Henry Villard was born in 1835 in Speyer, Palatinate. In 1853, having had a disagreement with his father, he emigrated— without his parents' knowledge— to the United States.
It was at this time that he adopted the name Villard. Making his way westward in 1854, he lived in turn at Cincinnati, Belleville, Illinois, Peoria, Illinois and Chicago, did newspaper reporting and various jobs, and in 1856 attempted unsuccessfully to establish a colony of "free soil" Germans in Kansas. In 1856-57 he was editor, and for part of the time was proprietor, of the Racine Volksblatt
, in which he advocated the election of John C. Fremont, a Republican. Thereafter he was associated (in 1857) with the Staats-Zeitung
, Frank Leslie's
and the Tribune
, of New York, and with the Cincinnati Commercial Gazette
. He reported on the Lincoln-Douglas debates for the New York papers and was a battlefield correspondent during the Civil War.
At the close of the war he married, January 3, 1866, Helen Frances Garrison, the daughter of the anti-slavery campaigner, William Lloyd Garrison.
In 1873 he acted as agent for holders of Western railroad securities and soon became active in railroad financing. In 1879, he organized the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company and gained a solid foothold in the transportation of the Pacific Northwest area. He then obtained a controlling interest in the Northern Pacific RR and became its president in 1881, but completion of the building of that railroad through the mountains bankrupted him (in 1883). With new capital, Villard once more gained control of the Northern Pacific and in 1889 became chairman of the board of directors.
In 1890, he merged several smaller companies to form the Edison General Electric Company (later the General Electric Company
) and was its president until 1893. In 1881, Villard obtained control of the New York Evening Post
, which later came under the management of his son, Oswald Garrison Villard.
Villard generously contributed to the University of Oregon. On his passing in 1900, Henry Villard was interred in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Sleepy Hollow, New York. We are currently offering the following pieces that are signed by Henry Villard: