Henry Villard
Journalist, Industrialist, Abolitionist
(3d edition)
last update 11-15-03
(Besides other sources of information, an excellent, well-written, and very detailed biography is now available under the title “Villard, The Life and Times of an American Titan”, written and published in 2001 by one of his great-granddaughters, Alexandra Villard de Borchgrave.It is 380 pages long and somewhat limited only in technical and business detail of Villard’s entrepreneurial activities.It was the discovery of some of that detail, unexpectedly found in industrial archives,that promptedthe writing of this abbreviated biography – 11 pages plus appendix).
The years from the beginning of the Civil War to the end of the 19th Century were among the most dynamic and significant ones for the development of the United States.The fight against slavery, for the retention of the Union between north and south, and for the future strength of the country based on the size and diversity of the land mobilized the energy of the nation.The industrial revolution began.Then, the vastness of the western territories and the enormous distance to the new states on the Pacific coast let another risk to the unity appear – and offered immense opportunities to those who could solve the long-distance transportation and communication problems.First the railroads, then the electric industry were at the center of this development.Great fortunes were made – and some were lost.Some left their traces in the architectural essence of the rising cities.
At the same time, millions of new immigrants arrived and sought their fortune in the land of unlimited opportunities.On the other hand, the liberated blacks found out that they were kept on a level of second-class citizenship.Another liberation became necessary.

The life and personality of Henry Villard reflect, like few others, those times.He arrived as an immigrant at age 18, penniless and not speaking English.Hard work, skill, and strength of character were the foundations of his life.He was led on by his dedication to American ideals, business acumen, and good luck.This let him become a leading journalist, abolitionist, builder of railroads, friend of Edison (1847 - 1931), founder of General Electric, builder of one of the finest residences in New York City, and sponsor of the movement that led to the foundation of the NAACP.

On his way, Villard twice fell from great position in society and industry to near bankruptcy – and twice recovered.Much to his credit, he was not vilified by cheap criticism when bad luck befell him.He continued to be respected for the quality of his character and greatness of his spirit.

Henry Villard
1.The Early Years (1835 - 1853)
Henry Villard was born on April 10, 1835, in SpeyerGermany, as Ferdinand Heinrich Gustav Hilgard, and lived in Zweibruecken.Both his parents were of well-known, upper-middle-class families.His father was a prominent civil servant, later appointed to the Supreme Court of Bavaria.Henry was not a good student in school.This prompted a rift that developed between him and his father.The differences with the father were exasperated when, during the revolution of 1848-49, Henry increasingly accepted democratic, anti-monarchical ideas – in total contrast to his father, who remained a dedicated monarchist.
Several of Henry’s relatives emigrated to America for political reasons at that time.Most went to BellevilleIllinois, just across the river from St. Louis, where many other emigrants from their part of Germany had already settled.Henry, however, was put into a French semi-military academy for one year to be subjected to strict discipline.During his last year in high school, Henry placed first in an essay competition; this gave him the idea to become a writer, a great one, he hoped .At that time, he also developed the behavior of a dandy.
In 1852, at age 17, and upon his father’s insistence, Henry was expected to enroll in the MunichTechnicalCollege to become an engineer; but he actually enrolled in MunichUniversity where he intended to dedicate his life to writing and literature.By joining an upper-class fraternity, however, he was further distracted from all serious learning and soon found himself in unbearable debt.His father threatened to enlist Henry in the Bavarian army but relented and allowed him a second start as a student of law at the University of Wuerzburg.
It did not take long for Henry to revert to the study of literature and writing – and the accumulation of debt.With a loan from a wealthy relative, Henry attempted one last time to establish himself as a writer.When this attempt failed, he went to Hamburg and, in 1853, at age 18, unbeknownst to his family, he used the last of his borrowed money to buy a ticket to the United States.
Upon arriving in America, he assumed the name Henry Villard – supposedly to definitely escape any obligation for service in the military of his home country.When the young Villard arrived in New York, he spoke no English and was destitute, except for the $20 another passenger on his ship had kindly lent him.In those years, $20 had the buying power of $1,400 to $2,000 today.
Henry was not able to find any work in New York, but he did receive $50 from his uncle in Belleville, who did not want him to come to stay with him.This gift allowed Henry to repay his loan and travel to Cincinnati, where he hoped to find work among the large German population.
2.Very Hard Beginnings, Then Successful Journalist (1853 - 1870)
Henry arrived in Cincinnati with only $3 in his pocket, just enough for one week of room and board in a rather unpleasant inn.Since he could not find any work there either – especially since he did not speak English – Henry drifted on to southern Indiana.In desperation, he finally had to accept work as a German cooper’s apprentice in a very small town.After a fight with the cooper, he met by chance a friend of his family who put him to work as a bartender, a job he quickly lost, since he could not understand the American customers.Next, he worked as a salesman for a publisher of German hymnals and, after some further disappointments, as a helper in a brickyard and a farm laborer during the harvest of 1854.After that, he moved on to Indianapolis and worked in a lumberyard, unfortunately contracted malaria, went to work as a helper for the railroad, but lost that job, too, due to his illness.After working briefly once more as a bartender, in October of 1854, he went to Chicago to search for better opportunities.There, he was found by a close relative who promptly brought him to his uncle, Theodor Hilgard, one of a group of highly educated emigrants-turned-farmers – called the Latin Farmers – in BellevilleIllinois.

In the spring of 1855, Henry succeeded in obtaining a series of jobs as a clerk in various lawyers’ offices and quickly began to learn English.He also began to write again and succeeded in having some articles published in Belleville’s German newspaper.But then again, he went to Chicago and drifted into difficult jobs – as a salesman for an encyclopedia, and as a real estate agent – meanwhile, on the side, improving his English and becoming involved in abolitionist politics, thereby establishing valuable contacts – and, in 1856, becoming temporarily appointed as the editor of the German language Volksblatt in Racine, Wisconsin, while increasingly becoming a political correspondent for the Neue Zeit, and later for the Tribune, both in New York – initially supporting his income by working as a school teacher in Jonestown, Pennsylvania.

Between August and October 1858, the important series of seven public debates took place between Lincoln and the famous politician of the day, Stephen A. Douglas.These debates became the foundation of Lincoln’s political career.It was Henry Villard, now age 23, who became the reporter of the debates from Illinois for the leading German newspaper in the country, the Staats Zeitung of New York.This reporting established Villard’s reputation on the East Coast.

In 1859, Villard reported on the Pikes Peak gold rush for the Cincinnati Daily Commercial.His guidebook to Pikes Peak was used by many of those who participated in that gold rush.More importantly, in 1860, he reported on the Republican convention that led to Lincoln’s election.This strengthened Villard’s contacts with Lincoln and reinforced his connections with the New York newspapers.

During the Civil War, Villard was a war correspondent, for the Cincinnati Daily Commercial, the New York Herald, and, mainly, the New York Tribune – later also for the Chicago Tribune.He was mentioned as “... one of the most outstanding correspondents in the war”.

While on a short vacation in Boston in 1863, Villard became acquainted with William Lloyd Garrison, editor of The Liberator and one of the most outspoken abolitionists of his time.Villard metGarrison’s daughter, Helen Frances “Fanny” Garrison, and in 1866, they married.That same year, Villard went to Europe to report on the Austro-Prussian war for the New York Tribune, and, in 1867, on the Paris World Exhibition for the Chicago Tribune.

Much later, in 1881, Villard’s success in railroad enterprises (see below)allowed him to acquire a controlling interest in the The Nation and the New York Evening Post.As editors, he appointed E.L. Godkin, founder of The Nation; H. White of the Chicago Tribune; and the famous Carl Schurz, a former political refugee from Germany after 1849, later U.S. minister to Spain, capable Civil War general, U.S. senator, and Secretary of the Interior.

3.Railway Entrepreneur (1870 - 1883)
Upon returning from Europe, Villard developed an interest in economics and finance and considered becoming a broker for German railroad investments in America.In 1870, he traveled to Europe to investigate business possibilities, mainly with bankers in Berlin[1].

Villard succeeded in placing a large bond for the Wisconsin Central Railroad, just before the outbreak of a significant financial crisis in 1872 – that caused Villard to suffer a stroke.But, by the spring of 1873, he felt well enough to accept the offer by one of his new friends in German banking circles to look after their threatened investments in the Oregon & California Railroad.In 1874, another group of investors asked him to represent their faltering investment in the Kansas Pacific Railroad, and the Villards returned to America.

As a war correspondent during the Civil War, Henry Villard had become friends with Jay Cooke (1821 - 1905), who had financed the war for the federal government by selling a total of more than $1.3 billion worth of bonds.In 1870, Cooke assumed the financing for the continuation of construction of the Northern Pacific Railway through the sale of $100 million in stocks and bonds.The financial crisis of 1873 resulted in the collapse of Cooke’s bank and an end to the construction of the Northern Pacific, which had barely reached BismarckNorth Dakota.Cook, who had learned about Villard’s stay inEurope, asked Villard to search for immigrants who could populate the area of the Northern Pacific’s course – and for investors.

In 1876, Villard was appointed president of the combined Oregon & California Railroad and Oregon Steam Navigation Company and receiver of the failing Kansas Pacific Railroad, and he moved to New York.While in competition with Gould for the control of the Kansas Pacific, Villard managed this crisis so successfully that Gould, in 1879, joined forces with him. Villard, then age 44, acquired fame on Wall Street and gained handsomely on the resulting rise in stock value.This allowed him to buy a controlling interest in the Oregon Steam Navigation Company,further increasing Wall Street’s confidence in him.

It was at this time that Villard became a friend of Thomas Alva Edison and invested in the Edison Electric Light Company.He even commissioned the installation of electric light on the S.S. Columbia,the new flagship of the reorganized Oregon Railway & Navigation Company, now the first ship to be thus equipped, a spectacular view when it sailed out at night on its maiden voyage.Also in 1879, Villard bought 100 acres and the important mansion, “Thorwood”, at Dobb’s Ferry, soon renovated and enlarge by the famous architects McKim, Mead & White.

Soon thereafter, Villard built a railroad along the Columbia River from Portland to the east.This railroad ultimately reached Wallula, just 16 miles south of the mouth of the Snake River, on the trail that had been used by Lewis and Clark.In Villard’s time, the Oregon Trail was still in full use by covered wagons.After a stop at the welcoming Walla Walla missionary station, many travelers embarked at Wallula with their wagons and animals on the very dangerous rafting trip down the still untamed Columbia River – or they had to continue on a bad and tedious track around Mount Hood.Villard’s railroad removed those river dangers and trail exertions.

It was in this connection that Villard began to pursue linking his Oregon Railway with the uncompleted Northern Pacific Railway, thereby attempting to bridge the remaining large gap along the Oregon Trail.The Northern Pacific Railway did not accept his proposal, doubting that there were enough settlers yet in the territory to justify this expansion.On the other hand, late in 1880, J. Pierpont Morgan bought into the Northern Pacific and threatened to complete the line right into Villard’s Oregon territory, thereby threatening Villard’s West Coast monopoly.Villard quickly raised sufficient capital ($30 million) to provide himself with a controlling interest in the Northern Pacific Railway.In 1881, Villard became president of the Northern Pacific and included it together with his Oregon investments in a holding company, the Oregon & Transcontinental Company.

A large portion of the $30 million of stock in the Northern Pacific Railway controlled by Villard had been invested by the Deutsche Bank of Germany.This bank, now the largest bank in Germany, had been founded a short time earlier by Georg von Siemens, a brother of Werner von Siemens, the founder of the famous Siemens Company, a European leader in the electric industry.

About this time, in 1881, Villard acquired two New York newspapers, as reported above, and began construction of a new residence in New York City, a large mansion on Madison Avenue that is now the historic wing of the New York Palace Hotel.He chose McKim, Mead & White as architects.Villard’s father-in-law, William Lloyd Garrison, was a close friend of McKim’s father, and Mrs. Helen Villard’s brother was married to McKim’s sister.McKim, Mead & White had already obtained contracts from the Northern Pacific for stations along its soon-to-be-followed extension to the west, and for a hotel in Portland.

It was the architect Joseph Wells, at McKim, Mead & White, who came up with the actual design for the Villard residence.He had just returned from a trip to Europe and chose the Renaissance “Cancelleria” building in Rome, attributed to Bramante, as his model for the Villard project, thereby introducing a new architectural style to New York.The building was completed in 1884.Wells died only a few years later, in 1890, of tuberculosis.

Villard also financed several philanthropic projects in the United States and Germany, including saving the Universities of Washington and Oregon from ruin when their states cut their budgets (a Villard Hall on the Eugene campus is a reminder) and providing scholarship funds to his former high school in Zweibruecken.

Construction of the western extension of the Northern Pacific resumed immediately upon Villard’s becoming president.On September 8, 1883, the two railroads, the Oregon and the Northern Pacific, were linked at Gold Creek, a point between Helena and MissoulaMontana.Villard invited 300 guests to the celebration, including former president Grant and 40 personalities from industry, the sciences, and art from Germany.This large party, traveling on three special trains, continued on to Portland and Seattle.An eyewitness report has survived, describing Villard’s exceptional hospitality and the glorious celebrations (for the report, see the Appendix).

What the guests at the celebrations did not notice was that the Northern Pacific was again in a deep financial crisis. Railroad construction was subsidized by land grants on along its course.Profitability, however, resulted from either sufficient settlement – Villard advertised in numerous U.S., Canadian, and North European newspapers for new settlers – or from mineral wealth along its route.This prompted Villard to add a number of costly side-spurs to the main line.By then, to the surprise of Villard, construction had cost $14 million more than expected.As many as 25,000 people were employed at one time, many of them Chinese.But revenues did not develop according to expectations.Villard’s personal guarantees and financial maneuvers did not help him this time; and the stocks of the railroad enterprise sank quickly.Villard had to leave the celebrations in Seattle precipitously for emergency meetings in New York.In November 1883, at great loss to him, he was forced to resign from the Northern Pacific Railway Company.

While all kinds of rumors and accusation arose against Villard at that time, a foreign observer wrote:“Whoever knows the conditions in America has learned that such upheavals do not occur there without the loser also being heaped with disgrace for having lost ...... Usually, the deposed industrialist or entrepreneur is the target of wild defamation, being subjected to unveiled accusations of fraud, swindle, and theft. ...That much more it appeared positive, that even by Villard’s opponents, even by those who had replaced him, Villard’s crash was only mentioned in a dignified manner in the newspaper, never without the expression of real regret ..... it was everywhere mentioned with praise that Villard had emerged from the crisis with a clean conscience and with clean hands, that he had always wanted the best and had shown exceptional accomplishments.”

At the same time, Villard suffered considerable additional losses from a personal investment in the New YorkWestShore and Buffalo Railroad.

4.With Siemens and Edison in the Electric Industry (1883 - 1887)

When Villard was forced out of the Northern Pacific Railway Company in 1883, he also had to leave his beautiful new residence in New York, where large groups of unhappy investors congregated daily and threatened him. Villard and his family moved temporarily to his native Palatinate in Germany, where they were celebrated for their various philanthropies.But they did not stay long.Shortly thereafter, they moved to Berlin, where his sister was married to General von Xylander and where they resided for two years in style on the Kurfürstendamm.

Villard was not idle.For some time, he had been a financial supporter and friend of Thomas Alva Edison (1847 - 1931) who, in 1879, had invented the carbon filament incandescent lamp.By 1880, Villard was already a partner in the “Edison’s Electric Light Company”.When. at that time, Edison’s other financial backers became concerned about the slow progress with Edison’s lighting enterprise, it was Villard who helped Edison obtain the order for a lighting installation – the first of its kind – on the ship S.S. Columbia[2], then under construction.

Also in 1880, Edison began work on a small, electrically driven train running on a track around his laboratory.Villard was so impressed by a demonstration of this train in 1881 that he advanced Edison $40,000 for the development of a stronger and faster electric engine for railroad usage.Edison did not pursue this idea for very long, since the railroads had indicated to him that they would rather stay with steam engines.

Later, when Villard had been forced out of the Northern Pacific and had other financial difficulties (1884),Edison returned the $40,000 to Villard.

In the ensuing years, the application of electric lighting was hindered by the lack of electric power-generating equipment.In 1866, Werner von Siemens had invented an important method for generating power (based on the electro-dynamic principle).However, the Siemens equipment of those days suffered from internal heating (Eddy currents).Edison devoted much effort to improving the generator designs and their power output – and soon his combination of incandescent lamps and improved generators led the world.He even won the contract for the first electric street lighting in Berlin, headquarters of Siemens, his strongest competitor. This led to the founding of the German Edison company, the Deutsche Edison Gesellschaft, in Berlin (later to become the A.E.G., which was recently acquired and absorbed by Daimler Benz).Soon after its founding, the Deutsche Edison Gesellschaft ran into a number of problems.Edison, knowing that his friend Villard was staying in Berlin at that time (1884-1886), asked him to assist in the reorganization of that company.

Georg von Siemens, founder and president of the Deutsche Bank and a major investor in the Northern Pacific, had introduced Villard to his brother, Werner von Siemens, founder and owner of the Siemens Company in Berlin.Werner von Siemens, a prolific inventor, had just introduced electric traction for tramways and proposed to build electric railroads.He was eager to expand this application to the United States, where so much of tramway and railroad construction was then taking place. Werner von Siemens was greatly impressed by Henry Villard and promptly appointed him as the new representative of Siemens in the United States.At the same time, Werner’s brother, Georg von Siemens, founder and president of the Deutsche Bank, offered Villard a position of defining and implementing future industrial investments of his bank in the United States

The Villards returned to New York in 1886.Having sold the great mansion inNew York – allowing Villard to pay off his last remaining debt –they first settled at Thorwood in Dobbs Ferry, then at another mansion in Manhattan.Henry Villard immediately began talks with Edison to bring the Edison and Siemens technology and business interests together.

Edison was a leader in lamp and generator technology.However, the street lighting of cities also required cable connections. Aboveground cables along buildings and poles had led to several accidental deaths by electrocution.Underground cabling was the only alternative, but it was very expensive. The news media inflamed the public argument.One article asked:“Who will go underground, the cables or the citizens of this city?”

Edison’s cable technology was especially expensive and unreliable.Cables were laid in wooden troughs, which were then filled with gutta-percha.Siemens had originallybuilt his company based on his invention of an improved telegraph.His fame was substantially augmented when he was able to establish low-cost, reliable long-distance cable connections, even under water.This led to a contract for Siemens for the first England-to-India telegraph line, connecting the British Empire with German cable.Siemens also laid most of the transatlantic cables at that time, seven of them between 1874 and 1884.Among other methods of cable manufacturing, Siemens had invented and manufactured a cable protected by armament and a lead cover.It turned out that lead cables were suitable for power transmission underground, at lower cost and higher reliability than the Edison gutta-percha cables.Villard soon convinced Edison to cooperate with Siemens in cable production, and proposed forming a separate cable company in the United States for that purpose.

Before proceeding to the next chapter, it should be mentioned that Villard brought another project to Siemens’ attention during those years.Electric street lighting was being introduced in more and more American cities.San Francisco had granted a license for such a venture to a group of local citizens.Villard still had personal connections in San Francisco from his days with the Oregon & California Railroad.He attempted to have Siemens implement the San Francisco street lighting system for the group that held the license, but, after several months of negotiations, Siemens declined.A Siemens business analysis of the project had shown that profitability calculations required 1,200 hours of burning time per light bulb per year (about three hours per day).It was the European experience in 1887, that only 400 hours per year of average using time per light bulb could be expected – just a little more than one hour per day, on average!

5.Founder and Chairman of the Edison General Electric Company (1888 - 1892)

When Villard proposed a cooperative venture with Siemens, Edison had already started two manufacturing companies – the Edison Lamp Company, in NewarkNew Jersey, and the Edison Machine Works, in SchenectadyNew York.Both were owned by different combinations of stockholders and were operated independently of each other.Villard proposed to combine these two companies and to add a Siemens lead-cable factory.

In a relatively short time, Villard convinced Edison and Siemens of his idea and raised the necessary capital.In 1888, the Edison General Electric Company was founded, and Villard was named chairman of the board and president.Large blocks of shares were obtained by the three founders, Edison, Villard, and Siemens (Siemens subscribed to 2,700 shares at $92.50 per share and sold them a year later at a profit).In 1889, after lengthy negotiations about cable license fees, which Edison finally resolved, the new Edison General Electric Company purchased the proprietary equipment and patents for lead-cable manufacturing from Siemens.

Villard was very successful at the Edison General Electric Company.The factories expanded rapidly.One method for obtaining street lighting contracts from cash-strapped cities was to found individually licensed power-generating and operating companies in those cities.These became individual “Edison” companies.Establishing them, however, often required large amounts of cash.These companies, in turn, were requiredto purchase their equipment from the Edison General Electric Company.The total capitalization needed during those years was enormous, and the profitability of the individual lighting companies was not always satisfactory.

Other companies also felt the capitalization and profitability problems in the rapidly growing electrical industry – for example, Westinghouse, Brush, Sprague, and Thomson-Houston.Furthermore, there were endless and costly patent lawsuits between the various companies.This brought the need for consolidation, much supported by the various financial interest groups in the different companies – mainly J. Pierpont Morgan – that saw the creation of a large trust in the electrical industry.In 1892, the large Thomson-Houston Company was consolidated with the Edison General Electric Company and renamed the “General Electric Company”.The Thomson-Houston interests forced Villard out of his position.

6.In Parallel, Resumed Management of the Northern Pacific Railway (1887 - 1893)

The departure of Henry Villard from the Northern Pacific in 1883 had brought only a temporary respite to the company’s problems.Soon, the problems of capitalization and revenue-building were as bad as before.Side-spurs were built from the main east-west trunk to develop more business, but these projects only added to the capital strains, while the settlement of the northwestern territories did not progress rapidly enough to bring in sufficient revenue.

The strains on the company brought tension and infighting within the management of the Northern Pacific.Henry Villard was remembered not only as a man with great knowledge of railroads, but also as a human communicator and consensus-builder. Increasingly, he was called upon to arbitrate between the different factions of the Northern Pacific.Yet, it came as a surprise to many when the board asked him, upon Villard finding $5 million in new investment capital fromGermany, to resume the management of the company once more.This occurred four years to the day after the great celebration for the opening of the railroad connection at Seattle, on September 15, 1887.

For the next five years, Henry Villard was in charge of both companies in parallel, Edison General Electric and the Northern Pacific Railway.

Villard’s job at the Northern Pacific Railway was not an easy one.He raised additional capital; investors again included Georg von Siemens of the Deutsche Bank in Berlin.At that time, Werner von Siemens asked Villard to consider the introduction of electrically driven railroads that had provided Siemens with some success in Europe.After much hesitation on the part of Northern Pacific’s middle management, they requested a formal proposal from Siemens for a short, experimental, electrical line.This line was never built.

By this time, Siemens was in the process of setting up a factory in Chicago to produce generators for electric lighting and electric tramways, as well as the production of motors for these tramways.This company, after some ups and downs, was later taken over by Yerkes in Chicago (see the Yerkes Observatory near Chicago; Yerkes himself went on to electrify the London subway) and the Widener-Elkins streetcar syndicate in Philadelphia (see the Widener Library at Harvard and Widener’s impressive mansion, “Lynnewood Hall”, as well as Elkins’ beautiful mansion “Ashbourne Hall”, now a Dominican Retreat, in Elkins Park, north of Philadelphia).The remaining factory operations and rights of the American Siemens Company were finally sold to General Electric in 1900.

A competitor, the Great Northern Railway Company, to the north of the Northern Pacific and controlled by James Hill, added to Villard’s problems at Northern Pacific.The Union Pacific was the competitor not too far to the south.In the great financial crisis of 1893, J.P. Morgan stepped in and, together with Hill, acquired a majority interest in the Northern Pacific.Once again, Villard was forced out of his position.However, their scheme to combine the Northern Pacific with the Great Northern Railway Company and with the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad was blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court until 1970 (when they merged into the Burlington Northern, Inc.).

7.The Last Years(1893 - 1900)

By 1893, Henry Villard had been forced out of his management positions at both companies, General Electric and Northern Pacific.Now 58 years old, he retired with his family to Dobbs FerryNew York.When the crisis of 1893 pushed the Northern Pacific into bankruptcy, he was asked once more to help, this time as the receiver; but he declined.The Villards began a tour of Europe and did not return until 1895, to Thorwood at Dobbs Ferry.Villard returned to his interest of literature, began the writing of his memoirs, specifically studied once more the Civil War for that purpose, continued with some philanthropic work – among others, for the HarvardLawSchool – and undertook some more travels – to Oregon one last time, and to Europe.

Henry Villard died of a stroke onNovember 12, 1900, at age 65.

The little that is generally known about Henry Villard’s last years relates to his lifelong commitment to pacifism and bettering the condition of the black man.Oswald Garrison Villard, 1872 - 1949, Henry Villard’s only son, had graduated from Harvard and became a journalist in his father’s New York Evening Post and its weekly edition, The Nation.Later, he became their president and owner.Villard’s widow, Helen, who died in the late 1920s, together with their son Oswald, continued Henry Villard’s liberal and benevolent work.They facilitated the foundation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909-1910, by providing critical personal and journalistic support to W.E.B. Du Bois, the outstanding (but controversial and unfortunate) leader of the black movement of those days.Helen Villard also organized the Women’s Peace Society in 1919.Oswald’s pacifism and participation in anti-war organizations caused him severe problems.He was finally forced to sell his newspapers.

Appendix: The Celebrations upon the Opening of the Northern Pacific Railway Co.:

Following is a translation of an eyewitness account by Paul Lindau that was published in a German newspaper on October 2, 1887:

“We remember the fabulous festivities upon completion of the Northern Pacific Railway four years ago, during August, September, and October of 1883.Henry Villard had invited a large number of guests for the inauguration ceremonies, from England, from Germany, and of course from his adopted country, the United States - possibly a total of three hundred, from Germany alone forty.He showed hospitality to all, which Prof. Gneist described rightly as unsurpassed in the history of all countries at all times.This hospitality started when his European guests boarded the ships that brought them to America.It lasted to the moment when they left again the ships upon their return to LiverpoolSouthampton or Bremerhaven - that is a total of almost a quarter of a year.It included the hospitality to his American guests during their trip from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean and back.Among the German guests of exceptional importance were the chemist A. Hofmann, the physicist G. von Bunsen, the geologist Zittl, the historian von Holst ..... from the world of finance Dr. Georg v. Siemens .... civil servants .... delegates of the following cities ...... journalists ... German Americans .. Carl Schurz, and the governors Gustav Körner, Dr. Salomon, Dr. Jacobi.....Congressman Deuster ...

During the last week of August, all guests of Villard came together in New York.On the 28th of August, the whole party left this strange city in three large, special trains.After visiting the Niagara Falls and the surprising American city-miracle, Chicago, the party arrived at St. PaulMinnesota, on September 1.It is at this point that the new railroad line commences that crosses from here straight through the whole American continent to the Pacific Ocean.It was here that the festivities began, which remained unforgettable to all participants.A great banquet was held at the beautiful LakeMinnetonka, in the gigantic hotel Lafayette, not far from both rivaling sister-cities, St. Paul and Minneapolis.The president of the United States, Mr. Chester Arthur (1881-85), the former president, General Grant, and other dignitaries attended the banquet.

This was followed by a triumphal passage, beyond all description, by Henry Villard and his group through the immense areas of the northern states and territories:Minnesota, the endless prairie and great grain fields of Dakota, in the capital of which, Bismarck, the laying of the foundation stones for the capitol coincided with the festivities for the inauguration of the new railroad [3].Then followed the rocky, mineral-rich Montana, where the Rocky Mountains had to be crossed.It was there, between Helena and Missoula, on the 8th of September, that driving the last spike into the last rail united the new tracks arriving from the east and the west.Then followed Idaho with the picturesque LakePend d’Oreilles and the wonderful shores of the Columbia River in Washington.We arrived in PortlandOregon, on the 11th of September.

From there, we undertook a common excursion north, to the British Vancouver Island and the grandiose Puget Sound.On the 16. of September, the party dissolved.Some returned the same way to New York, with a detour to the strangest of all volcanic miracles, the YellowstonePark, with its hot geysers.Others boarded ships in Portland for San Francisco to continue from there via Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado back to the point of departure.

This time, Henry Villard had preceded his guests. In the most impressive manner he had fulfilled his voluntarily assumed obligations of hospitality.With great care he was concerned for the well being of each individual and continuously showed a friendly face.At the same time, he was burdened by the heaviest business concerns. At this time of triumph, during this homage of a whole country, as hardly any crowned head had received, the conditions of the railroad had turned very somber.The confidence this enterprise once had found was shaken.The financial investments lost a substantial part of their value.Villard was chided a dreamer and was held responsible for the crisis.Directly after his greatest triumph followed his sudden crash.He himself lost by far the greatest part of his large fortune in this process.

Whoever knows the conditions in America has learned that such upheavals do not occur there without the loser also being heaped with disgrace for having lost.The public expression in America is of such energy and ruthlessness, which we can hardly imagine, in our relatively tame cultures of Europe. That much more it appeared positive, that even by Villard’s opponents, even by those who had replaced him, Villard’s crash was only mentioned in a dignified manner in the newspaper, never without the expression of real regret.Usually, the deposed industrialist or entrepreneur is the target of wild defamation, being subjected to unveiled accusations of fraud, swindle, and theft.This time however, it was everywhere mentioned with praise that Villard had emerged from the crisis with a clean conscience and with clean hands, that he had always wanted the best and had shown exceptional accomplishments.No other reproach was made but that his ingenious and grandiose concepts had underestimated the real business problems.

It was at the end of our great trip, on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, that Villard received the devastating news from New York that left no doubt that the days of his management were numbered.It was just at the end of this trip, at the grandiose shores of the blue, mirror like Puget Sound, which mixes its waters with the Pacific Ocean - it was there, where to the one who built and completed the Northern Pacific Railway was presented the most beautiful, even touching celebration.

The last number of the lengthy travel program called for a “celebration in Seattle at the Puget Sound”.Among the Germans, there was possibly none who had heard the name Seattle before and also the American guests knew practically nothing about this city.How surprised were we all when at noon of the 15th of September, as we approachedSeattle by boat, a whole flotilla of festively decorated steamships approached us on the beautiful Sound.They greeted us with gun salutes, with horrible blowing of sirens from all steam outlets, and with still more horrible musical nonsense sounded on board.

As we arrived here, at the end of the world, we saw a city rise as an amphitheater on the slope of the wide bay, protected in its back by the impenetrable wall of virgin forest - a mightily blooming city, with large wharves and store houses, with beautiful steamers and traders in the port, appearing as a place for world trade.

They had cleared some of the virgin forest and had transplanted a whole fir and spruce forest into the city for the reception of Henry Villard and his guests.These mighty firs and cedars had been replanted along the whole way, from the place of our landing up to the elevated place for the celebration.

Through this triumphal path we walked, with all the noise of the steamer sirens and the blowing of five or six bands of music, in the company of thousands of people, with the shouts of hurrah and the waving of banners, through hilly streets, till we reached the place for the festivities.There, whole oxen, muttons and lambs were roasted on spits.It was a country fair of a basic kind and of greatest effect.

The leading citizens of the city gave speeches there, so did Carl Schurz and Henry Villard.It was an incomparably beautiful late afternoon.The sun began to set.It had cooled off after the heat of the day.Villard and his group began to prepare for their return to the ship.At this moment, a most beautiful young girl of charming appearance stepped forward from the crowd [4] .She reminded me of Nausikaa:“... as one of the immortals in composure and gracious formation”.With a beautifully sonorous alto voice she addressed a truly touching and heart-felt welcome in the name of all women and girls of Seattle to Villard and his family.Everybody was most deeply moved.Villard and his closest friends had lowered their eyes not to show their tears.Mrs. Villard and her charming daughter were not ashamed of their tears and cried heartily.Such a moment can only be described by the unexplainable word “mood”.But when this mood had passed, all descriptions turned into something sober and clumsy. Even if I cannot prove it, I know that everyone of our travel companions will always remember this afternoon in the fall in Seattle.We will always think back with a certain emotion of our souls to that girl who greeted Villard.This speaker was, as we later learned, a student at the WashingtonUniversity in Seattle.

When we had boarded our ship again, a delayed torch parade approached, preceded by music bands and singers.As anchors were lifted and the majestic “Queen of the Pacific” slowly left shore, we heard a German song at this most remote corner of the civilized world, presented by German settlers, about their distant native land.We were touched.

That was on the 15th of September 1883.On the same day of this year now, September 15, 1887, Henry Villard was again appointed with all honors to the highest rank in the business management of the Northern Pacific Railway.

When the telegraphic news arrived in Seattle, the same citizens, who previously celebrated the railroad builder, remembered that day and sent a telegram to Villard:“Today four years ago, the citizens of Seattle had the pleasure of welcoming you and your friends.Our trusting confidence in you was never shaken.This night we celebrate with illuminations, cannon salutes, and general happiness your return to the management of the Northern Pacific Railway.”


What may have been on Villard’s mind when he spent many hours of his last years sitting in the small pavilion at the end of his garden, overlooking the beautiful Hudson valley to the distant western horizon and the busy traffic on the river?Had he lived the American dream?He had accomplished much – from his days of arrival as a penniless youth to the celebrations upon the completion of the Northern Pacific.He had found great friends, including Lincoln, Edison, and the Siemens brothers in Germany.But he – as also Edison – had been muscled out of his enterprises by the ruthlessness of the American business world, the financial power of the Vanderbilts, Morgans and lesser capitalists.Edison continued to be celebrated – but Villard was soon forgotten.His idealism lived on in his wife and son – who also had to pay a price for his idealism, as a pacifist in World War I.Yet, would he have wanted a different life – as a little-known journalist in a Midwestern town – or as a retired gentleman in Berlin after his first fall from power?America became too much part of him – and he continued the adventure of his life – but always walking the course of an honest man.Thus, he could retire – as many other men have before and after him who did not reach the sky but preferred to be immersed in the turbulence of their time and destiny – and had the good luck to come out alive – even on elevated ground – with their head held high.

I hope he still heard the voice of the wonderful “Nausikaa” (as reported in the Appendix), who had sung his praise in Seattle.

[1] Henry’s son, Oswald Garrison Villard, was born March 13, 1872, in WiesbadenGermany.
[2] The S.S. Columbia had a length of 350 feet and was built for the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company.The lighting installation included 115 light bulbs and four generators – which worked without trouble for fifteen years.
[3] The Sioux chief “Sitting Bull”, the old adversary of General Custer, spoke at that occasion in his native Lakota tongue – translated as a friendly greeting, but actually containing a condemnation of all the land thieves, their works, and all their pomp.
[4]She was the daughter of the president of the university that Villard had saved from being closed shortly before.