Hill, James Jerome

Hill, James Jerome,

1838–1916, American railroad builder, b. Ontario, Canada. He went to St. Paul, Minn., in 1856. He became a partner of Norman Kittson in a steamboat line and, with Kittson, Donald Alexander Smith (later Baron Strathcona and Mount RoyalStrathcona and Mount Royal, Donald Alexander Smith, 1st Baron
, 1820–1914, Canadian fur trader, financier, and railroad builder, b. Scotland.
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), and George Stephen (later Baron Mount StephenMount Stephen, George Stephen, 1st Baron,
1829–1921, Canadian financier and railroad builder, b. Scotland.
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), he bought (1878) the St. Paul and Pacific RR. It was completed to the Canadian border, but Hill, having early envisioned the expansion of farming, trade, and industry from Minnesota to the Rockies and beyond, set about to carry the line westward in what was probably the greatest feat of railroad building in the United States. In 1887, Great Falls, Mont. (which Hill had helped to found), was reached; by 1893 the road was completed across the mountains to the Pacific at Seattle. The line's expansion was accomplished despite the appalling difficulties of the terrain and the lack of the federal assistance showered so generously on the earlier transcontinental roads. Furthermore, the construction involved no financial scandals. Hill pioneered in having "farm demonstration" trains and by his eloquent publicity persuaded thousands of farmers to settle in Montana, where unfortunately many of them were later ruined by drought. Hill in 1890 consolidated his rail properties into the Great Northern Railway Company. His great rival, the Northern Pacific, got into difficulties in the Panic of 1893, and he was the leader in its reorganization. When the courts prevented a union of the two roads, Hill's financial ally, J. Pierpont Morgan (see under MorganMorgan,
American family of financiers and philanthropists.

Junius Spencer Morgan, 1813–90, b. West Springfield, Mass., prospered at investment banking. As a boy he became a dry-goods clerk in Boston; later he entered a brokerage house in New York City.
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, family), took over the Northern Pacific, and a community of interests was maintained. In 1901 the two acted jointly to gain entrance to Chicago by purchasing the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy (commonly called the Burlington). Morgan and Hill thus forestalled Hill's rival, E. H. HarrimanHarriman, Edward Henry,
1848–1909, American railroad executive, b. Hempstead, N.Y.; father of William Averell Harriman. He became a stockbroker in New York City and soon entered the railroad field, where he attracted attention by able management of the Illinois Central RR,
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, who also wanted the Burlington. A violent financial struggle ensued, precipitating the stock market panic of May 9, 1901. In a compromise measure, Harriman, Hill, and Morgan set up the Northern Securities Company as a holding company for the Great Northern and Northern Pacific systems, but the merger was dissolved by order of the U.S. Supreme Court as a violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Hill retired from the presidency of the Great Northern in 1907, but remained on the board until 1912. He also assisted in the construction of the Canadian Pacific. He built and endowed the Hill Reference Library in St. Paul. Hill wrote Highways of Progress (1910).


See biographies by J. G. Pyle (2 vol., 1944; repr. 1968) and S. H. Holbrook (1955); study by A. Martin (1976); L. Haeg, Harriman vs Hill: Wall Street's Great Railroad War (2013).

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