Harold Stirling Vanderbilt Collection

Identifier: MSS.0468

  • Staff Only

Scope and Contents

The Harold Stirling Vanderbilt Collection consists of materials transferred to Vanderbilt University from the Manalapan, Florida estate “Eastover” after the death of Vanderbilt’s widow Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt. Spanning the years from approximately 1900 to 1978, it contains linear feet of materials. Much of the collection consists of correspondence, scrapbooks, photo albums, snapshots and other photographs, and artifacts pertaining to Vanderbilt’s involvement in yacht racing, bridge and Vanderbilt University. The collection mostly concerns these three aspects of Vanderbilt’s life.

It contains little personal correspondence and almost no materials relating to his business affairs during his long association with the New York Central Railroad.

The correspondence is divided into three groups, concerning Vanderbilt’s interests in bridge, yacht racing, and Vanderbilt University. There are several hundred photographs in the collection. It contains photographs from Vanderbilt’s childhood, cruises, and yacht races, as well as photographs of his family, friends, residences, travels, yachts and airplanes. Over a third of the photographs are of his wife Gertrude Conaway’s childhood and family and family travels. The early photographs are a fine depiction of turn-of the-century costume and customs.


  • circa 1910-1978

Language of Materials


Biographical Note

Harold Stirling Vanderbilt was born July 6, 1884 at Oakdale, New York to William Kissam Vanderbilt and Alva Smith Vanderbilt. He was educated at St. Mark’s School, graduating in 1903, and Harvard University, graduating in 1907. Before beginning his career with the family-owned New York Central Railroad, he spent two years studying at the Harvard Law School.

From an early age, he was interested in boating and won his first race with the yacht “Relieve” in 1903. Between 1910 and 1913, he won several races with his yacht “Vagrant.” During World War I he patrolled, on his own yacht, the waters from Nantucket to Iceland for the United States Navy.

Following the war, Vanderbilt became increasingly interested in yacht racing and honed his skills in seamanship, navigation, and yacht design and construction. Between 1922 and 1938, he won five Astor Cups and seven King’s Cups. Most importantly, he successfully defended the America’s Cup three times: in 1930 with his “Enterprise” versus Sir Thomas Lipton’s “Shamrock IV”; in 1934 with his “Rainbow” versus T. Sopworth’s “Endeavor”; in 1937 with his “ Ranger” versus Sopworth’s “Endeavor II.” In addition to these victories, he financed the successful defending yacht “Intrepid” in the 1967 America’s Cup Race.

From 1942-1969, Vanderbilt served on the North American Yacht Racing Union’s Rules Committee. In 1969, he was awarded the Nathaniel G. Herrshoff Trophy of the North American Yacht Racing Union “in recognition of his contributions to racing as a keen competitor and superior helmsman in competition and as the architect of a new and improved code of racing rules”. Based on his racing experiences, he wrote On the Wind’s Highway: Ranger, Rainbow and Racing.

Vanderbilt married in 1933 Gertrude Conaway, born May 14, 1901 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. An avid sportswoman, she was a prize-winning equestrienne, swimmer, tennis player, and golfer. Sharing Vanderbilt’s intense interest in yacht racing, she sometimes crewed for him, most notably in the 1934 and 1937 America’s Cup races.

Vanderbilt was also a dedicated bridge player. He, along with some friends on a cruise in 1925, invented contract bridge, based on a French version of a similar game. This method of play quickly caught on, and Vanderbilt wrote four books on the subject: Contract Bridge, 1929; The New Contract Bridge, 1930; Contract by Hand Analysis, 1933; The Club Convention System of Bidding at Contract Bridge, As Modernized by Harold Vanderbilt, 1964. He established the “Vanderbilt Cup” annual bridge tournament which he and his partners won in 1932, and was elected to the Bridge Hall of Fame.

Vanderbilt’s interests included Vanderbilt University, founded by his great-grandfather Cornelius Vanderbilt in 1873. In 1950 Harold Vanderbilt was elected to the university’s Board of Trust, and in 1955 became the President of the Board. Working closely with Chancellor Harvey Branscomb, he was very involved with the selection of Alexander Heard as Branscomb’s successor and also played an active role in the 1960’s integration of the university. Vanderbilt was an enthusiastic fund-raiser for the school, and in appreciation for his efforts on its behalf, Vanderbilt erected a statue of him on its campus. He retired as President of the Board of Trust in 1967.

On July 4, 1970, Vanderbilt died in Newport, Rhode Island. After his death, Gertrude Vanderbilt continued to be interested in Vanderbilt University, serving a Honorary Trustee and funding Endowed Charis and scholarships. She died at Newport, Rhode Island on August 6, 1778.

A fitting tribute to Harold S. Vanderbilt was written by Gustav Davidson in the Daily Mirror in 1930. “An inherited fortune and the social prestige of your name might have easily have proved barriers to personal attainments. You saw this danger early and overcame it.”


18.36 Linear Feet

Physical Location

Special Collections & Archives

Finding Aid for the Harold Stirling Vanderbilt Collection
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Vanderbilt University Special Collections Repository

Special Collections Library
1101 19th Ave. S.
Nashville TN 37212 United States


About this Site

This site contains collection guides, or finding aids, to the archival collections held by Vanderbilt University Special Collections and University Archives, the History of Medicine Collection, and the Scarritt Bennett Center. Finding aids describe the context, arrangement, and structure of archival materials, allowing users to identify and request materials relevant to their research.

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