The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Hill, James Jerome

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The Encyclopedia Americana
Hill, James Jerome
Edition of 1920. See also James J. Hill on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

HILL, James Jerome, American railroad promoter and financier: b. near Guelph, Wellington County, Ontario, Canada, 16 Sept. 1838, of Scotch-Irish parentage; d. Saint Paul, Minn., 29 May 1916. Until his father's death when the boy was in his 15th year, he attended a neighboring academy. After that he was employed in a country store, until in search of larger opportunities he reached Saint Paul, Minn., in 1856, after visiting different parts of the country. As clerk or agent he was employed in the Mississippi River steamboat business for the next 12 years; and in 1870 established the Red River Transportation Company. This gave service between Saint Paul and Winnipeg, and through it Mr. Hill obtained an idea of the immense coming importance of transportation in the Northwest. In 1878, a syndicate of four men, of whom Mr. Hill was one, bought the defaulted bonds of the Saint Paul and Pacific Railroad Company. It had been in the receiver's hands since 1873 and Mr. Hill was one of the few men who believed in its future. In 1879 this property was organized as the Saint Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway Company and was completed and rapidly extended westward. Mr. Hill was general manager, became vice-president in 1881 and president in 1882. The latter office he held for 25 years, This enterprise contemplated, from an early date, the extension of the line to the Pacific Coast. This was built, through a difficult and unsettled country, by private financing, without the government's assistance. The road was completed to Seattle, on Puget Sound, in 1893. Between 1881 and 1883 Mr. Hill was interested with other capitalists in building the Canadian Pacific line. His energy and interest were, however, concentrated upon the rounding out and perfecting of his own system. It was extended to Duluth and connected with steamships owned by the railroad and operating on the Great Lakes. By 1890 all the lines of the system were united in the Great Northern Company. Steamships were built to run from Puget Sound ports to Japan and China. Some lands containing iron ore had been bought by Mr. Hill, as a private citizen, in 1889. The ore deposits, being large and valuable, were turned over to a company formed to hold them with others purchased later. The entire property was distributed later among holders of Great Northern stock. The Great Northern and the Northern Pacific together purchased, in 1901, the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad Company. Together they also built the Spokane, Portland and Seattle line along the north bank of the Columbia River. Connections of the Great Northern thus gave it access to all important markets and ports in the country. Mr. Hill resigned as president in 1907, to become chairman of the board of directors. He was succeeded in his former office by his son, L. W. Hill. From 1912, when he resigned the chairmanship, he held no official place in the company. Both personally and financially he was as closely identified as ever with the great property that was so largely his own creation. Among the diverse interests of Mr. Hill's life, other than railroad work, was agricultural improvement, which he instigated and assisted throughout the Northwest. From the beginning the prosperity of the farm and the prosperity of the railroad were identical to his mind. In addition to that, he believed that the chief interest everywhere rests finally on the foundation of the farm. He gave much of the study and efforts of his best years to ascertaining methods of raising and maintaining soil fertility, and of increasing the quality and quantity of the acre product. His opinion was widely sought on many subjects; and he took a lively interest in art, literature and economic and civic questions. Consult Pyle, Joseph Gilpin, ‘The Life of James J. Hill’ (2 vols., New York 1917).