When James Hill bought the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad in 1878, he had proven himself an astute businessman many times over. This time, however, the friends of this thickset, laconic Midwesterner thought he had made a reckless mistake in purchasing a bankrupt and poorly constructed line. But Hill proved them wrong as he set about restoring the health of this anemic enterprise. By 1890, this unpromising beginning had blossomed into the Great Northern Railway, one of the nation's largest and most profitable rail networks west of the Mississippi. The best- known chapter in Hill's career played itself out in 1901, when he found himself locking horns with fellow railroad mogul E. H. Harriman in a struggle for control of his empire. The battle ended in a draw, but not before it had caused a panic on Wall Street.
Adolph Muller-Ury painted thirty-six likenesses for Hill's family. This picture is thought to be the life portrait on which the artist later based a more formal likeness of Hill for the New York Chamber of Commerce.
Adolph Muller-Ury (1862-1947)
Oil on canvas, 1916
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of the subject's grandson, Jerome J. Hill