June 20, 2013 08:00 PM EDT Cincinnati


Henry Villard, President of Northern Pacific Railroad, Typed Autobiographical Sketch

Henry Villard: Autobiographical Sketch. 4to, gilt imprinted black buckram, 186pp, typed on laid ("onion skin") paper. (see also Lots 325-326, this sale)

Henry Villard (1835-1900). Nearly every short biography of Henry Villard gives different details of his life - one focuses on the immigrant experience, while another on his Civil War journalism, yet another on his business dealings, whether transportation or electrical, etc. This is possible in part, because his career was so varied and extensive, and spanned two continents.

This is Villard's account of his life written as told to an unidentified "ghost writer." He starts with the earliest known ancestor and the family place in the "Old World." This is followed by his school ventures, including his expulsion from the Gymnasium and year and a half in a French boarding school. He then immigrates to the United States, and gives a brief account of his first experiences here.

He describes incidents that do not appear in most biographical descriptions (although we have not read his granddaughter's account). For example, he describes meeting up with Horace Greeley (New York Tribune) and A.D. Richardson (Boston Journal) who were on their way to California. He guided them to the first gold mines at the headwaters of Clear Creek, CO and notes that the three journalists prepared a statement "over their own signatures" describing the mining developments, a statement that was "printed and discussed by every paper of the United States." (17) As they were coming back east in November in a farmer's wagon (and battling cold and snowstorms), they accidentally met with Abraham Lincoln, on a lecturing tour in eastern Kansas.

The following spring, 1860, the various parties were preparing for a presidential election, and, abandoning his plan to return to the gold fields, he began following the political action, attending the Republican convention in Chicago at which Lincoln was nominated, and following the gatherings of the parties throughout the Midwest - Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota.

After the election, he accepted an offer by Frederick Hudson (New York Herald) who proposed that Villard spend the winter with the president-elect and report on his "doings." He accepted, and spent the next three months in Springfield. In his words: "This experience formed another memorable episode in his career. The Illinois capital was the Mecca to which most of the leading men of the Northern and Border States made pilgrimages, and Mr. Villard became acquainted with a great many of them. Cabinet and general office seeking also brought ever-changing swarms of visitors to the place." He goes on to note that at the time, any material sent to the Herald, because of its membership in the Associated Press, had to be shared with all members, "Thus he was able to exercise a good deal of influence upon public opinion during that critical period."

His Civil War exploits only take up three pages, but he witnessed some of the bloodiest fighting of the conflict - first Manassas, Shiloh, Corinth, Perryville, Fredericksburg, the "ironclad" battle (he was under fire on the "Ironsides"), Murfreesboro, Culpepper C.H., Wilderness, and Petersburg. He had several episodes of malaria from mid-war on. After the mine explosion, he was called back to Bavaria because of his sister's illness.

He describes his introduction to financial management, and somewhat later to the railroad industry and discovering his aptitude for business negotiations while recovering his health again in Europe. Here he gets into more details, describing committee meetings and investigations. Thus the decision of Frankfort investors in their dealings with the owners of the transportation companies takes more space than the entire Civil War. Likewise, the secret negotiations and fund-raising to buy Northern Pacific takes more space. It is clear, Villard had found his "niche." [For interested parties, Villard's business papers are housed in the Baker Library of the Harvard Business School.} Another episode covered in nearly 20 pages is Villard's meeting with the deposed Otto von Bismarck in his later years (post 1890).

The business portion takes up most of the volume, with the last 10 pages or so describing his retirement in 1893 and his devotion to updating his journal, and his interest in going back and reading many of the records then being published on the Civil War. [Other Villard papers - mostly letters, genealogical material, Lincoln and Civil War articles - are in the Houghton Library of Harvard College Library.] He especially appreciated the Confederate records, something to which he had no access during the war, and appreciating that it gave a more complete picture of the conflict than the side he witnessed, thus becoming an historian rather than simply a journalist. During the Spanish American War, to which he and Fanny were opposed, he again went to Europe to distance himself from the conflict, not returning until peace did.

Although he spent nearly half a century in America, Villard always proudly considered himself a German as well. He tried to encourage friendly relations between the two nations and appreciated the special characteristics of each, many points of which he incorporated into his own character, such as his democratic views, even though he grew up in an upper tier of a hierarchical society.

Condition:Very good.  Some wear to upper right of cover.  Some pages typed with light ink. Musty smell.

Estimate: $600 - $800
Price Realized Including Buyer's Premium


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