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James J. Hill

J J Hill

J J Hill, ca. 1900-1910.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

James J. Hill

DOB: September 16, 1838 in Ontario, Canada

DOD: May 29, 1916 in St. Paul, Minnesota

"The agricultural history of this state is practically the history of the state(1)."

James J. Hill entered the transportation business by purchasing the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad in 1878 with several other investors, soon re-named the Great Northern Railway in 1890 after Hill gained complete control of stock in Clay County area(2). Hill, a natural entrepreneur, acted through the ideology of “boosterism” and promoted settlement as the people and their work promised a prosperous railroad. Multiple difficulties with the effects of depression led Hill to explore other avenues to aid railroad profitability, one of these being agriculture.

Hill showed interested in the emerging knowledge of agriculture as a promising outlook for the state's economy. Not only would stronger agricultural output increase Minnesota's success, it would bring more business along the railroad he invested in as well and science agriculture seemed a promising force(3). Encouraging characteristics included crop diversification, raising livestock, and creameries with a recognized advantage through various forms of income on the farm. Broadening northwest farming ensured the soil maintained fertility and the increased range of income moved farmers away from relying on one crop's success at the market every year. In an address at the Annual Meeting of the Minnesota Historical Society on 18 January 1897, Hill focused on the success of the farmer coinciding with the success of the state and declared, “unless the condition of the farmers of Minnesota and the Northwest is prosperous, all other interests will suffer, that banker’s, the merchant’s, the manufacturer’s, the lawyer’s, the doctor’s—everybody’s. All must therefore feel an absolute interest in the prosperity of the farmer(4).” Hill promoted the importance of the farmer's success for the state's future, and even used some of his land as an experiment station for demonstrating diversified practice.

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1. Minnesota Historical Society, "History of Agriculture in Minnesota, by James J. Hill," Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society, Vol VIII, 1895-98, (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical, 1898), 279.

2. Minnesota Historical Society, "James J. Hill," <http://sites.mnhs.org/historic-sites/james-j-hill-house/james-j-hill>, (accessed 1 November 2017).

3. Minnesota Historical Society, "James J. Hill: Gilded Age Entrepreneuer," <http://sites.mnhs.org/historic-sites/james-j-hill-house/james-j-hill-gilded-age-entrepreneur>, (accessed 1 November 2017).

4. Minnesota Historical Society, "History of Agriculture in Minnesota, by James J. Hill," Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society, Vol VIII, 1895-98, (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical, 1898), 283.