Villard, Henry

Villard, Henry

Villard, Henry (vĭlärdˈ), 1835–1900, American journalist and financier, b. Germany. His first name was originally Hilgard. He attended universities in Germany, and after he reached (1853) the United States he did newspaper reporting. He won distinction in 1858 by reporting the Lincoln-Douglas debates, and in the Civil War he was a correspondent for New York newspapers. In 1873 he acted as agent for holders of Western railroad securities and soon became active in railroad financing. He organized (1879) the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company and gained a solid foothold in the transportation of the Pacific Northwest area. He then obtained a controlling interest in the Northern Pacific RR and became (1881) its president, but completion of the building of that railroad through the mountains bankrupted him (1883). With new capital Villard once more gained control of the Northern Pacific and in 1889 became chairman of the board of directors. He merged (1890) smaller companies to form the Edison General Electric Company (later the General Electric Company) and was its president until 1893. Villard obtained (1881) control of the New York Evening Post, which later (1897) came under the management of his son, Oswald Garrison Villard. He generously contributed to the Univ. of Oregon.


See his autobiography (1904, repr. 1969); study by J. B. Hedges (1930, repr. 1967).

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Villard, Henry (b. Ferdinand Heinrich Gustav Hilgard)

(1835–1900) financier, publisher; born in Speyer, Germany. From a prominent Bavarian family, he left for America after political disagreements with his father. He changed his name to avoid being forced back to Germany, landed in New York in 1853, and traveled to relatives in Illinois, where he read law and learned English. In 1858 he covered the Lincoln-Douglas debates for a German-language newspaper in New York City, the Staats-Zeitung. He soon began to write for several other papers, including the New York Herald and Tribune. In 1868 he became secretary of the American Social Science Association in Boston, enabling him to study public and corporate finance and sparking his interest in railway finance. Going to Oregon in 1874 as the representative of German bondholders of the Oregon & California Railroad, he soon took over as president. When in 1876 he was also made the receiver of the Kansas Pacific Railway, he decided to form a transportation monopoly in the Pacific Northwest. Although large debts forced him out of control in 1884, he is considered one of the most important railway promoters of the 1880s. Meanwhile he had shifted his interests back to the East, buying the New York Evening Post (1881) and helping found the Edison General Electric Company (1889). He expanded his publishing company to acquire the Nation and generally supported liberal and progressive causes.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.