Birthday: November 14, 1862
Died At Age: 51
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Born in: New Dorp
Famous as: Art Collector
Spouse/Ex-: Edith Vanderbilt
father: William Henry Vanderbilt
siblings: Cornelius Vanderbilt II
children: Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt
Died on: March 6, 1914
place of death: Washington, D.C.
Founder/Co-Founder: Biltmore Farms
Who was George Washington Vanderbilt II?
George Washington Vanderbilt was an art collector primarily known for the lavish Biltmore Estate he built in North Carolina. The estate is the largest privately owned house in the United States and is still owned by one of Vanderbilt's descendants. The 250-room estate is one of the most prominent examples of the Gilded Age. Born into the famous and wealthy Vanderbilt family as one of the sons of the prominent businessman William Henry "Billy" Vanderbilt, George Vanderbilt was destined to lead a luxurious life marked by lavish displays of wealth. He was the youngest child in his family and his parents’ favorite. As a young man he was shy and introvert and was hooked to books and other intellectual pursuits. He was especially interested in reading books on philosophy and also took a keen interest in his family’s vast art collection. As a member of a wealthy family he had the privilege of travelling extensively to foreign countries and learnt several languages as a result. He was blessed with a strong aesthetic sense and aspired to build a large and beautiful home in the Châteauesque style, using French Renaissance chateaus. Designed by New York architect Richard Morris Hunt, his house in North Carolina was completed in 1895 and gained much prominence for being the largest home in the United States. The estate was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964
Childhood & Early Life
George Washington Vanderbilt was born on November 14, 1862, in New Dorp, Staten Island, New York, to the prominent businessman and philanthropist William Henry Vanderbilt and Maria Louisa Kissam. His father was also a well-known collector of paintings. George was the youngest of the couple’s eight children. Both his parents, especially his father, doted on him.
He received his education from local private schools and at home by tutors. He was an intelligent child who displayed a thirst for knowledge. He loved reading and proved himself to be a good student.
As a teenager, he became obsessed with books and evolved into a voracious reader. He even made a note of the books he had read in his notebook. He also diligently maintained a personal diary.
His father owned elegant mansions in New York City and Newport and an 800-acre country estate on Long Island. One of the mansions at 640 Fifth Avenue, completed when George was a young man, was considered the largest and most splendid house in Manhattan. The house was equipped with the latest technological conveniences like refrigeration and telephones.
Even though he developed an interest in his father’s art collections, he was never much interested in his family’s business affairs or financial matters. He did take an aesthetic interest in the family properties and oversaw the designs of his private quarters and personal library at their Manhattan mansion.
He travelled extensively and visited different parts of the United States and Europe as a young man and was greatly impressed by the artistic appeal of French architecture. As a result of being a wide traveler, he also became fluent in as many as eight foreign languages.
He furthered his formal education at the Columbia University and graduated with high honors.
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His father William died in 1885. Upon his death, his large fortune of approximately $200 million was split between his sons, the bulk of which was split between his two older sons, Cornelius Vanderbilt II and William K. Vanderbilt.
George inherited $5 million upon his father’s death. He had already inherited $1 million a few years ago from his grandfather and had received a million dollars from his father on his 21st birthday.
Since he was not much interested in the family businesses, he gladly let his older brothers operate the Vanderbilt family business. He now ran the family farm at New Dorp and Woodland Beach.
Now that he had lots of wealth and leisure time on his hands, he started exploring the region around North Carolina as he had heard about the scenic beauty of the place. He found the place to be extremely beautiful. The climatic conditions in North Carolina were also pleasant, so he came up with the idea of building a vacation home there.
He soon started buying land in North Carolina, and hired Richard Morris Hunt as his building architect and Frederick Law Olmsted as his landscape architect. Both Hunt and Olmsted were well-known architects who had previously worked on some famous projects.
George Vanderbilt wanted his vacation home to be unique and different from the ones built by other prominent Americans. The design of his house was greatly inspired by European architecture, especially the Waddesdon Manor in England and the Chateau de Blois in the Loire Valley in France.
Construction of the house began in 1889. In order to facilitate the large-scale project, a woodworking factory and brick kiln, which produced 32,000 bricks a day, were built onsite. A three-mile railroad spur was constructed to bring materials to the building site.
Vanderbilt was totally committed to building a unique and beautiful mansion and left no stones unturned in his efforts to build a truly exotic house. He spent lavishly on purchasing tapestries, carpets, prints, linens, and decorative objects, all dating between the 15th century and the late 19th century to furnish the house.
The magnificent estate, called the Biltmore Estate, was finally opened to family and friends from across the country on Christmas Eve 1895. Several notable guests visited the house over the years, and the Biltmore Estate gained much prominence in the time to come.
George Washington Vanderbilt is best remembered for building the largest private house in the United States—the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina. Spread over 178,926 square feet of floor space, the house was ranked eighth in America's Favorite Architecture by the American Institute of Architects. It is a major tourist attraction in Western North Carolina with almost 1 million visitors each year.
Personal Life & Legacy
George Washington Vanderbilt married Edith Stuyvesant Dresser in June 1898 at the American Cathedral in Paris, France. Their only child, a daughter named Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt was born in 1900.
He died at the relatively young age of 51 on March 6, 1914 following complications after an appendectomy in Washington, D.C.