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COLLECTION Identifier: Mss:8993 1862-1928 V719

Henry Villard business papers


Business records, correspondence, and photographs of 19th century railroad and electrical industry financier Henry Villard (1835-1900)


  • Creation: 1862-1928 (inclusive)
  • Creation: 1870-1900 (bulk)

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Materials stored onsite. Please contact for more information.


87 linear feet (127 volumes, 125 boxes)

The collection primarily consists of business records created by Villard and his associates from 1862 to 1900, and cover Villard's life as a businessman and investor. The papers mainly concern Villard's railroad and electrical enterprises. Documentation includes correspondence (e.g., letterbooks, telegrams, cablegrams, invitations, etc.,) administrative records (e.g., minutes, memos, by-laws, annual reports, etc.,) financial papers (e.g., ledgers, receipts, stock certificates, etc.,) legal papers (e.g., litigation, affidavits, testimony, depositions,) agreements, newspapers, newspaper clippings, reports, scrapbooks, maps, and patents.

The records chiefly document the development of transportation networks in the West and Pacific Northwest, with the bulk of the material relating to the development of the Northern Pacific Railroad Company and its completion in 1883. Other transportation companies that are well represented in the collection include Kansas Pacific Railroad, the Wisconsin Central Railroad Company, Oregon and California Railroad Company, Oregon Steamship Company, Oregon Railway and Navigation Company, Oregon Improvement Company, and Oregon and Transcontinental Company.

Other materials of interest include Villard's business activities with Thomas A. Edison and Werner von Siemens, and his correspondence and financial records.

Biographical Note:

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.

Series Outline

The collection is arranged in the following series:

  1. Series I. Kansas Pacific Railroad, 1862-1879
  2. Series II. American Liquid Fuel Company, 1869-1880
  3. Series III. Wisconsin Central Railroad Company and Northern Pacific Railroad Company, 1868-1895
  4. Series IV. Oregon and California Railroad Company, 1870-1890
  5. Series V. Oregon Steamship Company, 1873-1896
  6. Series VI. Oregon Railway and Navigation Company, 1879-1897
  7. Series VII. Oregon Improvement Company, 1860-1923
  8. Series VIII. Northern Pacific Railroad Company, 1867-1919
  9. Series IX. Oregon and Transcontinental Company, 1881-1890
  10. Series X. North American Company, 1879-1921
  11. Series XI. Edison General Electric, 1879-1917
  12. Series XII. Correspondence, 1871-1901
  13. Series XIII. Investments and financial records, 1874-1895
  14. Series XIV. World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, Chicago, Illinois, 1892-1896
  15. Series XV. Memoirs, 1861-1900
  16. Series XVI. Scrapbooks and newspapers, 1881-1897
  17. Series XVII. Oversized material, 1877-1903
  18. Series XVIII. Photographs and stereographs, 1876-1883

Physical Location



Gift of the Villard Family to Harvard, 1922; gift from F. W. Doolittle to Harvard, 1934; transferred from Houghton Library, 1967.

Existence and Location of Copies

Boxes 100 & 105 of the Henry Villard business papers are available on microfilm (2 reels, 35mm.) for use in the Historical Collections Reading Room, Baker Library. Order no. 05-1752, reel 1 & 2.

Stereographs located in boxes 119-121 have been scanned.

Related Materials

There are related Henry Villard materials in the Houghton Library, Harvard College Libraries, Harvard University.

For additional material related to Henry Villard see Lord Carrington Travelogue of Villard Expedition.

Processing Information

Processed: 1998, 2002

By: Andrea Faye Sheehan, Maggie Hale

The Villard papers were reprocessed from July to October 1998. The series are arranged chronologically by Villard’s business endeavors. Materials were refoldered and reboxed and rubber bands, paper clips and other fasteners were removed. Most newsprint was photocopied. Annual reports and printed material were removed from the collection; they are cataloged individually in HOLLIS, Harvard's online catalog. The photographs and stereographs were reprocessed in 2002.

Villard, Henry, 1835-1900. Henry Villard Business Papers, 1862-1928 (inclusive), 1870-1900 (bulk): A Finding Aid
Baker Library
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Baker Library Special Collections and Archives, Harvard Business School Repository

Baker Library Special Collections and Archives holds unique resources that focus on the evolution of business and industry, as well as the records of the Harvard Business School, documenting the institution's development over the last century. These rich and varied collections support research in a diverse range of fields such as business, economic, social and cultural history as well as the history of science and technology.

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