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Numerous sources, including a New York Times letter to the editor and other references, highlight the dramatic shift in the financial fortunes of Cornelius Vanderbilt's descendants:

When 120 of the Commodore's descendants gathered at Vanderbilt University in 1973 for the first family reunion, there was not a millionaire among them.

This prompts several questions:

  1. Can the occurrence of this 1973 family gathering be confirmed?
  2. Is it accurate that none of the attendees were millionaires at the time?
  3. Were there any millionaires among Vanderbilt's descendants in 1973 who did not attend this reunion?
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    Is that suggesting that there was only 120 descendants in 1970? It could easily be that the part of the family with money wasn't present. You should also probably note that the NYT item is a letter to the editor and not something that someone from the newspaper wrote.
    – Joe W
    Dec 4, 2023 at 19:56
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    @JoeW updated the question Dec 4, 2023 at 20:04
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    @JoeW Anderson Cooper and his mom are two of over 500 who didn't attend.
    – DavePhD
    Dec 5, 2023 at 15:29
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    Cornelius Vanderbilt left 95% to his eldest son, and 5% shared among his 10 other children. So it doesn't take much to dilute the wealth in the 5% branch.
    – jpa
    Dec 5, 2023 at 17:17
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    @phoog there were much younger Vanderbilt kids there.
    – DavePhD
    Dec 7, 2023 at 0:59

2 Answers 2

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As a preface, the original source of the claim is Arthur T. Vanderbilt II in his 1989 book Fortune's children: the fall of the house of Vanderbilt, on page ix of the introduction. (Quote also mentioned in this 10 September 1989 review of his book.)

Can the occurrence of this 1973 family gathering be confirmed?

Yes, according to Tennessee law:

WHEREAS , Vanderbilt University will begin a celebration of its Centennial on March 16– 17 , 1973 with a reunion on campus of the Vanderbilt family which has graciously assisted in the support of the University for six generations

See also the 19 March 1973 New York Times article All Those Vanderbilts Hold a Family Reunion which explains that only 80 descendants (plus 40 spouses) out of the 592 living descendants attended.

Gloria Vanderbilt and Carter Burden, two of the better known New Yorkers in the family, did not attend.

...

Some of the Tennesseeans at the celebration were surprised to learn that not all Vanderbilts are extremely wealthy. The Commodore's millions have been diluted in some branches of the family.

“Some of us work for a living,” Peter O. Wilde of Cambridge, Mass., said at one of the cocktail parties. He is a real estate consultant and a teacher at Harvard Business School.

Is it accurate that none of the attendees were millionaires at the time?

The article says that Duke of Marlborough John George Vanderbilt Henry Spencer Churchill was at the reunion. He was very wealthy according to the Wikipedia article.

Were there any millionaires among Vanderbilt's descendants in 1973 who did not attend this reunion?

Yes, Carter Burden was a descendent who, as explained above, did not attend, but was a millionaire according to the 7 November 1971 article The Carter Burden question—Can a rich, handsome young member of the Jet Set from Dry Dock Country find happiness as a reform machine pol?:

millionaire owner of The Village Voice

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This is false as can be seen by clicking through the wikipedia page of Cornelius Vanderbilt and his descendants. For example Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt is a great-grand-daughter of Cornelius and was the owner of the Biltmore Estate, the largest privately owned house in the United States. I didn't find an exact value of the house but it is quite clearly worth more than one million dollars. Cornelia died in 1976 so after 1973.

The house still counts as privately owned today but I haven't tracked down whether by a descendent of the Vanderbilts.

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    It's entirely plausible that Cornelia just didn't attend the 1973 gathering, so this really only addresses the headline question and Question #3 above. (Questions #1 and #2 are answered by the other answer, though.) Dec 5, 2023 at 18:24
  • For anyone not from New York, her name is basically the local equivalent of Ritchie McRichPerson, since it incorporates both Vanderbilt and Stuyvesant. It'd be pretty shocking if she wasn't filthy rich.
    – Kevin
    Dec 6, 2023 at 20:05
  • Per the Biltmore Estate page, the house is still owned by Vanderbilts, certain parts of which are open to the public at Christmas, but a large portion of the grounds were donated to the public. Dec 7, 2023 at 2:47
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    Wikipedia says Cornelia never returned to the United States after 1934.
    – DavePhD
    Dec 8, 2023 at 16:41

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