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What the Income Tax Ended: The Breakers in Newport

The Breakers

The Breakers

This is the Breakers, the summer cottage of Cornelius Vanderbilt. It was designed by Richard Morris Hunt and built in 1895 in Italian Renaissance style.  This mansion required 200 servants to manage the parties and social events that regularly took place.  

But when it was built, the end was already in sight. By 1906, Teddy Roosevelt was endorsing an estate tax and by the advent of World War I both the income and inheritance tax were fully in place.  And so began the end of Newport’s many mansion like The Breakers.  As inheritances dwindled and income taxes rose,  it was not possible to keep up several lavish homes that were occupied only 2-3 months each year.  

The Gilded Age came to a final end in the 1930’s with the Depression and by the 1940s many of these homes had been torn down, abandoned or turned over to non-profit agencies to maintain as historical monuments to what unchecked wealth creates.

Today one wonders at how any one family accumulated the wealth needed to build, run and keep up such lavishness. But, today instead of building physical monuments that at least employed people, we just invest and keep on accumulating to what end?

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