February 8, 2007


And the man behind the brand is...
Cornelius Vanderbilt

When he died in 1877 at the age of 82 Cornelius Vanderbilt was the richest man to ever die in the United States. At a time when $100,000 was a considerable fortune, Vanderbilt had accumulated over 100 million dollars at the time of his death.

On March 17, 1873 the railroad baron signed over one million dollars to Bishop McTyeire to build and endow a university in the war-torn South. It was by far the greatest gift to education to date.

Commodore Vanderbilt attached five conditions to the gift. The first three stipulated the confidence he placed in the school founder, Bishop McTyeire. The fourth stated that the bequest was forever inviolable and would be kept safely invested. Only the interest was to be used in carrying on the University. The last condition required that the new institution be built in or near Nashville, Tennessee. The selection of Nashville was not inspired by any creative muse. Vanderbilt simply looked at a railroad map and observed Nashville was a strategic center of the South, easily accessible for the whole region.

Why had Cornelius Vanderbilt made this extraordinary donation? The only recorded statement of his purpose was a letter to Bishop McTyeire: "I tender my personal expressions of extreme regard, trusting that the healthful growth of the institution may be as great as I know it is your desire and determination to make it - and if it shall, through its influence, contribute, even in the smallest degree, to strengthening the ties which should exist between all geographical sections of our common country, I shall feel it has accomplished one of the objects that led me to take an interest in it."

Apparently the bequest was nothing more than a goodwill gesture to the South. Most of the aid going to the South at the time was obligatory assistance to rebuild a part of the nation. Vanderbilt's largesse was probably just a way of doing something for the people of the South.

On April 28, 1874 the cornerstone of the first building was laid. Classes began in October of 1875. Cornelius Vanderbilt never saw the university that bears his name.

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