Cornelius Vanderbilt
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Portrait of Cornelius Vanderbilt.

Credit: Courtesy of the Vanderbilt University, Special Collections and University Archives

A ruthless businessman, Cornelius Vanderbilt made a fortune first in steam ships, and then as owner of the mighty New York Central Railroad. Vanderbilt would disown all of his sons except William, to whom he left more than 90 percent of an estate worth more than $100m.

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