Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt
Alfred was the eldest son of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, and at the death of his father, he received the bulk of the estate, with his brothers Neily and Reginald receiving substantially smaller amounts. Cornelius believed his son to be much better prepared to handle the fortune, and was persuaded to give less to Neily by his wife, who believed that Grace Wilson had married Neily to get her hands on Vanderbilt money. Another brother, William, had died years earlier.
Alfred was educated at Yale and was on a world tour when he learned of his father’s death while in Japan. In his new status as head of his branch of the extended Vanderbilt family, Alfred began working at the New York Central, then the main source of the family’s income. He began, despite his social and financial status, as a clerk in order to learn all aspects of the business. It was Alfred who built the Vanderbilt Hotel at the corner of 34th and Park Avenue, where he chose to reside when in the city.
Alfred married Ellen French in 1901, only to be sued by her for divorce in 1908, under allegations of adultery on his part. Following the divorce, Alfred sought solace in London, and remarried there in 1911, to the heiress of the Bromo-Seltzer fortune, Margaret Emerson. In England, Vanderbilt enjoyed coaching (racing coaches of the old English style) and fox hunting. In 1915, again living in America, he left for a journey to England to purchase fox hounds, embarking on RMS Lusitania.
Alfred perished when Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat on May Day, 1915. A myth that he was one of the scheduled passengers on Titanic three years earlier was disproven, it was George Washington Vanderbilt who was scheduled to make that fateful voyage before canceling his plans. Alfred’s death was reported by many who observed him assisting a young mother by giving her his own life jacket. His body was never found.
Alfred’s death transferred a large part of his fortune to his brothers Neily (whom he had assisted with funds earlier) and Raymond, which allowed them to squander it. The size of his estate was $15.5 million, and he left bequests for his wife Margaret and their children. She used part of the money to purchase a 47 room mansion in Massachusetts situated on 316 acres. Alfred didn’t squander the Vanderbilt fortune, but his early death allowed others of his family to do so.