Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Henry Villard (Heinrich Hilgard), born April 10, 1835

Ferdinand Heinrich Gustav Hilgard was born in Speyer, in the Rhenish Palatinate of the Kingdom of Bavaria. His parents were Gustav Leonhard Hilgard and Katharina Antonia Elisabeth "Lisette" Pfeiffer.  His father belonged to the Reformed Church, while Heinrich's mother was Roman Catholic. Both his parents were of well-known, upper-middle-class families. 

 His father was a prominent civil servant.  His parents moved the family to Zweibrücken in 1839. 

While he 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.  His granduncle had resigned a judgeship so his children could be raised as "freemen." 

Friedrich Heinrich Hilgard (Henry Villard) on left, at about age 13, with mother (center), sister Emma (right) and uncle Robert (top)
He entered a Gymnasium (equivalent of a United States "high school") in Zweibrücken in 1848.  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. 

Revolutionary Demonstrations in Berlin, 1848
After watching a session of the Frankfurt Parliament, he came home in a "Hecker hat" with a red feather in it. 
Friedrich Hecker, 
German Revolutionary

Emile Erckmann 
and Alexandre Chatrian (on right)

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).  He showed up for classes a month early so he could be tutored in the French language by the novelist  Alexandre Chatrian. He later attended the Gymnasium of Speyer in 1850-52. 

In 1852, at age 17, he enrolled at Munich University, where he intended to dedicate his life to writing and literature.  By joining an upper-class fraternity, however, he was  distracted from learning and soon found himself in unbearable debt.  His father threatened to enlist him in the Bavarian army, but relented and allowed him a second start as a student of law at the University of Wuerzburg.

In 1853, having had a disagreement with his father at the age of 18, he emigrated—without his parents' knowledge—to the United States.

He was 26 years old when the Civil War began.

On emigrating to America, he adopted the name Villard, the surname of a French schoolmate at Phalsbourg, to conceal his identity from anyone intent on making him return to Germany.

He later recalled: "My landing upon American soil took place under anything but auspicious circumstances. I was utterly destitute of money, had but a limited supply of wearing apparel, and that not suited to the approaching cold season, and I literally did not know a single person in New York or elsewhere in the Eastern States to whom I could not apply for help and counsel. To crown all, I could not speak a word of English."  Another passenger on his ship kindly lent him $20.  Henry did not 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 to the passenger, and travel to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he hoped to find work among the large German population.

Making his way westward in 1854, he lived in turn at Cincinnati, Ohio; Indianapolis, Indiana; Belleville, Illinois; Peoria, Illinois (where he studied law for a time); and Chicago, Illinois, where he wrote for newspapers.  

Chicago, Illinois
Along with newspaper reporting and many other jobs, in 1856 he attempted unsuccessfully to establish a colony of "free soil" Germans in Kansas. In 1856-57 he was editor, and for part of the time was proprietor of the Racine Volksblatt,  in which he advocated the election of presidential candidate John Fremont of the newly-founded Republican Party.

Lincoln-Douglas Debates, 1858
Later he was associated with the New Yorker Staats-Zeitung, for whom he covered the Lincoln-Douglas debates in the fall 1858. He later wrote:
Douglas spoke first for an hour, followed by Lincoln for an hour and a half; upon which the former closed in another half hour. The Democratic spokesman commanded a strong, sonorous voice, a rapid, vigorous utterance, a telling play of countenance, impressive gestures, and all the other arts of the practiced speaker. As far as all external conditions were concerned, there was nothing in favor of Lincoln. He had a lean, lank, indescribably gawky figure, an odd-featured, wrinkled, inexpressive, and altogether uncomely face. He used singularly awkward, almost absurd, up-and-down and sidewise movements of his body to give emphasis to his arguments. His voice was naturally good, but he frequently raised it to an unnatural pitch. Yet the unprejudiced mind felt at once that, while there was on the one side a skillful dialectician and debater arguing a wrong and weak cause, there was on the other a thoroughly earnest and truthful man, inspired by sound convictions in consonance with the true spirit of American institutions. There was nothing in all Douglas’s powerful effort that appealed to the higher instincts of human nature, while Lincoln always touched sympathetic chords. Lincoln’s speech excited and sustained the enthusiasm of his audience to the end. When he had finished, two stalwart young farmers rushed on the platform, and, in spite of his remonstrances, seized and put him on their shoulders and carried him in that uncomfortable posture for a considerable distance. It was really a ludicrous sight to see the grotesque figure holding frantically to the heads of his supporters, with his legs dangling from their shoulders, and his pantaloons pulled up so as to expose his underwear almost to his knees. Douglas made dexterous use of this incident in his next speech, expressing sincere regret that, against his wish, he had used up his old friend Lincoln so completely that he had to be carried off the stage. Lincoln retaliated by saying at the first opportunity that he had known Judge Douglas long and well, but there was nevertheless one thing he could not say of him, and that was that the Judge always told the truth.

I was introduced to Lincoln at Freeport, and met him frequently afterwards in the course of the campaign. I must say frankly that, although I found him most approachable, good-natured, and full of wit and humor, I could not take a real personal liking to the man, owing to an inborn weakness for which he was even then notorious and so remained during his great public career. He was inordinately fond of jokes, anecdotes, and stories. He loved to hear them, and still more to tell them himself out of the inexhaustible supply provided by his good memory and his fertile fancy. There would have been no harm in this but for the fact that, the coarser the joke, the lower the anecdote, and the more risky the story, the more he enjoyed them, especially when they were of his own invention. He possessed, moreover, a singular ingenuity in bringing about occasions in conversation for indulgences of this kind.
I firmly believe that, if Stephen A. Douglas had lived, he would have had a brilliant national career. Freed by the Southern rebellion from all identification with pro-slavery interests, the road would have been open to the highest fame and position for which his unusual talents qualified him. As I took final leave of him and Lincoln, doubtless neither of them had any idea that within two years they would be rivals again in the Presidential race. I had it from Lincoln’s own lips that the United States Senatorship was the greatest political height he at the time expected to climb.

"My wife insists, however, that I am going to be Senator and President of the United States, too.” These last words he followed with a roar of laughter, with his arms around his knees, and shaking all over with mirth at his wife’s ambition. “Just think,” he exclaimed, “of such a sucker as me as President!” …
Abraham Lincoln in 1858
 In 1859, as correspondent of the Cincinnati Commercial Gazette, he visited the newly discovered gold region of Colorado. On his return in 1860, he published a guidebook, The Pike's Peak Gold Regions. He also sent statistics to the New York Herald  that were intended to influence the location of a Pacific railroad route.   

Villard supported the nomination of  William Seward as the Republican candidate for president He was disappointed that Abraham Lincoln got the nomination: "I had not got over the prejudice against Lincoln with which my personal contact with him in 1858 imbued me. It seemed to me incomprehensible and outrageous that the uncouth, common Illinois politician, whose only experience in public life had been service as a member of the State legislature and in Congress for one term, should carry the day over the eminent and tried statesman, the foremost figure, indeed, in the country." Despite these opinions, as a reporter he followed Abraham Lincoln throughout the 1860 presidential campaign, and gave Lincoln his full support after his election as president.  He was on the presidential train to Washington in 1861. 

He worked as correspondent of the New York Herald  in 1861.  During the Civil War, he was a correspondent for the New York Tribune with the Army of the Potomac (1862–63) and was at the front as the representative of a news agency he established  in 1864.  Villard reported several of the major battles including Bull Run (July, 1861), Perryville (October, 1862), Fredericksburg (December, 1862), Murfreesboro (January, 1863) and the Wilderness  (June, 1864).  Out of his experiences reporting the Civil War, he became a confirmed pacifist. 

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 the time. He also met Garrison’s daughter, Helen Frances “Fanny” Garrison.

William Lloyd Garrison 
and his daughter, Fanny
In 1865, when his friend Horace White  became managing editor of the Chicago Tribune,  Villard became its Washington correspondent.

He married Fanny Garrison on January 3, 1866. 

Henry Villard, 1866

Prusso-Austrian War
In 1866, he was the correspondent of the Chicago Tribune in the Prusso-Austrian War. He stayed on in Europe in 1867 to report on the Paris Exposition.

Paris Exposition
He returned to the United States from his correspondent duties in Europe in June 1868, and shortly afterward was elected secretary of the American Social Science Association.  

In 1870, he went to Germany for his health. While living at Wiesbaden, he engaged in the negotiation of American railroad securities. 

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

His son, Oswald Garrison Villard was born in Germany on March 13, 1872.

In April 1874 he returned to the United States to represent his constituents, and especially to execute an arrangement with the Oregon and California Railroad Company.
Portland, Oregon

Villard first visited Portland, Oregon in July 1874. Visiting Oregon, he was impressed with the natural wealth of the region, and conceived the plan of gaining control of its few transportation routes. His clients, who were also large creditors also of the Oregon Steamship Company, approved his scheme, and in 1875 Villard became president of both the steamship company and the Oregon and California Railroad.  In 1876, he was appointed a receiver of the Kansas Pacific Railroad as the representative of European creditors. He was removed in 1878, but continued the contest he had begun with Jay Gould, and finally obtained better terms for the bond holders than they had agreed to accept.

Jay Gould
Villard became a friend of Thomas Alva Edison and invested in the Edison Electric Light Company.He 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 so equipped.  

In 1879, Villard bought 100 acres and the important mansion, “Thorwood”, at Dobb’s Ferry, which he renovated and enlarged.

The Pacific Northwest was the booming sector of American expansion.  In 1879, Villard formed an American syndicate which operated fleets of steamers and portage railroads on the Columbia River. The three companies that he controlled were amalgamated under the name of the Oregon Railroad and Navigation Company.  He began the construction of a railroad up Columbia River. He then succeeded in obtaining a controlling interest in the Northern Pacific Railroad property, and organized a new corporation that was named the Oregon and Transcontinental Company. This acquisition was achieved with the aid of a syndicate, called by the press a “blind pool,” composed of friends who had loaned him $20 million without knowing his intentions. Villard was elected president of a reorganized board of directors on 15 September 1881.

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, 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.

Charles McKim
In 1881, Villard 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.  His father-in-law, William Lloyd Garrison, was a close friend of McKim’s father, and Fanny 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.

With the aid of the Oregon and Transcontinental Company, his railroad line to the Pacific Ocean was completed, but at the time when it was opened to traffic in September 1883, the project had cost more than expected.  Some months later these companies experienced a financial collapse. Villard's financial embarrassment caused the collapse of the stock exchange firm of Decker, Howell, & Co., and Villard's attorney, William Nelson Cromwell, used $1,000,000 to promptly settle with creditors.  On 4 January 1884, Villard resigned the presidency of the Northern Pacific.  

When Villard was forced out of the Northern Pacific Railway Company, 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 philanthropies.  Later they moved to Berlin,  where they resided for two years in style on the Kurfürstendamm.  Thomas Edison asked him to assist in the reorganization of the German Edison company, the Deutsche Edison Gesellschaft.  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. 

Thomas Edison
After spending time in Europe, he returned to New York City in 1886, and purchased for German capitalists large amounts of the securities of the transportation system that he was instrumental in creating.  He again became the director of the Northern Pacific, and on 21 June 1888, was again the president of the Oregon and Transcontinental Company.

Edwin Godkin

In 1881, he acquired the New York Evening Post and The Nation. These publications were then edited by his friend Horace White in conjunction with Edwin Godkin and Carl Schurz. 

Carl Schurz
This marked White's re-entry into journalism. He also helped manage Villard's railroad and steamship interests 1876-1891. 

Horace White

In 1883, he paid the debt of the University of Oregon, and gave the institution $50,000. Villard Hall, the second building on campus, was named after him.  

Villard Hall

He also donated money to Harvard University, Columbia University, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the American Museum of Natural History.

Memorial Church in Speyer

In Speyer, he was a main benefactor for the construction of the Memorial Church and a new hospital. In Germany, he was still known as Heinrich Hilgard, and a street was named after him (Hilgardstrasse). In Zweibrücken he built an orphanage in 1891. He has also financed a school for nurses. He devoted large sums to the Industrial Art School of Rhenish Bavaria,   and to the foundation of fifteen scholarships for the youth of that province.

Villard, with Thomas Edison, merged the Edison Lamp Company of  Newark, New Jersey, and the Edison Machine Works at Schenectady, New York, to form the  Edison General Electric Company.  Villard was the president of this concern until 1893, when he retired.  The large Thomson-Houston Company was consolidated with the Edison General Electric Company and renamed the “General Electric Company.”

Henry Villard
Retiring at the age of 58, he and his wife began a tour of Europe. They returned in   1895, and Villard began the writing of his memoirs.  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 western horizon.

Henry Villard died of a stroke on November 12, 1900, at his country home, Thorwood Park, in Dobbs Ferry, New York.  He was 65 years old. 

He was buried in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Sleepy Hollow, New York.

Monument at Villard's Grave
Back of Villard Monument
His autobiography was published posthumously, in 1904.

His only son, Oswald Garrison Villard, took over his business interests.

Oswald Garrison Villard
 His widow, Fanny, together with their son Oswald, facilitated the foundation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909-1910, by providing personal and journalistic support to W.E.B. Du Bois.  Fanny Villard also organized the Women’s Peace Society in 1919.

Fanny Garrison Villard

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