.