William Henry Vanderbilt III

William Henry Vanderbilt III (1901-1981) was a Republican State Senator and Governor of Rhode Island who was a scion of the Vanderbilt family railroad and shipping fortune. Born in New York, he was the great-great-grandson of the dynasty’s founding father Cornelius Vanderbilt. His parents Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt and Ellen French were divorced in 1908 and his father would go down with RMS Lusitania in 1915 leaving William Henry to live on his mother’s Newport estate Harbor View: an Italianate cottage (read palace) built in 1865.

The young William Henry was educated in Rhode Island and won a place at Princeton but dropped out in his first year. On reaching his majority in 1922, he inherited a $5 million trust fund and the 450-acre Oakland Farm estate bequeathed to him by his late father. Oakland Farm was a noted stud for thoroughbred horses. William Henry married Emily O’Neill Davies (granddaughter of Pittsburg newspaper dynasty founder Daniel O’Neill) in 1923 and they moved into Oakland Farm in 1925; the year their only daughter Emily ‘Paddy’ Vanderbilt was born.

William Henry’s business interests began with a bus company ferrying passengers between Newport and Providence. He extended the service through New England to New York. A fierce Republican, William Henry was delegated to the Republican National Convention and elected to the State Senate in 1928. In the same year, his marriage to Emily Vanderbilt broke down irretrievably and they divorced.

William Henry served as Rhode Island state senator for six years then took a sabbatical to nurse his sick second wife Anne Gordon Colby. He re-entered political life as Governor of Rhode Island (1939 and 1941) but lost his seat allegedly in a scandal over wire tapping by a private detection firm he hired to investigate election fraud. A more likely cause was his refusal to grant lucrative business interests to fellow Republicans.

The Vanderbilt family’s relationship with Poole’s began in the 1880s when Cornelius Vanderbilt II and William H. Vanderbilt were recorded in the Henry Poole & Co ledgers. William Henry Vanderbilt’s final ledger entry at Henry Poole & Co is dated 1925 and is ordered from the Paris branch on the Rue Tronchet with a delivery address Harbor View, Newport, Rhode Island, USA. He gave Poole’s his mother’s Harbor View address for shipping presumably because his late father’s estate Oakland was being prepared for the arrival of he, his wife and his first and only daughter. William Henry would sell Harbor View in 1950 and the property was subsequently demolished. The order at Henry Poole & Co was for a grey tweed short suit and a black elastic Angola jacket. Postage and insurance are included on the customer’s bill.

(c) James Sherwood

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