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Villard, Henry



  • Existence: 1835-1900

German-born financier Henry Villard (1835-1900) was an important figure in American and international business during the second half of the nineteenth century. Villard played key roled in the financing of the transcontinental railroad in the United States, in promoting the Pacific Northwest, and in the development of the electrical industry in the United States and Germany.

Henry Villard was born Ferdinand Heinrich Gustav Hilgard on April 10, 1835 in Speyer, Germany. The Hilgards were a prominent Bavarian family; Heinrich's father was a jurist who served on the supreme court of Bavaria. Heinrich attended university in Germany before an estrangement with his father led him to emigrate to the United States in 1853. He took the surname of a French schoolmate to avoid his father, who he feared would force him to return to Bavaria to join the army.

After holding various odd jobs and mastering English, Villard found work as a journalist. He first wrote for German-American newspapers in Chicago and New York. In 1860, he became a correspondent for the New York Herald and covered the Civil War. During visiting Boston in 1863, Villard became acquainted with the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison and his family. Three years later, he married Garrison's daughter, Helen Frances Garrison (known as Fanny.) Henry Villard and Fanny Garrison Villard had four children: Helen, Henry, Oswald, and Heinrich.

In the 1860s, Villard became involved in finance as a liaison between German investors and American railroad companies. With support from his German backers, Villard financed many railroad companies, including the Kansas Pacific Railway Company, the Wisconsin Central Railroad Company, Oregon and California Railroad, Oregon Railway and Navigation Company, Northern Pacific Railroad Company, and the Oregon and Transcontinental Company. He also advocated developing the Pacific Northwest and encouraged immigration to Oregon and California.

After meeting Thomas A. Edison in 1879, Villard became interested in electricity. He saw the commercial potential for electricity, and he actively promoted Edison's patents all over the United States and Europe. He also pushed for an alliance between Edison and the German inventor, Werner von Siemens. In 1889, Villard formed the syndicate Edison General Electric with J. P. Morgan and G. Lowrey. Villard was thoroughly engaged in electric street railway systems and brought trolley systems to cities in 1891, beginning with Richmond, Virginia. In 1892, Villard had his own holding company for railroad and electrical securities: North American Company. Villard died on November 12, 1900 at the age of sixty-five.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Henry Villard business papers

Collection Identifier: Mss:8993 1862-1928 V719
Overview: Business records, correspondence, and photographs of 19th century railroad and electrical industry financier Henry Villard (1835-1900)