William H. Vanderbilt autographs are few and far between. But when his autographs appear on key documents relating to the founding of the Vanderbilt Clinic, it's an eye opener!
William Vanderbilt was a wonderful businessman. In 1877, he inherited an astounding $ 100 million dollars from his famous father and railroad magnate, Cornelius Vanderbilt. By the time of his death less than nine years later, William had almost doubled his family's wealth to $ 194 million dollars.
Despite his astronomical increase in wealth, William Vanderbilt was a generous humanitarian. Vanderbilt cave large sums of money to the YMCA and Vanderbilt University (an institution founded by his father). Vanderbilt was also instrumental in the founding of the Metropolitan Opera in 1883.
Vanderbilt had a special affinity for Columbia University and provided a generous endowment to the College of Physicians and Surgeons. According to a contemporary publication, James Woods McLane, MD, an 1864 graduate of College of Physicians & Surgeons and professor of obstetrics at the College, said to Vanderbilt, "I've got a rod in the pickle for you." McLane sent Vanderbilt a bill for funding a medical complex. The contemporary publication reported, "It was the largest bill ever made out by a New York medical man."
In 1884, William Vanderbilt donated land valued at $ 200,000 that was located between 59th Street and 60th Street, and between 9th and 10th Avenues to the College of Physicians and Surgeons. Vanderbilt contributed another $ 300,000 to construct three buildings on the site and found the Maternity Hospital. Checks provided to Dr. McLane as treasurer of the College of Physicians & Surgeons that served as the initial treaties can be viewed online. These frameable checks autographed by William Vanderbilt are among the greatest philanthropic medical contributions ever recorded in American history. In a few short years, this institution became one of the busiest medical centers in America. In 1900, over 150,000 people were treated at this facility.
Despite giving away vast amounts of money for philanthropic causes, William H. Vanderbilt was the richest man in the world at the time of his death. Checks bearing Vanderbilt autographs for Columbia University attest to his great philanthropy. Although he considered great wealth a "… load for any back or brain to bear," Vanderbilt will be remembered for his astute business acumen and his great philanthropic contributions to America.