Vanderbilt Museum History
William K. Vanderbilt II, one of the richest men in the world, traveled the globe in the 1920s and ‘30s, collecting marine, invertebrate and bird specimens, and cultural artifacts for the museum he built on his Long Island estate in Centerport. Upon his death in 1944, he left his mansion, estate and museum to Suffolk County, New York, “for the use, education and enjoyment” of the public. The county opened the museum in 1950. Learn more about our museum’s history.
William K. Vanderbilt II
As a boy, William K. Vanderbilt II (1878-1944) sailed around the world with his parents, later attended Harvard College, and served as a lieutenant with the U.S. Navy during World War I. A record-setting race driver, he brought auto racing to the United States, and established the Vanderbilt Cup Races on Long Island, where he also built the first road solely for private automobile use. Later, circling the globe twice in his yachts, he collected marine, invertebrate and bird specimens for the museum he built on his estate in Centerport, Long Island. Learn more about William K. Vanderbilt.
The Vanderbilt Museum’s Charles and Helen Reichert Planetarium received a $4-million makeover – including new seating, carpeting, lobby and gift shop – and a cutting-edge technological update. Reopened in 2013, the Reichert Planetarium is one of the finest and most advanced in the United States. Visitors can see programs developed by renowned international planetariums, watch Rock ‘n’ Light shows, see sky shows that recreate celestial events on the 60-foot dome, and view the night sky in the Observatory. Learn more about our planetarium and current shows.
Gold Coast Mansion
In 1910 William K. Vanderbilt II began to build a spectacular waterfront estate on 43 acres in Centerport, Long Island. Today, Eagle’s Nest is one of the few surviving Gold Coast estates, and his 24-room Spanish-Revival mansion – filled with priceless art and furnishings – remains as it was when he lived there. The mansion is an enchanting time capsule of the life of a privileged family from the Jazz Age through the Second World War. Learn more about the Vanderbilt Mansion.
William K. Vanderbilt II, during oceanic expeditions and unprecedented circumnavigations of the globe, collected thousands of specimens of birds, invertebrates and marine life for his museum, some of them new discoveries. With artisans from the American Museum of Natural History, he created stunning animal- and marine-habitat dioramas and galleries of artifacts from world cultures. His collections include a 3,000-year-old Egyptian mummy and a 32-foot whale shark, the world’s largest taxidermied fish, caught off Fire Island in 1935. Learn more about our museum exhibits.
William K. Vanderbilt II wanted his estate, mansion and museum to be an informal educational facility that “promotes an appreciation and understanding of the marvelous diversity of life, other cultures and scientific knowledge.” The Vanderbilt Museum has made that wish its mission, and offers year-round educational programs for children and schools. In addition to Planetarium astronomy shows for school and scouting groups, these programs include creative workshops that make learning fun for young children. Learn more about educational opportunities at the Vanderbilt Museum and Planetarium.