Henry Villard (April 10, 1835 – November 12, 1900) was an American journalist and financier who was an early president of the Northern Pacific Railway.
Born and raised Ferdinand Heinrich Gustav Hilgard in the Rhenish Palatinate of the Kingdom of Bavaria, Villard clashed with his more conservative father over politics, and was sent to a semi-military academy in northeastern France. As a teenager, he emigrated to the United States without his parents’ knowledge. He changed his name to avoid being sent back to Europe, and began making his way west, briefly studying law as he developed a career in journalism. He supported John C. Frémont of the newly established Republican Party in his presidential campaign in 1856, and later followed Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 campaign.
Villard became a war correspondent, first covering the American Civil War, and later being sent by the Chicago Tribune to cover the Austro-Prussian War. He became a pacifist as a result of his experiences covering the Civil War. In the late 1860s he married women’s suffrage advocate Helen Frances Garrison, and returned to the U.S., only to go back to Germany for his health in 1870.
While in Germany, Villard became involved in investments in American railroads, and returned to the U.S. in 1874 to oversee German investments in the Oregon and California Railroad. He visited Oregon that summer, and being impressed with the region’s natural resources, began acquiring various transportation interests in the region. During the ensuing decade he acquired several rail and steamship companies, and pursued a rail line from Portland to the Pacific Ocean; he was successful, but the line cost more than anticipated, causing financial turmoil. Villard returned to Europe, helping German investors acquire stakes in the transportation network, and returned to New York in 1886.
Also in the 1880s, Villard acquired the New York Evening Post and The Nation, and established the predecessor of General Electric. He was the first benefactor of the University of Oregon, and contributed to other universities, churches, hospitals, and orphanages. He died of a stroke at his country home in New York in 1900.