So begins one of the seminal pieces of business journalism, Henry Demarest Lloyd's Story of a Great Monopoly, published by "The Atlantic" in 1881. "When he died," Demarest continued, "railroads had become the greatest force in modern industry, and Vanderbilt was the richest man in Europe or America, and the largest owner of railroads in the world. He used the finest business brain of his day and the franchise of the state to build up a kingdom within the republic."
In 2007 the New York Times published a graphic showing the thirty or so wealthiest Americans, their accumulated riches measured as a percentage of the economy. On the Times list, Vanderbilt is shown as the second richest American ever, topped only by one John D. Rockefeller.