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Cornelius VanderbilttEnlarge Cornelius Vanderbilt portrayed as "The Colossus of Roads"

In the late spring of 1869, Cornelius Vanderbilt completed the merger of the New York Central and Hudson River railroads. To mark the event, the printmakers Currier and Ives issued this cartoon hailing him as "The Colossus of Roads." In accomplishing this amalgamation, Vanderbilt had issued $40 million of "watered stock," a procedure by which he diverted revenue from new stock sales to himself and other shareholders, rather than use it to expand his railroad's capital assets. This depiction of Vanderbilt hosing down the tracks of his rail empire is a pun on that transaction. In the distance is James Fisk, who, in alliance with several others, had watered the stock of the Erie Railroad in their recent battle with Vanderbilt for the control of that line. On that occasion, Vanderbilt had lost millions from the watering, but he eventually forced his opponents to pay him for most of his losses.

Currier and Ives Lithography Company
(active 1857-1907)
Lithograph, 1869
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution