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VILLARD, Henry (1835-1900)

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VILLARD, Henry (1835-1900), German-American, journalist, railroad promoter, and financier. Originally named Ferdinand Heinrich Gustav Hilgard, Villard was born in Speyer, Bavaria (now in Germany). He adopted the name Villard after immigrating to the U.S. in 1853. As a newspaper correspondent, Villard won distinction with his reports on the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, the 1858-59 Pikes Peak gold rush, and the American Civil War. He subsequently became one of the most important railroad promoters of his time in the nation, organizing the Oregon Railway and Navigation Co. in 1879 and pooling a number of railway interests and buying a controlling share in the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1881. Under his presidency (1881-84), the Northern Pacific completed a transcontinental line. The railroad, however, was faced with a huge deficit, and Villard resigned. Later he recouped his losses and rejoined the Northern Pacific's board of directors, serving from 1888 to 1893. Villard also helped to finance the early ventures of the American inventor Thomas Edison, founded in 1889 the Edison General Electric Co. (later the General Electric Co.), and acquired a controlling interest in two New York newspapers, the Evening Post and the Nation(1881). His wife, Helen Frances Garrison Villard (1844-1928), daughter of the American abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, aided the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and founded (1919) the Women's Peace Society, of which she was president until her death. Their son, Oswald Garrison Villard (1872-1949), was a distinguished editor and publisher of the New York Evening Post and the Nation (1897-1918), the editor and owner of the liberal weekly The Nation (1918-32), and an author, mainly of historical books.

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