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    German Delegation Presentation Book to Henry Villard at the Driving of the Last Spike of the Northern Pacific transcontinental railroad. In this age of the internet and jet-powered world travel, it's hard to realize an era, really not that long ago, when it took weeks or months (if you actually survived the trip) to get from the east coast to the west coast of our own country. During the Civil War, in 1862, Congress passed the Pacific Railway Act, authorizing the first railroad connecting east to west. That particular route was finished, and a ceremony held at Promontory Point, Utah, on May 10, 1869, when Omaha, Nebraska and Sacramento, California were finally connected by rail. Two years later, Abraham Lincoln signed a bill into law authorizing the charter of the Northern Pacific Railroad, a transcontinental road across the northern tier of states from Lake Superior to Puget Sound. He was concerned not only with opening the Northwest to settlement but also with assuring military security in the west (because of the war). That particular system didn't break ground until February 15, 1870, when, at Carlton, Minnesota (about 20 miles west of Duluth), the first spike was driven. A bit later, construction started at the other end of the route, between Tacoma and Kalama, in the Washington Territory. Various management and financial problems throughout the 1870s worked together to delay the progress of this project. Then, in 1881, a German-born industrialist, writer, publisher, and staunch abolitionist (the son-in-law of William Lloyd Garrison) named Henry Villard stepped in. He obtained a controlling interest and became president of the Northern Pacific Railway. Through his German and British contacts, Villard secured financing to complete the languishing project.

    There were many construction problems; rough terrain, money, raw materials, and laborers. Villard met each challenge and the 1,900 mile-long railroad was finally finished. Villard felt that his triumphs over natural and financial obstacles merited international attention so he planned one major party for the driving of the "Last Spike." He invited hundreds of bankers, investors, officials, and journalists from the United States, Great Britain, and Germany. They all gathered in St. Paul, Minnesota where 20,000 marchers staged a twenty-mile long parade. Nearby, in Minneapolis, a parade attracted 100,000 onlookers. The delegations boarded four trains (well-provisioned) and headed west. At about the same time, a fifth train carrying various west-coast dignitaries left Portland and headed east. They all met in Gold Creek, Montana (about 60 miles west of Helena) for the driving of the ceremonial last spike, signaling the completion of the Northern Pacific Railroad. The line had actually been completed several days previous, but 1200 feet of track were taken up to make it look good for Villard and his guests.

    September 8, 1883 was the day of the big ceremony. Just try to picture the festivities in your mind. Gold Creek is located in an isolated valley- essentially in the "middle of nowhere." A great pavilion, decorated with flags, bunting, and pine boughs, had been built, capable of seating more than a thousand people. A sign had been erected that read "Lake Superior 1,198 Miles / Puget Sound 847 Miles." Two rival crews of workman were ready to race from both ends to (re)complete the laying of track. Sitting Bull and two thousand Crow Indians were on hand in full war paint (likely not too happy about the land and buffaloes the railroad had destroyed). Hundreds of dignitaries from three countries were there. The 5th Infantry Band had traveled from Fort Keogh to supply the music. Former President Ulysses S. Grant was on hand, along with numerous senators, congressmen, cabinet members, governors, journalists, photographers, well- you get the picture. At 3:00 in the afternoon, the ceremony, that a Portland newspaper called "The Iron Wedding," got started with the band playing the "Star-Spangled Banner." Villard summarized the history of the railroad and then former secretary of state William Evarts made a speech. His was followed by numerous others, a few photo opportunities, and then the workers were turned loose to lay the last few hundred feet of track. When they got to the very last spike, up stepped U. S. Grant, Henry Villard, and H. C. Davis, a Northern Pacific passenger agent. The last spike to be hammered was the same spike as the first one hammered thirteen years earlier in Minnesota. This final spike and the sledgehammer were both wired so as to telegraph a click each time they met to company officials in St. Paul, Portland, and New York with. The last click heard by their receivers was at 5:18 PM. America's second transcontinental railroad was a reality! Naturally, everybody was hungry at that point, so Villard hosted a magnificent banquet before the trains continued on to Portland for yet another celebration. The Northern Pacific line had reduced to five or six days, a journey that had formerly taken months.

    In order to show their appreciation for Henry Villard and the railroad, the German delegation presented him with an absolutely magnificent presentation book that included photographic portraits and signatures of approximately 34 members of that delegation. Heritage is proud to be able to offer this historical and massive book to the bidding public in this sale. This book measures 15" x 18", is 3.5" thick, and weighs nearly 30 pounds! The cover is tooled and gilted leather with raised bands over boards with metal clasps. Inset into the front cover is an 8.5" x 11.5" area surrounded by metal fillets with decorative scrolled metalwork over red velvet. An elaborate raised "HV" monogram is in the center and there are four gorgeous hand-painted enamels, one in each corner. The frontispiece is a stunning, allegorical painting by Carl Emil Doepler, a German artist possibly best known for his stage and costume design for Wagner's Ring of the Nibelungs. It pictures a N.P.R.R. steam locomotive, decorated in pine and flying American flags heading east from Washington. An Indian family, a cowboy and a barely-visible Chinese worker (Villard had brought in 15,000 laborers from China to complete the work) are also pictured. An eagle flying overhead holds the shields of both Germany and the United States. It has the captions (translated from German) "To the person who completed the Northern Pacific Railroad, Henry Villard." and "His thankful guests from Germany." The book itself consists of heavy-board photo pages featuring custom cutouts for large cabinet photos of the delegates with space beneath for their signatures. The photos that are included, all high-quality studio portraits by the best photographers in Germany, represent a veritable "Who's Who" of German financiers, military and government officials. Not enough can be said about the importance of this railroad line to the growth of our country and the settlement of the Northwest. Also, not enough can be said about the beauty and importance of this presentation book. It would be at home in the finest of collections, museums, or institutions.

    Villard, after attending universities in Germany, came to America and worked as a newspaper reporter. He won distinction in 1858 for his reporting of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, later becoming a Civil War correspondent for the New York Tribune. In 1866 he married Helen Frances Garrison, the daughter of the anti-slavery campaigner, William Lloyd Garrison. He was sent to Europe to cover the Franco-Prussian War for the Tribune. In the early 1870s, he involved himself in railroad financing in the Pacific Northwest area. Besides his connection with the Northern Pacific in the early 1880s, he obtained controlling interest in the New York Evening Post. In 1890, he merged some smaller companies to form the Edison General Electric Company (later the General Electric Company) and was its president until 1893. He generously contributed to the University of Oregon. His autobiography was published posthumously in 1904.

    ‡ The owner placed a late bid on this unreserved lot and repurchased it, subject to applicable commission.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    February, 2006
    20th-21st Monday-Tuesday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 15
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 1,776

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