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Inside the true lives and scandals of socialites that inspired HBO’s season two of The Gilded Age

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In a country without landed aristocracy, the Vanderbilts, Morgans, Astors and Rockefellers, were as close to royalty that America will ever get – with the titles and palaces to prove it. 

These tycoons made fortunes in oil, steel, railroads and banking during the latter half of the 19th century; interrupting the staid respectability of the old guard with their lavish lifestyles, yachts, priceless art and palatial mansions on Fifth Avenue. 

Bursting onto the scene, these new money arrivistes used their fortunes to buy prestige and reputability, enjoying lavish lifestyles that have been immortalized on-screen in hit HBO period drama The Gilded Age.

Season two of HBO’s popular period drama, The Gilded Age, has begun filming in Newport, Rhode Island. Written by Julian Fellowes, the series chronicles the social lives and melodramas of wealthy New York socialites in the 1880s and 1890s

Christine Baranski (right) plays an aristocrat named Agnes van Rhijn, and Sex and the City's Cynthia Nixon (left) plays Agnes's less well-off sister. The sisters represent New York's old guard of aristocrats who inherited power and wealth and struggle to find their staid turf challenged by the super wealthy Gilded Age industrialists and their upstart wives

Christine Baranski (right) plays an aristocrat named Agnes van Rhijn, and Sex and the City’s Cynthia Nixon (left) plays Agnes’s less well-off sister. The sisters represent New York’s old guard of aristocrats who inherited power and wealth and struggle to find their staid turf challenged by the super wealthy Gilded Age industrialists and their upstart wives

But within a few generations, the money was all but gone, depleted by heirs who only knew how to live well, marry well and spend abundantly. After all, the Gilded Age – as coined by Mark Twain – was really an era defined by its patina of splendor that hid the corrupt foundations that undergirded their vast accumulation of wealth.

Today, their legacy today remains on buildings, universities, foundations and street names throughout the country. 

With filming for season two of HBO’s period drama, The Gilded Age underway, DailyMail.com raises the velvet curtain on the private lives, immense tragedies, and enormous glamour of the storied and scandalous American dynasties that inspired the smash hit series. 

THE VANDERBILT DYNASTY BUILT ON A MASSIVE RAILROAD AND SHIPPING EMPIRE

Cornelius 'Commodore' Vanderbilt was an upstart from Staten Island who quit school at the age of 11 began working in his father's ferry business. Born into hardscrabble rural obscurity, Vanderbilt turned his small-scale ferry business into a massive transportation empire. By the time he died in 1877, Cornelius had amassed $100 million ($2.7b in today's money) - more than the entire US Treasury at the time

Cornelius left his entire fortune to his eldest son, Willian Henry Vanderbilt - effectively disinheriting his ten other children. William Henry would go on to double the Vanderbilt fortune—the only descendant to add to the wealth they'd been handed. By the time he died in 1885, William amassed a staggering fortune of $200 million, ($6.2b today). Vanderbilt leveraged his enormous wealth to land himself and his children on New York's social map

The Vanderbilt wealth began with Cornelius ‘Commodore’ Vanderbilt (left), an upstart from Staten Island who turned a small-scale ferry business into a massive shipping, steamboat, transportation, and railroad empire that launched his descendants into stratospheric wealth. By the time he died in 1877, Cornelius had amassed $100 million ($2.7b in today’s money) – more than the entire US Treasury at the time. He left his entire fortune to his eldest son, Willian Henry Vanderbilt (right), the only descendant to add to the wealth they’d been handed. By the time he died in 1885, William amassed a staggering fortune of $200 million, ($6.2b today). Vanderbilt leveraged his enormous wealth to land himself and his children on New York’s social map

Alice Vanderbilt reveled in her husband's wealth and wasted no time throwing it into the creation of enormous palaces on Fifth Avenue. In Newport, she became known as Alice of The Breakers. She made a dazzling entrance at her sister-in-law Alva's legendary costume ball dressed as a lightbulb (above)

'Willie' Kissam Vanderbilt and his wife, Alva (above), would change the entire face and trajectory of New York society in one evening with an extravagant costume ball in 1883. Alva was brilliant and 'utterly ruthless' in her quest to challenge Caroline Astor's iron rule over New York's aristocracy

Third generation Vanderbilts were keen to use their inheritance to infiltrate the gilded gates of New York Society. Until that point, they were considered nouveau riche vulgarians by the old guard. It would be their astonishing life of excess for which the family would become famous. Alva (right), would change the entire face and trajectory of New York society in one evening with an extravagant costume ball in 1883. Alva was brilliant and ‘utterly ruthless’ in her quest to challenge Caroline Astor’s iron rule over New York’s aristocracy. Alice Vanderbilt reveled in her husband’s wealth and wasted no time throwing it into the creation of enormous palaces on Fifth Avenue. In Newport, she became known as Alice of The Breakers. She made a dazzling entrance at her sister-in-law Alva’s legendary costume ball dressed as a lightbulb (left)

The Vanderbilt wealth began with Cornelius ‘Commodore’ Vanderbilt, an upstart from Staten Island who quit school at the age of 11 and began working in his father’s ferry business. Born into poverty in 1794, Cornelius’ dizzying rise from hardscrabble rural obscurity has become central in the American mythos of bootstrapping reinvention.

Cornelius turned a small-scale ferry business into a massive shipping, steamboat, transportation, and railroad empire that launched his descendants into stratospheric wealth. 

At his time of death in 1877, Cornelius was the richest man in the world, with more money than the entire US Treasury.

Railroads were a natural extension of his transportation business, by 1873 he had consolidated three lucrative railroad lines into one empire and commissioned a new station as their home. Today the iconic Grand Central Terminal is the beating heart of New York City, and receives over 750,000 visitors and passengers per day.

Another Vanderbilt legacy is Vanderbilt University in Tennessee which was founded thanks to the Commodore’s $1 million endowment in 1873. 

The donation was made under the persuasion of his much younger second wife, Frank Crawford, who was an avowed Confederate sympathizer and distant cousin of her husband.

Cornelius left the bulk of his $100 million fortune roughly – $2.7 billion in today’s money – to his son William Henry Vanderbilt. He was the only Vanderbilt who was able to double the family fortune. 

By the time William died in 1885, he amassed a staggering $200 million ($6.2 billion today), but all of it would be squandered within a few generations by heirs who only knew how to ‘live well, marry well’ and spend lavishly.’

In HBO's, The Gilded Age, Carrie Coon plays Mrs. Russell, a fictionalized version of Alva Vanderbilt who tries to use her enormous wealth to buy her way into New York Society. Much like the real Vanderbilts, the Russells are a nouveau-riche family that have made a fortune in railroads

Season one of the series sees Carrie Coon's character putting the finishing touches on a Fifth Avenue palace designed to look like a French chateau. Much like Alva Vanderbilt, the show follows Coon's attempt to 'Old Worldify' herself. She hired liveried servants, began collecting French art, hired a French chef, and purchased furniture, tapestries and carpets from European castles. American society would make up for its youthful inexperience by taking the class signifiers of Europe for their own

In HBO’s, The Gilded Age, Carrie Coon plays Mrs. Russell, a fictionalized version of Alva Vanderbilt who tries to use her enormous wealth to buy her way into New York Society. Much like the real Vanderbilts, the Russells are a nouveau-riche family that have made a fortune in railroads. Season one of the series sees Carrie Coon’s character putting the finishing touches on a Fifth Avenue palace designed to look like a French chateau. Much like Alva Vanderbilt, the show follows Coon’s attempt to ‘Old Worldify’ herself. She hired liveried servants, began collecting French art, hired a French chef, and purchased furniture, tapestries and carpets from European castles. American society would make up for its youthful inexperience by taking the class signifiers of Europe for their own.

Alva and Willie Vanderbilt's daughter Consuelo, would captivate the public in 1895 with her much anticipated marriage to the 9th Duke of Marlborough (a first cousin of Winston Churchill). Consuelo said her wedding was 'the worst day of her life'

Alva and Willie Vanderbilt's daughter Consuelo (left), would captivate the public in 1895 with her much anticipated marriage to the 9th Duke of Marlborough (a first cousin of Winston Churchill). Consuelo said her wedding was 'the worst day of her life'. Gladys Russell played by Taissa Farmiga (right) is a stand-in for Consuelo Vanderbilt, the daughter of William Kissam and Alva Vanderbilt who was forced into a loveless marriage with a British aristocrat by her socially ambitious mother

Alva and Willie Vanderbilt’s daughter Consuelo (left), would captivate the public in 1895 with her much anticipated marriage to the 9th Duke of Marlborough (a first cousin of Winston Churchill). Consuelo said her wedding was ‘the worst day of her life’. Gladys Russell played by Taissa Farmiga (right) is a stand-in for Consuelo Vanderbilt, the daughter of William Kissam and Alva Vanderbilt who was forced into a loveless marriage with a British aristocrat by her socially ambitious mother

Third generation Vanderbilts were keen to use their inheritance to infiltrate the gilded gates of New York Society. Until that point, they were considered nouveau riche vulgarians by the old guard. It would be their astonishing life of excess for which the family would become famous.  

Cornelius II, wasted no time throwing his inheritance into building an enormous palace on Fifth Avenue which featured 100 rooms and filled an entire city block. It was demolished in 1926, but it still holds the record for the largest private residence ever built in New York City to this day. 

His wife, Alice Vanderbilt, became known in Newport, Rhode Island as ‘Alice of The Breakers’ for her lavish summer house inspired by Versailles. Today the opulent home is on the National Register of Historic Places and is considered the epitome of Gilded Age excess. 

They managed to score some Patriarchs invitations, only because the sheer size of the Vanderbilt fortune meant their social triumph was inevitable, but most polite society hostesses kept the Vanderbilts at arm’s length through the 1870s. No one was willing to ‘take them on,’ as it were, before Caroline Astor indicated that she was ready for them to be included. So, they waited. 

Meanwhile Willie Kissam was a known party boy who indulged whose primary purpose ‘was to consume’ and spend. Willie and his socially ambitious wife, Alva, would use their considerable wealth to lay siege to the cloistered parlor rooms of old money. 

Her opening gambit was a grandiose masquerade costume ball to celebrate the completion of a grandiose gothic-style mansion on Fifth Avenue. Alva invited 1,200 of New York’s crème de la crème to her ‘housewarming’ party. 

After a power struggle with Caroline Astor, (the closest thing America had to landed aristocracy at the time), Alva would change the entire face and trajectory of society in one evening. 

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney was the great granddaughter of 'the Commodore.' She was at the center of her niece, Gloria Vanderbilt's sensational custody lawsuit, after suing little Gloria's mother for custody, citing neglect and immoral influence. Gertrude married into another wealthy family, the oil-rich Whitneys, and became a patron of the little-known modern artists. She eventually turned her gallery into what is now the world-renowned Whitney Museum of American Art in 1930

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney was the great granddaughter of ‘the Commodore.’ She was at the center of her niece, Gloria Vanderbilt’s sensational custody lawsuit, after suing little Gloria’s mother for custody, citing neglect and immoral influence. Gertrude married into another wealthy family, the oil-rich Whitneys, and became a patron of the little-known modern artists. She eventually turned her gallery into what is now the world-renowned Whitney Museum of American Art in 1930

The Whitney Museum  was founded in 1930 by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, a wealthy and prominent American socialite, sculptor, and art patron after whom it is named. Today its collection includes works by Andy Warhol, Edward Hopper, Georgia O'Keefe, Jasper Johns, Keith Haring, Robert Rauschenberg (to name a few)

The Whitney Museum  was founded in 1930 by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, a wealthy and prominent American socialite, sculptor, and art patron after whom it is named. Today its collection includes works by Andy Warhol, Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keefe, Jasper Johns, Keith Haring, Robert Rauschenberg (to name a few)

Alva and Willie Vanderbilt’s daughter Consuelo, would captivate the public in 1895 with her much anticipated marriage to the 9th Duke of Marlborough (a first cousin of Winston Churchill). Consuelo said her wedding was ‘the worst day of her life.’ The unhappy marriage was arranged through her socially ambitious mother, Alva – who had long hoped to secure an aristocratic match for her daughter.

Perhaps the greatest temple to Vanderbilt ambition and excess is the Biltmore estate in Asheville, North Carolina. Using the inheritance from his father, the Commodore’s youngest grandchild, George, built a colossal 175,000 square foot retreat in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The Biltmore remains America’s largest home to this day. With 250 rooms, 35 bedrooms, and 43 bathrooms, the French Renaissance chateau and its 8,000 acre property is still family owned and operated by George’s relatives.

By the time Gloria Vanderbilt was born in 1924, the family inheritance was spread thin among the five generations of descendants. She was dubbed ‘the poor little rich girl.’ 

Meanwhile, the railroad empire built by Cornelius had changed, and the family’s role would continue to dwindle until the 1970s when it would go bust. Eventually, the family could no longer afford to maintain their sumptuous lifestyle, nor could they afford their mansions. 

Many of them were town down by the 1920s, and the remaining few are now run by the National Park Service.  

When Gloria was just 10 years old, she became the center of a sensational custody lawsuit that was heard and reported around the world as ‘The Trial of the Century.’ 

Today the most notable Vanderbilt descendent is Gloria’s son, Anderson Cooper, a journalist and political commentator for CNN. 

‘The dynasty ended with Gloria,’ he said, in his 2021 book that explored his family’s legacy.

‘She was the last to be born before the Depression, when the Vanderbilt riches seemed as limitless and eternal as the stars in the sky,’ he says in the book.

Alice Vanderbilt's Newport, Rhode Island home known as 'The Breakers' cost $7 million or $220 million today's money. Though small in comparison to their gargantuan NYC home, the sprawling summer retreat is three times as big as the White House and made up of 70 rooms with sumptuous interiors

George Vanderbilt built a colossal 175,000 square foot retreat in Asheville, North Carolina known as 'The Biltmore.' It remains America's largest home to this day. With 250 rooms, 35 bedrooms, and 43 bathrooms, the French Renaissance chateau and its 8,000 acre property is still family owned and operated by George's relatives

Vanderbilt’s descendants squandered their fortune in an effort to break into society by building opulent homes, all which were built and torn down within a span of 60 years. Alice Vanderbilt’s Newport, Rhode Island home known as ‘The Breakers’ (left) cost $7 million or $220 million today’s money. Though small in comparison to their gargantuan NYC home, the sprawling summer retreat is three times as big as the White House and made up of 70 rooms with sumptuous interiors. George Vanderbilt built a colossal 175,000 square foot retreat in Asheville, North Carolina known as ‘The Biltmore’ (right). It remains America’s largest home to this day. With 250 rooms, 35 bedrooms, and 43 bathrooms, the French Renaissance chateau and its 8,000 acre property is still family owned and operated by George’s relatives

Another Vanderbilt legacy is Vanderbilt University in Tennessee which was founded thanks to the Commodore's $1 million endowment in 1873. The donation was made under the persuasion of his much younger second wife, Frank Crawford, who was an avowed Confederate sympathizer and distant cousin of her husband

Another Vanderbilt legacy is Vanderbilt University in Tennessee which was founded thanks to the Commodore’s $1 million endowment in 1873. The donation was made under the persuasion of his much younger second wife, Frank Crawford, who was an avowed Confederate sympathizer and distant cousin of her husband

CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper is a descendant of Cornelius Vanderbilt. He is the son of the late socialite, Gloria Vanderbilt (pictured) who essentially died penniless. Before her death at the age of 95 in 2019, she told Cooper: 'I suppose people will think you are inheriting the Vanderbilt millions. Boy, won’t they be surprised'

CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper is a descendant of Cornelius Vanderbilt. He is the son of the late socialite, Gloria Vanderbilt (pictured) who essentially died penniless. Before her death at the age of 95 in 2019, she told Cooper: ‘I suppose people will think you are inheriting the Vanderbilt millions. Boy, won’t they be surprised’

THE ASTORS: OLD MONEY FAMILY FORTUNE MADE ON FUR TRADING AND NEW YORK REAL ESTATE

John Jacob Astor moved to America after the Revolutionary War and became one of its first multimillionaires with his monopoly in the fur trade before he expanded his wealth in real estate. By his time of death, Astor was said to be worth $30 million — or over $1 billion in today's dollars

John Jacob Astor moved to America after the Revolutionary War and became one of its first multimillionaires with his monopoly in the fur trade before he expanded his wealth in real estate. By his time of death, Astor was said to be worth $30 million — or over $1 billion in today’s dollars

From Astoria, Queens, to Astor Place, and The Waldorf-Astoria, the Astor family name has been synonymous with American success for hundreds of years, influencing the very shape of New York City through their legacy of real estate development.

Born in Germany in 1763, John Jacob Astor moved to America after the Revolutionary War and became one of its first multimillionaires with his monopoly in the fur trade. 

He started diversifying his assets and purchased his first building by the time he was 26 years old, continuing to add to his real estate portfolio by snapping up neglected orchards and farmland along the Hudson River until until his death at age 84 in 1848. 

At 40 years old, Astor purchased 70 acres of prime Manhattan real estate that later became Times Square, running from 42nd and 46th Streets between Broadway and the Hudson River.

By his time of death, John Jacob Astor was said to be worth $30 million — or over $1 billion in today’s dollars.

His money would cement his grandchildren into the old money guard of American aristocracy. 

Most notably was his grandson, William Backhouse Astor Jr., who married a prominent Dutch socialite of staid respectability named Caroline Schermerhorn Astor. 

She was the epitome of ‘old money’ and ruled over New York society’s ‘Four Hundred’ during the Gilded Age as its primary gatekeeper alongside an established dandy named Ward McAllister. 

Caroline Astor was a prominent socialite of staid respectability who married into the Astor family. She wielded her social influence as a kingmaker and arbiter of taste, and became the gatekeeper of New York society

Caroline Astor's son, John Jacob Astor IV, was a financier and hotelier who founded luxury hotels throughout New York City including  the St. Regis Hotel, the Knickerbocker and the Waldorf- Astoria. He perished in 1912, in the sinking of the Titanic

Caroline Astor was the reigning queen of New York society, who despised new money arrivistes like the Vanderbilts and Morgans. She maintained the infamous ‘Four Hundred’ list, which tallied the few hundred people she felt belonged in a high society ballroom. Her son, John Jacob Astor IV (right), was the proprietor of the legendary Waldorf-Astoria hotel before he died in the Titanic 

The signature Astor family portrait in the drawing room, which was decorated in the then-fashionable Rococo style. Caroline Astor married her husband William Backhouse Astor Jr (2nd from left) in 1853, and had five children, including John Jacob Astor IV who died in the titanic

The signature Astor family portrait in the drawing room, which was decorated in the then-fashionable Rococo style. Caroline Astor married her husband William Backhouse Astor Jr (2nd from left) in 1853, and had five children, including John Jacob Astor IV who died in the titanic

Donna Murphy plays Caroline Schermerhorn Astor, a New York socialite that hailed from the earliest settlers in colonial America. Considered 'old money,' her husband's family had earned their fortunes through mercantile businesses and real estate holdings. The series chronicles how nouveau-riche families strove to achieve her acceptance, and famously fueled the envy of such newcomers to New York society as Alva Smith Vanderbilt from Mobile, Alabama

Donna Murphy plays Caroline Schermerhorn Astor, a New York socialite that hailed from the earliest settlers in colonial America. Considered ‘old money,’ her husband’s family had earned their fortunes through mercantile businesses and real estate holdings. The series chronicles how nouveau-riche families strove to achieve her acceptance, and famously fueled the envy of such newcomers to New York society as Alva Smith Vanderbilt from Mobile, Alabama

Amy Forsyth (left-) plays Carrie Astor - the handsome daughter of one of the most powerful women in New York City and her mother’s status often disrupts the ease with which Carrie would prefer to live her life as one of the most popular young socialites in town

Amy Forsyth (left-) plays Carrie Astor – the handsome daughter of one of the most powerful women in New York City and her mother’s status often disrupts the ease with which Carrie would prefer to live her life as one of the most popular young socialites in town

Caroline Astor recognized early of the importance of money in a country without landed aristocracy. She wielded her social influence as a kingmaker and arbiter of taste with liveried servants, French art, French chefs and imported china. 

She divided society into two categories: old money pedigrees (like her own) were called ‘nobs.’ While the nouveau riche arrivistes like the Vanderbilts were ‘swells,’ those who were ready to lavish their fortunes on social climbing.

In 1862, Mrs. Astor and her husband built a fashionable townhouse at 350 Fifth Avenue, hastening the movement of fashionable New Yorkers northward from their old world strongholds around Washington Square. 

When Murray Hill was the very vanguard of New York society, Caroline Astor became its reigning monarch.

Later, when her nephew, Waldorf Astor, tore down the house next door to hers and erected a 13-story hotel called The Waldorf — Caroline called it a ‘glorified tavern’ and decamped to the Upper East Side, to build her own Richard Morris Hunt-designed palace on Fifth Avenue and 65th Street.

Caroline’s son, John Jacob Astor IV continued the family feud with his cousin, building a competing hotel (four stories taller) right next to The Waldorf, naming it The Astoria. Eventually they combined the two hotels and it became the Waldorf = Astoria (the equal sign was later swapped for a dash). It stood on the future site of the Empire State Building.

Adding to his own real-estate holdings, John Jacob Astor IV also built the luxurious Knickerbocker Hotel and St. Regis. Both of which still exist today. 

His life was cut short in 1912, when he perished in the Titanic  but not before leaving his wife of 18 years, with whom he’d had two sons, for an 18-year-old debutante

The legendary Waldorf-Astoria hotel began in a family feud between two Astor cousins. It began when Caroline's nephew, Waldorf Astor, tore down the house next door to hers and erected a 13-story hotel called The Waldorf. Caroline's son retaliated by building a competing hotel (four stories taller) right next to The Waldorf, naming it The Astoria. Eventually they combined the two hotels and it became the Waldorf = Astoria (the equal sign was later swapped for a dash). It stood on the future site of the Empire State Building before it was moved to its current location in Midtown Manhattan

The legendary Waldorf-Astoria hotel began in a family feud between two Astor cousins. It began when Caroline’s nephew, Waldorf Astor, tore down the house next door to hers and erected a 13-story hotel called The Waldorf. Caroline’s son retaliated by building a competing hotel (four stories taller) right next to The Waldorf, naming it The Astoria. Eventually they combined the two hotels and it became the Waldorf = Astoria (the equal sign was later swapped for a dash). It stood on the future site of the Empire State Building before it was moved to its current location in Midtown Manhattan

Among the many relics of the Astor name throughout New York City is Astor Place. The subway mosaics today feature silhouettes of beavers in homage to the family’s roots

Among the many relics of the Astor name throughout New York City is Astor Place. The subway mosaics today feature silhouettes of beavers in homage to the family’s roots

Brooke Astor (seen in 1994) was the last reigning queen of New York. The American socialite died in 2007, aged 105. The bulk of her $100 million fortune was divided among various charities and and cultural institutions. Her only son, Anthony Marshall's inheritance was cut down to $14.5 million from $31 million after he was convicted of elder abuse and stealing from her in 2004

Brooke Astor (seen in 1994) was the last reigning queen of New York. The American socialite died in 2007, aged 105. The bulk of her $100 million fortune was divided among various charities and and cultural institutions. Her only son, Anthony Marshall’s inheritance was cut down to $14.5 million from $31 million after he was convicted of elder abuse and stealing from her in 2004

In 1931, the legendary hotel moved to Midtown Manhattan, where it remains today. The hotel was purchased by Conrad Hilton (grandfather of Paris Hilton) in 1949 and was later sold to a Chinese conglomerate in 2014.

Eventually Waldorf Astor, (proprietor of the original Waldorf hotel) got so fed up with his aunt, that he moved to England where he became the progenitor of a famous Astor Family of his own, not to be confused with the American branch.

The Astor lineage has been diluted in the years since its heyday of the Gilded Age. Through multiple marriages per generation, the wealth has also watered down. 

In 2013, one distant relative named Alexandra Aldrich who lived in a dilapidated 43-room estate in Barrytown, New York said: ‘I lived a double life. Our poverty was the big secret.’

The last reigning queen of New York was Brooke Astor, an American socialite and philanthropist who died at the age of 105 in 2007. 

Brooke was the third wife of William Vincent Astor (son of the man who died in the Titanic). Their marriage was set-up by his second wife, Mary ‘Minnie’ Cushing, who promised to find him a replacement wife before they divorced. 

William Vincent was known for having a difficult personality. ‘Of course she married Vincent for the money,’ said Brooke’s friend Louis Auchincloss, ‘I wouldn’t respect her if she hadn’t. Only a twisted person would have married him for love.’

The bulk of Brooke’s $100 million fortune was divided among various charities and and cultural institutions. Her only son, Anthony Marshall’s inheritance was cut down to $14.5 million from $31 million after he was convicted of elder abuse and stealing from her in 2004. 

JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER BECAME ‘THE WEALTHIEST AMERICAN OF ALL TIME’ AS AN OIL BARON

Unlike most Gilded Age dynasties that were plagued by scandal, feuds, lawsuits and bankruptcy, the Rockefellers are one of the few to maintain their wealth which is now spread among 200 descendants of John D. Rockefeller. 

The family billions began with a shrewd 16-year-old bookkeeper from Cleveland, Ohio, whose only formal training was a single business course and a hustler father who said: ‘I cheat my boys every chance I get. I trade with the boys and skin ’em and I just beat ’em every time I can. I want to make ’em sharp.’ 

By the time he was 25, Rockefeller was one of the wealthiest men in America. He founded the Standard Oil Company in 1870 with a monopoly that controlled 90 percent of all oil in the United States. 

John D. Rockefeller was a shrewd 16-year-old bookkeeper from Cleveland, Ohio, whose only formal training was a single business course. By the time he was 25, Rockefeller was one of the wealthiest men in America from founding the Standard Oil Company in 1870. He owned a monopoly that controlled 90 percent of all oil in the United States before a Supreme Court ruled that it violated anti-trust laws in 1911

John D. Rockefeller was a shrewd 16-year-old bookkeeper from Cleveland, Ohio, whose only formal training was a single business course. By the time he was 25, Rockefeller was one of the wealthiest men in America from founding the Standard Oil Company in 1870. He owned a monopoly that controlled 90 percent of all oil in the United States before a Supreme Court ruled that it violated anti-trust laws in 1911

At his time of death in 1937, Rockefeller's was worth $1.4 billion ($30 billion in today's money). His assets equaled 1.5% of America's GDP. As a comparison, it would require $315 billion today – twice the net worth of Jeff Bezos to even come close to that percentage. His son, John D. Rockefeller Jr. (right) is one of five children that inherited the fortune

At his time of death in 1937, Rockefeller’s was worth $1.4 billion ($30 billion in today’s money). His assets equaled 1.5% of America’s GDP. As a comparison, it would require $315 billion today – twice the net worth of Jeff Bezos to even come close to that percentage. His son, John D. Rockefeller Jr. (right) is one of five children that inherited the fortune

John D. Rockefeller Jr. was responsible for building Rockefeller Center, a complex of 19 skyscrapers in Midtown Manhattan. He also purchased and donated the land that Cloisters Museum is currently located in upper Manhattan, as well as the 16 acre plot of land that is currently home to the United Nations headquarters in New York City with an $8 million donation made in 1946

John D. Rockefeller Jr. was responsible for building Rockefeller Center, a complex of 19 skyscrapers in Midtown Manhattan. He also purchased and donated the land that Cloisters Museum is currently located in upper Manhattan, as well as the 16 acre plot of land that is currently home to the United Nations headquarters in New York City with an $8 million donation made in 1946

Standard Oil was dismantled in 1911, with a Supreme Court ruling that it violated anti-trust laws. It was broken up into separate entities, which later turned into today’s most powerful oil companies like ConocoPhillips, BP, Chevron, and Exxon-Mobil.

At his time of death in 1937, Rockefeller’s was worth $1.4 billion ($30 billion in today’s money). His assets equaled 1.5% of America’s GDP. As a comparison, it would require $315 billion today – twice the net worth of Jeff Bezos to even come close to that percentage.

After a long controversial career in the oil industry, Rockefeller devoted his life to philanthropy. He founded the Rockefeller foundation and gave away $550 million of his own fortune primarily to education and public health causes. 

He gave $80 million to the University of Chicago and turned it into a world-class institution, later describing it as ‘the best investment I ever made.’ As an ardent abolitionist, he made a large contribution to the historical black women’s college. Spelman University (named after his wife, Laura Spelman).

He also founded Rockefeller University in New York City, dedicated to medical research in 1901. 

His fortune was divided through a web of charitable foundations and trusts for his five children. Most notable among the siblings was, John D. Rockefeller Jr. who was responsible for building Rockefeller Center, a complex of 19 skyscrapers in Midtown Manhattan. 

He purchased and donated the land that Cloisters Museum is located in upper Manhattan, as well as the 16 acre plot of land that is currently home to the United Nations headquarters in New York City with an $8 million donation made in 1946.

John Jr.’s wife, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller whom he married in 1901, amassed a collection of revolutionary European and American art, including works by Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Matisse, which would later become the foundation of what is today New York City’s Museum of Modern Art.

Raised as heirs to a legacy, John Jr.’s children lived a life of splendor and privilege at their opulent country estates, or in Manhattan, when the brothers would roller skate along Fifth Avenue trailed by a limousine in case they grew tired. 

Her collection of revolutionary European and American art, including works by Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Matisse, among others, was the foundation of what would become New York City’s Museum of Modern Art. 

In addition to their own strong sense of noblesse oblige, John Jr.’s children also went on to have their own standalone successes. 

Nelson Rockefeller was elected as the governor of New York for four terms between 1953 and 1973. He later served as Vice President between 1974 and 1977 under President Gerald Ford’s administration. 

Rockefeller's grandson Nelson (pictured with his wife, Happy) was elected as the governor of New York for four terms between 1953 and 1973. He later served as Vice President between 1974 and 1977 under President Gerald Ford's administration

Rockefeller’s grandson Nelson (pictured with his wife, Happy) was elected as the governor of New York for four terms between 1953 and 1973. He later served as Vice President between 1974 and 1977 under President Gerald Ford’s administration

Michael Rockefeller (the great-grandson of John D.) has been missing for 60 years and is now presumed dead. He shot to notoriety in 1961 for having disappeared in 1961 while on an expedition in New Guinea. There has been speculation that the 23-year-old scion had been killed and eaten by cannibalistic tribespeople in the region

Michael Rockefeller (the great-grandson of John D.) has been missing for 60 years and is now presumed dead. He shot to notoriety in 1961 for having disappeared in 1961 while on an expedition in New Guinea. There has been speculation that the 23-year-old scion had been killed and eaten by cannibalistic tribespeople in the region

Nelson’s son, Michael has been missing for 60 years and is now presumed dead. He shot to notoriety in 1961 for having disappeared in 1961 while on an expedition in New Guinea. There has been speculation that the 23-year-old scion had been killed and eaten by cannibalistic tribespeople in the region. 

Nelson’s brother, David, also had a high-profile career as the President of Chase Manhattan Bank. He declined an offer to fill Robert F. Kennedy’s seat as Governor of New York after he was assassinated in 1968 and also refused an offer from President Jimmy Carter as Secretary of the Treasury. 

Nonetheless, David remained politically connected and often met with foreign rulers and US presidents such as Dwight Eisenhower, Saddam Hussein, Fidel Castro, Nikita Khrushchev and Mikhail Gorbachev. A New York Times article from 2006, estimated that his total charitable donations amounted to $900 million over his lifetime. 

David died in 2017, at age 101, worth $3 billion. His will left behind an additional $700 million to various non-profits.

Now entering its seventh generation today, the Rockefeller family today remains largely united. Their fortune is spread out among more than 170 heirs. According to Forbes in 2020, they were worth an estimated $8.4 billion in 2020.

JOHN PIERPONT MORGAN’S BANKING DYNASTY

One of the most powerful bankers dealmakers of the Gilded Age, John Pierpont (J.P.) Morgan dominated corporate banking on Wall Street and helped finance railroads, US Steel, General Electric and other major corporations. 

Born in 1837, the Connecticut native hailed from a distinguished family. One of his maternal relatives, James Pierpont, was the founder of Yale University, while his paternal grandfather was a founder of the Aetna Insurance Company.  

John Pierpont (J.P.) Morgan was one of the most powerful bankers and influential businessmen of the Gilded Age. Born in 1837, the Connecticut native followed his wealthy father into the banking business in the late 1850s, and in 1871 formed a partnership with Philadelphia banker Anthony Drexel. In 1895, their firm was reorganized as J.P. Morgan & Company, a predecessor of the modern-day financial giant JPMorgan Chase. Among his many accomplishments Morgan financed Thomas Edison in the invention of a commercially viable light bulb and helped form General Electric. In 1901, Morgan bought out Andrew Carnegie to create U.S. Steel, the first corporation in the world with a market capitalization of over $1 billion

John Pierpont (J.P.) Morgan was one of the most powerful bankers and influential businessmen of the Gilded Age. Born in 1837, the Connecticut native followed his wealthy father into the banking business in the late 1850s, and in 1871 formed a partnership with Philadelphia banker Anthony Drexel. In 1895, their firm was reorganized as J.P. Morgan & Company, a predecessor of the modern-day financial giant JPMorgan Chase. Among his many accomplishments Morgan financed Thomas Edison in the invention of a commercially viable light bulb and helped form General Electric. In 1901, Morgan bought out Andrew Carnegie to create U.S. Steel, the first corporation in the world with a market capitalization of over $1 billion

Jack, J.P. Morgan's son (pictured), became chairman of J.P. Morgan & Co. and his grandson Harry Morgan founded the investment bank Morgan Stanley and Co. However, most of the Morgans have slipped into obscurity. As for their family fortune, it diminished during the Great Depression and through family's penchant for philanthropy. Most of the fortune was in art and property, which has depreciated with time

Jack, J.P. Morgan’s son (pictured), became chairman of J.P. Morgan & Co. and his grandson Harry Morgan founded the investment bank Morgan Stanley and Co. However, most of the Morgans have slipped into obscurity. As for their family fortune, it diminished during the Great Depression and through family’s penchant for philanthropy. Most of the fortune was in art and property, which has depreciated with time

The Morgan Library & Museum is the only institution in the world to possess three copies of the Gutenberg Bible. An avid reader, and art collector, J.P. Morgan left behind his enormous collection of priceless artifacts to be viewed by the public, which are housed in his former mansion on 36th Street. The collection is said to be worth $900 million

The Morgan Library & Museum is the only institution in the world to possess three copies of the Gutenberg Bible. An avid reader, and art collector, J.P. Morgan left behind his enormous collection of priceless artifacts to be viewed by the public, which are housed in his former mansion on 36th Street. The collection is said to be worth $900 million

Perhaps the most names in the Morgan family today are Sonja Morgan and her daughter Quincy. Sonja married into the family when she tied the not with ex-husband John Adams Morgan in 1998, and she is currently a reality TV star on hit Bravo show The Real Housewives of New York City. She and John divorced in 2006

Perhaps the most names in the Morgan family today are Sonja Morgan and her daughter Quincy. Sonja married into the family when she tied the not with ex-husband John Adams Morgan in 1998, and she is currently a reality TV star on hit Bravo show The Real Housewives of New York City. She and John divorced in 2006

J.P. followed his wealthy father into the banking business in the late 1850s, and in 1871 formed a partnership with Philadelphia banker Anthony Drexel. In 1895, their firm was reorganized as J.P. Morgan & Company, a predecessor of the modern-day financial giant JPMorgan Chase. 

In 1861, Morgan married Amelia Sturges, the daughter of a prominent New York businessman, but she died, just four months after the wedding from tuberculosis. In 1865, Morgan married Frances Louisa Tracy, the daughter of a New York lawyer, and the pair eventually had four children, but he became a serial philanderer as he accumulated wealth and power.

As railroads expanded throughout America, Morgan consolidated a number of financially troubled railroad companies, eventually controlling one-sixth of rail lines.   

He invested in Thomas Edison and the Edison Electricity Company; helped create General Electric, International Harvester and AT&T. In 1901, Morgan bought out Andrew Carnegie to create U.S. Steel, the first corporation in the world with a market capitalization of over $1 billion.

Morgan became so rich and powerful that he saved the federal government from default twice. First in 1895, when he allowed the government to purchase his vast gold supplies to stop the spiral of deflation, and again during the Panic of 1907.

With a lifelong passion for art, Morgan was the president of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1904 to 1913. 

When he died, Morgan left behind a personal art collection, of manuscripts, printed books, prints, drawings, and ancient artifacts. Housed in what is now known as the Morgan Library and Museum, his former mansion on Fifth Avenue and 36th Street, is home to a trove worth over $900 million. 

By one estimate, J. P. Morgan is believed to have been the 24th richest American in history, inflation adjusted. His fortune is believed to have grown to about $38 billion (2007 USD). 

Jack, J.P. Morgan’s son, became chairman of J.P. Morgan & Co. and his grandson Harry Morgan founded the investment bank Morgan Stanley and Co. 

However, most of the Morgans have slipped into obscurity. As for their family fortune, it diminished during the Great Depression and through family’s penchant for philanthropy. Most of the fortune was in art and property, which has depreciated with time.

Perhaps the most recognizable member of the family today is reality star Sonja Morgan, who married into the family when she tied the knot with Morgan Stanley founder Harry’s son John Adams Morgan in 1998. The couple had one child together, daughter Quincy, now 21, before they divorced in 2006. 

But while Sonja only joined the Morgan dynasty through marriage, she has maintained the name – and helped to keep it in the spotlight through her long-running appearance on the hit Bravo reality series The Real Housewives of New York City.

ANDREW CARNEGIE’S COLLOSSAL FORTUNE AMASSED THROUGH A STEEL EMPIRE

Scottish-born Andrew Carnegie was an American industrialist who epitomized the Gilded Age ideal of the self-made man, rising from rags to riches to become one of the wealthiest individuals in the history of the world. 

With no formal education, Carnegie found employment as a bobbin boy at a Pittsburgh cotton factory, earning $1.20 a week before taking a job with the Pennsylvania Railroad at age 18.   

Carnegie continued his ascent in the business world. With the US railroad industry entering a period of rapid growth, he seized an opportunity to invest in the steel business, recognizing that it would replace iron rails. 

Scottish-born Andrew Carnegie was an American industrialist who epitomized the Gilded Age ideal of the self-made man, rising from rags to riches to become one of the wealthiest individuals in the history of the world. He invested in the steel business during a time when the US railroad industry was entering a period of rapid growth. In 1901, the steel tycoon sold Carnegie Steel to JP Morgan for $480 million (what today would be nearing $16 billion). He is pictured above with his wife, Louise Whitfield who was 21 years his junior

Scottish-born Andrew Carnegie was an American industrialist who epitomized the Gilded Age ideal of the self-made man, rising from rags to riches to become one of the wealthiest individuals in the history of the world. He invested in the steel business during a time when the US railroad industry was entering a period of rapid growth. In 1901, the steel tycoon sold Carnegie Steel to JP Morgan for $480 million (what today would be nearing $16 billion). He is pictured above with his wife, Louise Whitfield who was 21 years his junior

Carnegie had one daughter named Margaret, who died in 1990. Yet unlike many Gilded Age dynasties, Carnegie did not leave his descendants with a stake in the company he helped build. After selling off his business to J.P. Morgan, he devoted the rest of his life to giving away his entire fortune. 'The man who dies rich, dies disgraced,' he once said

Carnegie had one daughter named Margaret, who died in 1990. Yet unlike many Gilded Age dynasties, Carnegie did not leave his descendants with a stake in the company he helped build. After selling off his business to J.P. Morgan, he devoted the rest of his life to giving away his entire fortune. ‘The man who dies rich, dies disgraced,’ he once said

By the time he was in his early 30s, Carnegie had become a very wealthy man. 

He then formed Carnegie Steel and sold it to JP Morgan in 1901 for $480 million (what today would be nearing $16 billion). 

The steel tycoon did not want to marry during his mother’s lifetime, instead choosing to take care of her in her illness towards the end of her life. After she died in 1886, the 51-year-old mogul married Louise Whitfield, who was 21 years his junior. 

They had one daughter named Margaret, who died in 1990. 

To house his family, Carnegie built the grandest of all Gilded Age Fifth Avenue mansions on the corner of 91st Street. Today it is the location of the Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt museum. 

Yet unlike many Gilded Age dynasties, Carnegie did not leave his descendants with a stake in the company he helped build. It now trades on the New York Stock Exchange.

He devoted the rest of his life to giving away his entire fortune. ‘The man who dies rich, dies disgraced,’ he once said. 

Among his philanthropic activities, he funded the establishment of more than 2,500 public libraries around the globe, donated more than 7,600 organs to churches worldwide and endowed many organizations such as Carnegie Hall (an iconic concert venue in New York that opened in 1891). As well as Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. 

Barely anything is left of Carnegie’s fortune, which was once valued on par with the oil tycoon Rockefellers and the banking Morgan family. The fourth-generation members of Andrew Carnegie’s lineage now have the self-made wealth of white collar professionals. Their children and grandchildren make up a large fifth generation and a growing sixth. 

Linda Thorell Hills, one of Andrew Carnegie’s great granddaughters, told Forbes that her family has ‘lived conservatively and privately,’ and noted that it’s easier to blend in since they are all descendants of his only daughter and none live with the Carnegie last name. 

There is a small but diminishing branch of Carnegies that hail from the industrialist’s brother, Thomas. Unlike his brother, Thomas divvied up his fortune among his children. Some of them continue to live on Cumberland Island, off the coast of Georgia, which he purchased in 1880.   

‘We had the island and that’s it,’ said fifth-generation descendant Lucy Foster Flight to Forbes.com. ‘There’s this misnomer that we’re this really rich family and feel that we’re owed the right to be on the island. It’s really hard because that’s our home.’ 

Carnegie built the grandest of all Gilded Age Fifth Avenue mansions on the corner of 91st Street. Today it is the location of the Smithsonian's Cooper Hewitt museum

Carnegie built the grandest of all Gilded Age Fifth Avenue mansions on the corner of 91st Street. Today it is the location of the Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt museum

Carnegie Hall in Midtown Manhattan is a legendary concert venue built by Andrew Carnegie in 1891. It's been the sight of many famous concerts over the years from Judy Garland to Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington, Charles Aznavour, Simon and Garfunkel and the last public lecture give by Mark Twain

Carnegie Hall in Midtown Manhattan is a legendary concert venue built by Andrew Carnegie in 1891. It’s been the sight of many famous concerts over the years from Judy Garland to Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington, Charles Aznavour, Simon and Garfunkel and the last public lecture give by Mark Twain

HENRY CLAY FRICK WAS A COKE-FUEL PIONEER BEFORE HE JOINED CARNEGIE’S STEEL EMPIRE

Henry Clay Frick, born in Pennsylvania in 1849, began amassing the fortune that would get him to New York at age 21, when he founded the Frick Coke Company, which supplied the fuel used in Pennsylvania’s steel mills. 

Ten years later, already a millionaire, he entered into a partnership with steel baron Andrew Carnegie, vaulting him into the ranks of America’s richest men. 

Around the same time, Frick paid a visit to William H. Vanderbilt’s resplendent mansion at 640 Fifth Avenue, which inspired him to begin collecting art himself. The Vanderbilt palace, with its French Louis XVI furniture, Italian tapestries and masterpiece-filled galleries made such an impression on Frick, that according to his biographer (and great-granddaughter) Martha Frick Symington Sanger, Frick remarked, ‘It’s all I shall ever want.’ 

He was dogged by multiple controversies during his time. In 1889, 2,209 people in Johnstown, Pennsylvania died when the dam broke of his private fishing and hunting club. He modified the reservoir to suit his recreational needs, most fatally was that he lowered the dam that got overburdened during a storm, causing a 40 foot wave that crashed through the town downstream. It was considered the worst disaster in American history at the time. 

Henry Clay Frick, born in Pennsylvania in 1849, began amassing the fortune that would get him to New York at age 21, when he founded the Frick Coke Company, which supplied the fuel used in Pennsylvania's steel mills

He married Adelaide Howard Childs in the late 1870s, the couple had four children but two died in infancy

The basis of Henry Clay Frick’s fortune was a company that baked coal down into the hotter-burning coke used as fuel in blast furnaces in steel manufacturing. The company boomed spectacularly, making Frick a young millionaire. Later he became a key partner in Carnegie Steel before the two industrial magnates had a falling out. Frick married Adelaide Howard Childs in the late 1870s, the couple had four children but two died in infancy

In New York, Frick began to collect paintings that 'reflected the high society into which he was moving,' including a few Rembrandts, a trio of Vermeers, El Greco's Saint Jerome and a series of Fragonard panels called 'The Progress of Love' that he purchased from J.P. Morgan. Today, the Frick Collection is housed in his former Fifth Avenue palace on the corner of 70th Street and is home to one of the finest collections of European paintings in the United States. It contains many works of art dating from the pre-Renaissance up to the post-Impressionist eras, in addition to a large collection of carpets, porcelain, sculptures, and period furniture

In New York, Frick began to collect paintings that ‘reflected the high society into which he was moving,’ including a few Rembrandts, a trio of Vermeers, El Greco’s Saint Jerome and a series of Fragonard panels called ‘The Progress of Love’ that he purchased from J.P. Morgan. Today, the Frick Collection is housed in his former Fifth Avenue palace on the corner of 70th Street and is home to one of the finest collections of European paintings in the United States. It contains many works of art dating from the pre-Renaissance up to the post-Impressionist eras, in addition to a large collection of carpets, porcelain, sculptures, and period furniture

Another scandal followed Frick in 1892 when his attempt to break the union at Carnegie Steel turned into a battle between the steelworkers and the Pinkerton security agents he hired to protect the mill. Three Pinkertons and nine union members were killed in the clash.

Frick survived an assassination attempt two weeks later, when an aggrieved anarchist burst into his office and shot him twice at close range.   

The steel baron escaped death when he canceled his passage on the Titanic after his wife sprained her ankle and had to be hospitalized in Italy. Another passenger who was supposed to be on the maiden voyage was J.P. Morgan, who had a personal suite booked on board with his own private promenade deck and a bath equipped with specially designed cigar holders. He was reportedly booked on the maiden voyage but instead remained at the French resort of Aix to care for his failing health

The steel baron escaped death when he canceled his passage on the Titanic after his wife sprained her ankle and had to be hospitalized in Italy. Another passenger who was supposed to be on the maiden voyage was J.P. Morgan, who had a personal suite booked on board with his own private promenade deck and a bath equipped with specially designed cigar holders. He was reportedly booked on the maiden voyage but instead remained at the French resort of Aix to care for his failing health

In 1905, Frick moved his growing collection of high art to New York City, where he stayed at the Sherry Netherland Hotel, briefly while building his enormous mansion on Fifth Avenue and 70th Street. 

He left Pittsburgh, allegedly because the pollution from his own coke ovens and Carnegie’s mills was damaging the art. This was the beginning of what would become the Frick Collection.

In New York, Frick began to collect paintings that ‘reflected the high society into which he was moving,’ including a few Rembrandts, a trio of Vermeers, El Greco’s Saint Jerome and a series of Fragonard panels called ‘The Progress of Love’ that he purchased from J.P. Morgan.   

Today, the Frick Collection is housed in his former Fifth Avenue palace and is home to one of the finest collections of European paintings in the United States. It contains many works of art dating from the pre-Renaissance up to the post-Impressionist eras, in addition to a large collection of carpets, porcelain, sculptures, and period furniture.

As a throwback to its Gilded Age glory, every year, the Frick Museum hosts the Young Fellows Ball, which is a charity event attended by all of the glitziest and most fashionable modern day socialites. 

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