The New Student's Reference Work/Hill, James Jerome


Hill, James Jerome. In 1856 there arrived in St. Paul, Minn., then a frontier village, an 18-year-old boy from Canada. Born in Guelph, Ontario, Sept. 16, 1838, of well-to-do Scotch-Irish parents, James J. Hill was to have been educated for the medical profession. A lover of nature and books, he was thought unfitted for a business career. His father's death gave to the United States the man who was to win the nickname of Colossus of Roads.

Here briefly are the steps in his education for his great work as a railroad empire builder. Notice how each step grew out of the other:


1. Nine years (1856-1865) as clerk for a Mississippi Steamboat Company, during which he studied the transportation and fuel situation.

2. Became agent (1865) of a Steamboat line.

3. Went (1867) into the general transportation and fuel business.

4. Began his railroad experience as station agent of the only railroad then entering St. Paul.

5. Formed a fuel and warehousing firm.

6. Organized (1870) Red River Transportation Company, to carry on trade between U.S. and Manitoba.

7. Established (1872) first regular through transportation service between St. Paul and Winnipeg (then Ft. Gary).


8. With three associates bought (1878) defaulted bonds of the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad Company which had built some lines in Minnesota, and owed nearly $33,000,000. Almost no one except Mr. Hill believed in its future. He did, because he believed in the future of the country. After acquiring its bonds he joined the fragments of the road into something like a system and connected it with the Canadian Government line to Winnipeg.

9. Organized (1879) St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railroad Company to take over all these properties and build on them as a foundation. The system grew rapidly with the country.


10. Mr. Hill saw early that the line must ultimately reach the Coast and, without a pause, conceived, financed and built, in spite of all difficulties, the magnificent system now called the Great Northern. Very few, at the time, appreciated the immense resources of the country through which it passes. The system was made independent in its eastern connections by the establishment of a steamship company on the lakes and on the west by the establishment of a steamship line to the Orient. By subsequent extensions and connections, the Great Northern System has grown to 7,800 miles. It has never passed a dividend and its credit has always stood high in the most disastrous times.


The motive power behind it all was James J. Hill. His great principles of management—and notice that they all are principles that apply to any line of business—are: economy of operation, low grades and easy curves, powerful engines and cars of large capacity; adjustment of traffic so as to reduce the haul of empty cars to the minimum. He has made a special study of scientific agriculture and, through numerous addresses and by practical work on the farms of the Northwest, has led the movement for better methods. His Highways of Progress deals profoundly with national development. He is a tireless reader, a generous giver for educational purposes and although nominally withdrawn from active business life, his touch is felt by all his great enterprises. He was made an LL.D. by Yale in 1910.