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Wrought iron entrance gates to the Vanderbilt summer house at Newport Rhode Island called the Breakers. | by denisbin
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Wrought iron entrance gates to the Vanderbilt summer house at Newport Rhode Island called the Breakers.

Newport Rhode Island. RI was one of the original 13 colonies to declare independence. It is the smallest US state. Roger Williams established the colony of Providence and Anne Hutchinson and others established a small settlement at Newport on Aquidneck Island. Williams and Hutchinson were Puritans expelled for Massachusetts for their religious ideas. In 1644 the 2 settlements united to become the colony of Rhode Island (after the isle of Rhodes in Greece.) RI was the first colony to renounce allegiance to the British King but the last to ratify the US Constitution - it waited until May 1890 for assurances that a Bill of Rights would be added.

 

The Robber Barons and Newport. During the Industrial Revolution in America after the Civil War a small group of men and families came to dominate US business. They were the leaders, the first to develop and use new technology and materials, just like Bill Gates in this modern era. They built the railroads, were the first to use the new Bessemer steel making process, they developed the telegraph, the telephone, and they discovered oil and extracted kerosene to replace whale oil as the main burning fuel. Later, men like Henry Ford developed the motor car at an affordable price for middle class Americans, and he also introduced assembly line production system. They were the first to take control of these new industries and establish either regional or national monopolies by buying out all competitors. There were no US laws to restrict cartels and monopolies at that time. They got control of the natural resources- the oil wells, the means of transport- the railroads and oil pipelines, and they manufactured - especially steel. They also owned the coal mines. So they owned everything from the natural resources to the produced item and they controlled the marketing, the prices and the sales. They were known as the ‘Robber Barons’ and their influence on American is still great today despite decades of anti-trust (monopoly) legislation. Fortunately for the US they started the tradition of massive donations as their personal and company tax rates were so low. Their family names are especially linked to Bar Harbor, Newport and New York City. They were an exclusive group. To ‘make it’ in NY you had to be part of the 400, the 400 people Mrs. Astor could fit into her ballroom.

The Astors: of German descent and they made money from the fur and opium trade and were known as the landlords of NY. They lived where the Empire State is now built. They owned huge areas of NY and had their summer house at Newport. They donated the NY Public Library to the city.

The Vanderbilts: were original Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam. They owned much of Fifth Avenue where they lived near the Astors. They built a railroad and shipping empire to make them even today one of the wealthiest families. They owned and built Grand Central Terminal in NY, the largest train station in the world with 75 platforms.

The Carnegies: Andrew went into steel making and created the US Steel Company. He then invested in oil wells, railroads, and coal mining and became the second wealthiest man after John Rockefeller. He endowed Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh - his steel making city. He endowed Carnegie Music Hall in NY. He was a financial backer of Booker T. Washington the great black leader of the 1890s who founded Tuskegee University for Black Americans. You might see Carnegie Hall in NY.

The Morgans: John Pierpont became the banker to the Robber Barons. He then developed General Electrics but he was the banker to all the main railroads, steel works, telegraph companies and he was the investor behind the White Star Line of Titanic fame. On your free day in NY you could visit his home and the Morgan collection of books etc.

The Rockefellers: John was the man who established the Standard Oil Company but he owned the oilfields, the pipelines, and the refineries. He had 100,000 employees and lived near the Vanderbilts. His philanthropic interests included health, hospitals, sewerage and education. The Rockefeller Centre in NY is still owned by the family.

The Fricks: Henry Clay Frick was a steel magnate with works in Pittsburgh and New York. His art collection, the Frick Collection of old European masters is housed in his Fifth Avenue home which was designed to make Andrew Carnegie’s home look like a shack. You can visit this collection on the free day in NY if you want.

 

The Breakers - one of the Ten Mansions open in Newport. Cornelius Vanderbilt’s grandson had this mansion built in 1893. It is a 70 roomed Italian Renaissance style palace built as a summer house only. The house has been publically owned since 1973. It cost more than $12 million to build. Its furnishing and the building materials are lavish. The gardens are superb and sweep down to the cliff top edges, hence the house name, the Breakers.

 

The Marble House. This house was built for William Vanderbilt as a summer cottage between 1888-92.It was inspired by the Petit Trianon at Versailles. Mrs Vanderbilt saw it as her ‘temple to the arts.’ It cost $11 million to erect with $7million going on marble. William gave it to his wife as a 39th birthday present! To ‘relive’ the Newport experience read the novels of Edith Wharton, herself a NY aristocrat who had a summer residence at Newport. She was a great friend of the Vanderbilts. She is the American Jane Austen. Read The Age of Innocence 1921; or The House of Mirth 1905. Both novels have been made into films the Innocence in 1993 and the Mirth in 2000.

 

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Taken on October 15, 2012