James Jerome Hill

Hill, James Jerome, 1838–1916, American railroad builder, b. Ontario, Canada. He went to St. Paul, Minn., in 1856. He became a partner of Norman Kittson in a steamboat line and, with Kittson, Donald Alexander Smith (later Baron Strathcona and Mount Royal), and Sir George Stephen, he bought (1878) the St. Paul and Pacific RR. It was completed to the Canadian border, but Hill, having early envisioned the expansion of farming, trade, and industry from Minnesota to the Rockies and beyond, set about to carry the line westward in what was probably the greatest feat of railroad building in the United States. In 1887, Great Falls, Mont. (which Hill had helped to found), was reached; by 1893 the road was completed across the mountains to the Pacific at Seattle. The line's expansion was accomplished despite the appalling difficulties of the terrain and the lack of the federal assistance showered so generously on the earlier transcontinental roads. Furthermore, the construction involved no financial scandals. Hill pioneered in having "farm demonstration" trains and by his eloquent publicity persuaded thousands of farmers to settle in Montana, where unfortunately many of them were later ruined by drought. Hill in 1890 consolidated his rail properties into the Great Northern Railway Company. His great rival, the Northern Pacific, got into difficulties in the Panic of 1893, and he was the leader in its reorganization. When the courts prevented a union of the two roads, Hill's financial ally, J. Pierpont Morgan, took over the Northern Pacific, and a community of interests was maintained. In 1901 the two acted jointly to gain entrance to Chicago by purchasing the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy (commonly called the Burlington). Morgan and Hill thus forestalled Hill's rival, E. H. Harriman, who also wanted the Burlington. A violent financial struggle ensued, precipitating the stock market panic of May 9, 1901. In a compromise measure, Harriman, Hill, and Morgan set up the Northern Securities Company as a holding company for the Great Northern and Northern Pacific systems, but the merger was dissolved by order of the U.S. Supreme Court as a violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Hill retired from the presidency of the Great Northern in 1907, but remained on the board until 1912. He also assisted in the construction of the Canadian Pacific. He built and endowed the Hill Reference Library in St. Paul. Hill wrote Highways of Progress (1910).

See biographies by J. G. Pyle (2 vol., 1944; repr. 1968) and S. H. Holbrook (1955); study by A. Martin (1976); L. Haeg, Harriman vs Hill: Wall Street's Great Railroad War (2013).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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