Cover image for Villard : the life and times of an American titan
Villard : the life and times of an American titan
De Borchgrave, Alexandra Villard.
First edition in the United States of America.
Publication Information:
New York : Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, [2001]

Physical Description:
xiii, 414 pages 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
Personal Subject:
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HG172.V55 D4 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Henry Villard was one of the most remarkable and important figures to shape the tumultuous history of nineteenth -century America. A preeminent Civil War journalist, an industrialist, and a financial maverick, his courage, perseverance, and farsightedness made him the equal of such titans of his day as J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, and Andrew Carnegie. Penniless and not speaking a word of English, Villard emigrated in 1853 from Germany at the age of eighteen, leaving behind the privileges and expectations of his affluent, stifling parentage. Within five years of arriving on American soil, he had mastered the language and was covering the events of the day for the nation's top newspapers. Villard reported firsthand on the Lincoln-Douglas debates and later, from the front lines of the Civil War, filed graphic, hard-hitting reports that earned him the admiration of the newspaper community. His circle of acquaintances included President Lincoln, General Grant, and the famed abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison, whose daughter he married. When the Civil War ended, Villard's penchant for risk-taking and adventure and his uncanny business acumen led him to become a restless innovator, breaking new ground in many areas. In journalism, he launched the first news syndicate in the United States; in the world of finance, he was a pioneer of venture capitalism and one of the first to employ the leveraged buyout. He catapulted himself into presidency of the Northern Pacific Railroad and shared with Thomas Edison the vision of an electrified nation. His investment in Edison's electrical enterprises eventually paved the way for Villard to mastermind the consolidation of what is now known as the General Electric Company. In 1883, triumphantly driving the last spike himself, he completed the nation's second transcontinental railroad. Later that year a financial panic nearly ruined him, but within a few years he made a phenomenal comeback based on his faith in Edison and the future of electricity. Throughout his life, Villard's unfailing ability to impart his convictions to others, his talent for meeting the right people and gaining their confidence, enabled him to conquer adversity. Drawing on unpublished letters, Henry Villard's German and English memoirs, and many other sources, Alexandra Villard de Borchgrave's and John Cullen's fast-paced, absorbing biography vividly re-creates Villard's times and tells the rags-to-riches story of a German immigrant who made major contributions to his adopted homeland.

Author Notes

Alexandra Villard de Borchgrave, the great-granddaughter of Henry Villard, is a distinguished photographer who has made portraits of such notables as George Bush, Henry Kissinger, & Anwar Sadat. She is married to Arnaud de Borchgrave & lives in Washington, D.C.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Henry Villard achieved contemporary fame as a Civil War journalist and postwar capitalist, but his celebrity has fallen to footnote level in history books. Aside from a German author in 1907, he has not until now attracted a biographer, a role filled with enthusiasm and dedication by his great-granddaughter. Villard, in fact, witnessed many historic personages, such as Lincoln and robber baron Jay Gould, and events, such as the Battle of Shiloh and the construction of the Northern Pacific Railroad, so Villard de Borchgrave has a task larger than remembering a notable ancestor. Her narrative falls into the immigrant-makes-good genre; fleeing conflict with his father, Heinrich Hilgard emigrated to America in 1853, Anglicized his name, and freelanced his way into journalism. That period of Villard's life is the interesting one, whereas his postwar financial buccaneering pales in contrast, a case in miniature of the materialistic Gilded Age inevitably holding less interest than does the preceding heroic age of the Civil War. However, people are of many parts, and Villard de Borchgrave has included all of Villard's. Gilbert Taylor

Publisher's Weekly Review

With incredible energy and vision, and a knack for being at the right place at the right time, Henry Villard steadily rose from his poor immigrant status to become a business competitor of such 19th-century luminaries as J.P. Morgan and Jay Gould. Bored with school in Germany, Villard defied his well-to-do father's wishes and secretly left for America in 1853 at the age of 18. After a series of dead-end jobs, including a stint as a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman, he became a correspondent for the German-language newspaper Staats-Zeitung, through which he met many prominent men, befriending Abraham Lincoln while reporting on the Lincoln-Douglas debates. He then covered the 1860 Republican convention, election campaign and eventually the Civil War (which landed him in the thick of the fighting on the eastern and western fronts) for a host of influential papers. After the war, determined to find a better-paying career, Villard was prepared when the opportunity arose to wrest control of the Oregon and California railroad on behalf of German bondholders who sought his help, and eventually became president of the Northern Pacific Railroad. His interest in electricity led to a friendship with Thomas Edison, and Villard helped form a conglomerate that later became General Electric. Drawn largely from Villard's own memoirs, de Borchgrave's biography of her great-grandfather unsurprisingly accentuates the positive aspects of his life. Her detailed, enthusiastic account of his action-packed days as a Civil War reporter is the high point, while she treats Villard's business career somewhat superficially. But readers will be compelled by the ability of her Zelig-like subject to draw people to him wherever he went. B&w photos. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Acknowledgmentsp. xi
1 Rebellionp. 1
2 The Sorrows of Young Henryp. 27
3 The Lure of the Lawp. 53
4 The Solitary Salesmanp. 65
5 Quest for Recognitionp. 77
6 The Reporter and the Rail-Splitterp. 95
7 All That Glittersp. 107
8 The Eve of '61p. 121
9 Look Away, Dixielandp. 139
10 First Bloodp. 157
11 The Slaughter of the Innocentsp. 171
12 Trampling Out the Vintagep. 193
13 Free at Lastp. 219
14 Come in and Shut the Doorp. 231
15 War Feverp. 245
16 In Sickness and in Healthp. 263
17 Working on the Railroadp. 289
18 Upgrade, Downgradep. 305
19 The Vanity of Human Wishesp. 343
20 Sleepy Hollowp. 365
Epiloguep. 383
Notesp. 387
Bibliographyp. 399
Photo Creditsp. 403
Indexp. 407