June 20, 2013 08:00 PM EDT Cincinnati


Henry Villard, President of Northern Pacific Railroad, Presentation Book from the City of Walla Walla

Presentation book with Compliments of the City of Walla Walla to Henry Villard Esq. imprinted in gilt on cover and in calligraphy on the first page.  4to, gilt imprinted brown leather covers, 6pp of thick cardstock with gilt edges. Dated Council Chamber, City of Walla Walla, August 7, 1883, a resolution to honor Villard during his visit to mark the completion of the N.P.R.R.

Born in Bavaria in the town of Speyer in 1835, Ferdinand Heinrich Gustav Hilgard grew up in a professional family that was fairly well-off. He always felt (maybe rightly) that he could never please his father, who was a legal official in service to the king of Bavaria. He had more liberal relatives, however, many of whom had to leave Bavaria because of their political leanings. They established a German colony in Belleville, IL. In the midst of revolutionary fervor in 1848, young Heinrich refused to pray for the king in school, and was expelled. Rebellion against patriarchal authority only increased after this, and ultimately, in 1853, Heinrich left (without his parents' knowledge) - with a second class ticket on a steamer from Hamburg to New York with all of one and one-half Prussian dollars in his pocket. To keep his father from finding him, he changed his name to Henry Villard, Americanizing the name of a classmate whose name was similar to his own.

Alone in a land with no skills, no resources, and little knowledge of the language or culture, Villard made his way with the typical odd jobs, wandering from New York to the Midwest, moving from one German community to another, eventually making his way to Belleville. The town had an intellectual community that was sympathetic to many American liberal causes, especially abolition, and was to strongly influence his attitude toward his adopted land.

He learned English and journalism just as the political landscape was heating up. Working alternately as a freelance and employed journalist for a number of German and American papers, he covered the Lincoln-Douglas debates in 1858; he covered the Pike's Peak gold rush for the Cincinnati Daily Commercial in 1859; he reported on the Civil War for the New York Herald and New York Tribune (and eventually syndicated his columns for many others, including Frank Leslie, one of the first to do so). 

Journalism brought him in contact with many influential people, including Lincoln (Villard was not a supporter until later), William Lloyd Garrison (the abolitionist - Villard would marry his daughter, Fanny in 1866), Horace Greeley, plus Generals such as Sherman, Buell, Grant, and many more. His experiences during the war turned him into a pacifist, which was solidified when he covered the Austro-Prussian (1866) and Franco Prussian (1870-1871) Wars.

He was called back to Europe at the end of 1864 when his sister was dying. While there he acquired his inheritance from his mother's estate. She had died in 1859 while he was chasing gold in the West. Conflicts with his father again forced him to leave Germany in March 1865, and by the time he got back, Richmond had fallen, Lee had surrendered and Lincoln had been assassinated. Tired of war, he decided there was more to life than the carnage he had witnessed for years, so he asked for Fanny Garrison's hand, and they were married in 1866, when Villard returned to Europe for reasons of health (and to introduce his new wife to the continent and family). 

When he returned to the United States, he became interested in transportation. He returned to Germany again in 1870 for health reasons, and engaged in railroad financing, eventually becoming an agent for German investors. His love of the West, acquired in his early years, drew him to the distant coast. He began buying small steamship and rail lines, and by 1875 reorganized the Oregon and California Railroad and Oregon Steamship Company. He planned to make Portland the hub of his growing railway. In 1880 the Northern Pacific planned a line to Puget Sound, which would jeopardize Villard's railroad, so by 1881, he gained control of N.P.R.R. to protect Portland. The transcontinental railroad to Portland was completed in 1883, and Villard staged a media event (the journalist emerges) that included Ulysses S. Grant, Frederick Billings, his in-laws, and many more - 4 train cars full - to Gold Creek, Montana to drive the "golden spike" signifying a line from Atlantic to Pacific (and inviting investors). The venture was costly, however, and within months Villard found himself driven out of the business he helped grow.

This document is related to this period of Villard's career. From the City of Walla Walla, the Mayor extends ...to yourself and associates the hospitalities of the City of Walla Walla upon your visit to the Pacific Coast marking the completion of the N.P.R.R. ...The homes of our people are open to yourself and accompanying friends. Signed by (Genl.) T[homas]. R. Tannatt, a Civil War general, who was Mayor of the town and represented Villard's interests in Walla Walla. Second document in the same book inviting Villard to town is signed by a clerk and includes the town seal.

Villard went on to found Edison General Electric, and try to sell interests in Edison in Europe. Always looking for the "big picture," Henry Villard paid little interest to day-to-day details, a problem in the long run. But he remained ever-optimistic and idealistic, always supportive of "under-dogs." He remained anti-slavery and pro-women's suffrage and emancipation (Fanny was certainly active along those lines). He created jobs on the railroad and established entire towns in the West with railroad laborers. And while born to some privilege, and achieving his own measure of wealth, he appears to have never been exclusionary, embracing fully American democratic principles.

Condition:Front board a bit warped, with scrapes and scuffs. Front hinge separating from both top and bottom. The cardstock pages are held together with cloth tape (as made). The tape is becoming brittle on all pages, and one has split entirely. This would be a relatively easy repair. Musty smell.

Estimate: $1,000 - $2,000
Price Realized Including Buyer's Premium


Have a Similar Item?

Consign With Us