By 1861, the name of one-time ferryboat captain Cornelius Vanderbilt was becoming familiar in the U.S. shipping circles. Men who knew the business predicted that he would find a way to double the money he had made when he sold his California-to-Nicaragua shipping line.
One month after Fort Sumter, he surprised Federal authorities. In a letter to W. O. Bartlett, who was about to go to Washington, Vanderbilt authorized him to say that the steamer Vanderbilt would be turned over to the government on its own terms. As president of the Atlantic and Pacific Steamship Company, he offered the U.S. Navy four additional vessels. With the price of these ships to be determined by a “board of commodores,” he offered the Ocean Queen, Ariel, Champion, and Daniel Webster.
Just one year later, Vanderbilt bought a controlling interest in the New York and Harlem Railroad. From that point he had clear sailing in his quest to become one of the nation’s wealthiest men.