Henry Villard bigraphy, stories - Journalist, financier

Henry Villard : biography

April 10, 1835 - November 12, 1900

Henry Villard (April 10, 1835 – November 12, 1900) was an American journalist and financier who was an early president of the Northern Pacific Railway.

Born and raised Ferdinand Heinrich Gustav Hilgard in the Rhenish Palatinate of the Kingdom of Bavaria, Villard clashed with his more conservative father over politics, and was sent to a semi-military academy in northeastern France. He emigrated to the U.S.A., without his parents' knowledge, as a teenager. He changed his name to avoid being sent back to Europe, and began making his way west, briefly studying law as he developed a career in journalism. He supported John C. Frémont of the newly established Republican Party in his presidential campaign in 1856, and later followed Abraham Lincoln's 1860 campaign.

Villard became a war correspondent, first covering the American Civil War, and later being sent by the Chicago Tribune to cover the Austro-Prussian War. He became a pacifist as a result of his experiences covering the Civil War. In the late 1860s he married women's suffrage advocate Helen Frances Garrison, and returned to the U.S., only to go back to Germany for his health in 1870.

While in Germany, Villard became involved in investments in American railroads, and returned to the U.S. in 1874 to oversee German investments in the Oregon and California Railroad. He visited Oregon that summer, and being impressed with the region's natural resources, began acquiring various transportation interests in the region. During the ensuing decade he acquired several rail and steamship companies, and pursued a rail line from Portland to the Pacific Ocean; he was successful, but the line cost more than anticipated, causing financial turmoil. Villard returned to Europe, helping German investors acquire stakes in the transportation network, and returned to New York in 1886.

Also in the 1880s, Villard acquired the New York Evening Post and The Nation, and established the forebear of General Electric. He was the first benefactor of the University of Oregon, and contributed to other universities, churches, hospitals, and orphanages. He died of a stroke at his country home in New York in 1900.



Henry Villard died of a stroke at his country home, Thorwood Park, in Dobbs Ferry, New York. He was interred in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Sleepy Hollow, New York. His autobiography was published posthumously, in 1904. The monument at his grave site was executed by Karl Bitter’Karl Bitter: Architectural Sculptor 1867-1915’’, University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 1967 pp. 94-96

Early life and education

Henry Villard (left) at about age 13, with mother (center), sister Emma (right) and uncle Robert (above) He was born in Speyer, Palatinate, Kingdom of Bavaria. His parents moved to Zweibrücken in 1839, and in 1856 his father, Gustav Leonhard Hilgard (who died in 1867), became a justice of the Supreme Court of Bavaria, at Munich. He belonged to the Reformed Church. Henry's mother, Katharina Antonia Elisabeth (Lisette) Pfeiffer, was Catholic. While Henry had aristocratic tendencies, he shared the republican interests of much of the Hilgard clan. His granduncle Theodore Erasmus Hilgard had emigrated to the United States during a clan move of 1833-1835 to Belleville, Illinois; the granduncle had resigned a judgeship so his children could be raised as "freemen." Henry was also a distant relative of the physician and botanist George Engelmann who resided in St. Louis, Missouri.

Henry entered a Gymnasium (equivalent of a United States "high school") in Zweibrücken in 1848, which he had to leave because he sympathized with the revolutions of 1848 in Germany. He had broken up a class by refusing to mention the King of Bavaria in a prayer, justifying his omission by citing his loyalty to the provisional government. Another time, after watching a session of the Frankfurt Parliament, he came home in a Hecker hat with a red feather in it. Two of his uncles were strongly in sympathy with the revolution, but his father was a conservative, and disciplined him by sending the boy to continue his education at the French semi-military academy in Phalsbourg (1849–50). Originally his punishment was to be apprenticed, but his father compromised on the military school. Henry showed up a for classes a month early so he could be tutored in the French language beforehand by the novelist Alexandre Chatrian. He later attended the Gymnasium of Speyer in 1850-52, and the universities of Munich and Würzburg in 1852-53. In Munich he was a member of the student fraternity Corps Franconia. In 1853, having had a disagreement with his father, he emigrated—without his parents' knowledge—to the United States.

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Living octopus

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