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William Henry Vanderbilt
Rhode Island

Gov. William Henry Vanderbilt

  • January 3, 1939 - January 7, 1941
  • Republican
  • November 24, 1901
  • April 24, 1981
  • New York
  • Princeton University
  • Married three times--Emily O’Neil Davies, one child; Anne Gordon Colby, three children; Helen Cummings Cook
  • Navy


Born in New York City, WILLIAM HENRY VANDERBILT was a descendent of Cornelius Vanderbilt and the son of Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, who died aboard the Lusitania. After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War I, he attended Princeton University for two years. In 1925 he founded the Automotive Transportation Company, which was a holding company for railways and bus lines in southern New England. Vanderbilt served in the Rhode Island state Senate from 1929 until 1935. He was defeated in the Republican primary for governor in 1936 but won the primary and general election of 1938. Determined to achieve an efficient government, he eliminated more than 400 state jobs when he became governor. His administration saw passage of a Civil Service Act for state employees, which he endorsed. He was defeated for reelection in 1940, in part it is believed because he reappointed Democrats to positions when he believed they were the best qualified. He went on to reenlist in the Navy, serving in the Panama Canal Zone during World War II and rising to the rank of Captain in the U.S. Naval Reserve. He became a member of the Board of Directors of the New York Central Railroad Company, a family enterprise. He chaired a bipartisan Committee on Campaign Contributions and Expenditures in 1960 and the U.S. Naval Academy Board of Visitors in 1963, and served as a trustee of Vanderbilt University.


Mohr, Ralph S. Governors for Three Hundred Years (1638-1954): Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.State of Rhode Island, Graves Registration Committee, August 1954.

The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. F. New York: James T. White & Company.

Sobel, Robert, and John Raimo, eds. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 4. Westport, CT: Meckler Books, 1978. 4 vols.

University of Rhode Island, Special Collections

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