By examining a range of sources from Gilded Age newspaper articles to architectural photographs to historical commentaries, this paper attempts to prove that the esteemed Vanderbilt family was imitating European Aristocracy. By examining first hand accounts of parties that family members threw, houses that they built, and places they traveled to, the paper develops its thesis. The use of primary sources is abundant and attempts to integrate the family’s story of progression from a small clan to one of the most powerful American “houses” into the concrete evidence. Pictures and visual evidence are key in showing material examples of how the family attempted to be European. Additionally, excerpts from family memoirs provide stories about the Vanderbilts’ fascination with the European elite. The paper is organized by generation of the family beginning with the Cornelius Vanderbilt, the family patriarch, and ending with his great grand children. The analysis of each of the generations’ material items and social practices comes together to develop the conclusion that the Vanderbilt’s efforts to imitate the lifestyle of European aristocrats led to the demise of the family fortune within three generations.
"An Expensive Imitation: How the Vanderbilt Family Became the House of Vanderbilt,"
Vol. 8, Article 11.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.pepperdine.edu/globaltides/vol8/iss1/11