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William Kissam Vanderbilt

William Kissam Vanderbilt
File:William KissamVanderbilt.jpg
Born 12, 1849(1849-Template:MONTHNUMBER-12)
New Dorp, Staten Island, New York[1]
Died 22, 1920 (aged 70)
Paris, France
Occupation Horse breeder
Spouse(s) Template:Event
Template:Event(his death)
Children Consuelo Vanderbilt
William Kissam Vanderbilt II
Harold Stirling Vanderbilt
Parents William Henry Vanderbilt

William Kissam Vanderbilt (December 12, 1849 – July 22, 1920[1]) was a member of the prominent American Vanderbilt family and a horse breeder.


The second son of William Henry Vanderbilt, from whom he inherited $55 million, he was for a time active in the management of the family railroads, though not much after 1903. His sons, William Kissam Vanderbilt II (1878–1944) and Harold Stirling Vanderbilt (1884–1970), were the last to be active in the railroads, the latter losing a proxy battle for the New York Central Railroad in the 1950s.

Vanderbilt's first wife was Alva Erskine Smith (1853–1933), whom he married on April 20, 1875. Born in 1853 to a slave-owning Alabama family, she was the mother of his children and was instrumental in forcing their daughter Consuelo (1877–1964) to marry the 9th Duke of Marlborough in 1895. Not long after this, the Vanderbilts divorced and Alva married Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont.

In 1903, Vanderbilt married Anne Harriman, daughter of banker Oliver Harriman. She was a widow to sportsman Samuel Stevens Sands and to Lewis Morris Rutherfurd, Jr., son of the astronomer Lewis Morris Rutherfurd. Her second husband died in Switzerland in 1901. She had two sons by her first marriage and two daughters by her second marriage. She had no children by Vanderbilt.

After the death of his brother, Cornelius Vanderbilt II, in 1899, Vanderbilt was generally regarded as head of the Vanderbilt family.

File:660 5th Avenue New York City.jpg
W. K. Vanderbilt House on Fifth Avenue, New York City

Like other Vanderbilts, he built magnificent houses. His homes included Idle Hour (1900) on Long Island and Marble House (1892), designed by Richard Morris Hunt, in Newport, Rhode Island. Hunt also designed Vanderbilt's 660 Fifth Avenue mansion (1883).

Vanderbilt was a co-owner of the yacht Defender, which won the 1895 America's Cup. Vanderbilt was a founder and president of the New Theatre.

Thoroughbred horse racing

Vanderbilt was one of the founders of The Jockey Club. He was a shareholder and president of the Sheepshead Bay Race Track in Brooklyn, New York and the owner of a successful racing stable.

In 1896, he built the American Horse Exchange at 50th Street (Manhattan) and Broadway. In 1911 he was leased it (and eventually sold it to) the Shubert Organization who then transformed it into the Winter Garden Theatre.[2]

After his divorce from Alva, he moved to France where he built a château and established the Haras du Quesnay horse racing stable and breeding farm near Deauville in France's famous horse region of Lower Normandy. Among the horses he owned was the U.S. Racing Hall of Fame filly Maskette, purchased from Castleton Farm in Lexington, Kentucky for broodmare services at his French breeding farm. Vanderbilt's horses won a number of important races in France including:

  • Prix de la Forêt: Prestige (1905), Montrose II (1911, dead-heat), Pétulance (1911, dead-heat)
  • Prix Boiard: Prestige (1906), Maintenon (1907) et Tchad (1920)
  • Prix Kergorlay: Turenne (1904), Maintenon (1906), Sea Sick (1909, 1910)
  • Prix Lagrange: Prestige (1906)
  • Prix Morny: Prestige (1905), Messidor III (1909) et Manfred (1910)
  • Prix La Rochette: Schuyler (1907), Manfred (1910), Brume (1910), Pétulance (1911)

William Kissam Vanderbilt died in Paris, France on July 22, 1920.[1] His remains were brought home and interred in the Vanderbilt family vault in the Moravian Cemetery in New Dorp, Staten Island, New York.


  • Case, Carole - The Right Blood: America's Aristocrats in Thoroughbred Racing (2000) Rutgers University Press ISBN 0-8135-2840-2


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