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Imagine taking $100 and turning it into more than $100-million. And then imagine growing it to $200-million – that’s $300-billion in today’s money. You could never spend that much, right? Wrong. That’s exactly what happened to the Vanderbilt family fortune. The descendants of patriarch Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt managed to spend the whole lot. Lavish homes and opulent parties soon lapped up their wealth, and some members of the family died penniless. The Commodore began his business in 1810 when he borrowed $100 from his mother and started piloting a passenger boat on Staten Island. He expanded into steamboats and went on to build the New York Central railroad empire, which stretched across the US and created a rail service monopoly in and out of New York City. But subsequent generations squandered the family fortune by building grand mansions and throwing extravagant parties. Theirs was a life of excess as they used their money to rise to prominence in New York’s social scene...

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