The Empire Builder: James J. Hill be not forgotten

James J. Hill / Wikipedia

James J. Hill / Wikipedia

Amy Goetzman begins her recent story “James J. Hill and the day the railroads roiled Wall Street” in Minnpost this way:

James J. Hill was responsible, perhaps more than any other one person, for the rise of Minnesota industry and agriculture, and its lasting international impact. His robust railroad empire drew the state’s arterial maps, and even influenced the layout of the city of St. Paul. He was a brilliant businessman and dazzling intellectual, a self-taught scholar with a grade-school education whose work gave rise for a better way of life for thousands of people in the early years of Minnesota statehood. Yet he has been largely forgotten.

Fundamentally, modern Minnesota is possible because of the railroads and James J. Hill was one of the best railroad men in American history. A “robber baron” sure, but those robber barons were necessary to our contemporary conveniences and economy. It’s a good read, and suggests what seems like a good book on the topic as well.

I haven’t forgotten Mr. Hill. I named my Great Northern Radio Show after his railroad, and have broadcast it from many towns that owe their existence to his wheeling and dealing long ago. For years, the eastern Range was served by the DM&IR and the west Range by the Great Northern Railway. Without railroads, the Iron Range and modern America would not have happened the way it did.


  1. Thanks for the note, Aaron. I’m packing for an extending vacation, and you’ve inspired me to head down to the basement to retrieve my copy of “James J. Hill” (1955) in Knopf’s “A Great Life in Brief” series.

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