Harold Stirling Vanderbilt

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Harold Stirling Vanderbilt

Also Known As: ""Mike"", "nicknamed "professor""
Birthplace: Oakdale, Suffolk, NY, USA
Death: Died
Immediate Family:

Son of William Kissam Vanderbilt and Alva Erskine Smith
Husband of Gertrude Lewis Vanderbilt
Brother of Consuelo Balsan and William Kissam Vanderbilt II

Managed by: Carol Ann Selis
Last Updated:

About Harold Stirling Vanderbilt


Harold Stirling Vanderbilt, july 6, 1884, july 4, 1970, "Mike", nicknamed "professor", of Newport RI, was born at Oakdale New York. Vanderbilt graduated from Harvard Law School in 1910, then entered his family's railroad business, New York Central Railroad. When Harold started traveling in NYC 3 in 1928, the New York Central System boasted 11,500 road miles of track serving the Northeast, Middle Atlantic States, Great Lakes and Canada. He was the last of the famous Vanderbilt Family to direct the New York Central Railroad until he was defeated for the control of the company in 1954. Harold Stirling Vanderbilt married Gertrude "Gertie" Lewis Conway. William K. Vanderbilt died in 1920 and bequeathed Idle Hour to his son Harold S. who recognized that the times of inconsiderate spending were over, sold Idle Hour for 460'000 $ in 1920. Most of the unique furniture was sold at auction in the late 1920s. Harold also pushed for the sale of the mansion at 660 Fifth Avenue, property of which he shared with his brother William Kissam jr. In the 1930s H. S. Vanderbilt whose statue stands in front of Buttrick Hall, successfully defended the America's Cup in international yachting competition with the "Enterprise" 1930,

the "Rainbow" 1934 and the "Ranger" in 1937. His wife Gertrude Vanderbilt was the first woman to race aboard an America's Cup yacht. A good sailor and tactician, Vanderbilt also won six King's Cups and five Astor Cups between 1922 and 1938, and helped create the racing rules as we know them today. Versatile II was his yacht in 1951. Yachting was not Harold's only passion. His great grandfather, the Commodore, was an inveterate card player, and some of his cousins and uncles were serious gamblers. Harold took up bridge seriously in 1906. The rapid spread of contract bridge from 1926 to 1929 is largely attributable to Vanderbilt's espousal of it. His social standing made the game fashionable and he codified the game, to some extent the laws of contract bridge in 1925. Harold S. Vanderbilt, changed the course of bridge while on a cruise in 1925, he originated the factors of vulnerability and inflated slam bonuses. He suggested that only tricks bid and made count toward game, with extra tricks counted as bonuses. These revised rules turned auction bridge into contract bridge. Vanderbilt's technical contribution to bridge play was significant.

Vanderbilt Club Opening Bids

These opening bids were devised, revised and developed by Mr. Harold S. Vanderbilt in the early pioneer days of the game of bridge. Following a 1 Club opening, showing any shape and 17 high card points plus, a first reponse of 1 Diamond is considered to be an artificial negative response, but all other first responses, especially on the one level, are natural. Any first response after a 2 Diamond opening bid promises an Ace or first round control in that suit.

1 Club: 17+ HCPs, any shape

1 Diamond: 12-16 HCPs 4+ Diamond suit

1 Heart: 12-16 HCPs 4+ Heart suit

1 Spade: 12-16 HCPs 4+ Spade suit

1 NT: 15-17 HCPs Balanced shape

2 Clubs: 12-16 HCPs 5+ Club suit

2 Diamonds: 22 HCPs Balanced shape and/or game-forcing bid

2 Hearts: 6-12 HCPs 6 Hearts

2 Spades: 6-12 HCPs 6 Spades

2NT: 22-23 HCPs Balanced shape

Harold S. Vanderbilt's books were: Contract Bridge Bidding and the Club Convention; The New Contract Bridge; Contract by Hand Analysis; and The Club Convention Modernized. Vanderbilt was a member of the Laws Committee of the Whist Club of New York that made the American laws of contract bridge 1927, 1931, and the first international code 1932.

The Vanderbilt Cup

This trophy was donated and presented by Mr. Harold Vanderbilt to the winners of the National Knockout Team Championships which were founded in 1928. The championship games became a part of the Spring North American Championships in 1958, but the trophy itself remains one of the most prized trophies of bridge. The Vanderbilt Cup was also donated and presented by Mr. Harold Vanderbilt for the first World Olympiad Team Championship held in Italy in 1960. As a player, Vanderbilt always ranked high. In 1932 and 1940 he won his own Vanderbilt Cup. He played by choice only in the strongest money games, and was a consistent winner. His regular partnership with Waldemar von Zedtwitz was among the strongest in the U.S..

Vanderbilt Cup winners in 1932; Waldemar von Zedtwitz, Willard Karn, Harold S. Vanderbilt, P. Hal Sims.

Vanderbilt Cup winners in 1940; Edward Hymes Jr., Charles Lochridge, Robert McPherran, Harold S. Vanderbilt, Waldemar von Zedtwitz.

Vanderbilt bequeathed to the ACBL a trust fund of $100,000. In 1969, the World Bridge Federation made Vanderbilt its first honorary member. When a Bridge Hall Of Fame was inaugurated in 1964, Harold S. Vanderbilt was one of the first three persons elected. Harold and Gertrude were elected in the America's Cup Hall of Fame.

As a memorial to his mother, Harold bought Marble House in 1963 from the trust company that owned it.

He was laid to rest in the Saint Marys Cemetery, Portsmouth, Newport County, Rhode Island.


At the age of 49,k Harold Sterling married for the first time, in a quiet ceremony in New York. Immediately after the ceremony, he and his bride, the former Gertrude Conaway of Philadelphia,sailed for France. Here they ae honeymooning in Canes, Harold Stirling was the last Vanderbilt to play a role in the New York Central Railroad. He was a trustee and major benefactor of Vaderbilt University, and one of the first donors to the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York. - Photo from "The Vanderbilts" 1989

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Harold Stirling Vanderbilt's Timeline

July 6, 1884
Oakdale, Suffolk, NY, USA
July 4, 1970
Age 85