James J. Hill was a model businessman

Published 5:43 pm Saturday, October 4, 2014

Last week I mentioned John J. Hill in my column when I should have said James J. Hill. I apologize for the confusion.  My mistake did, however, remind me that George Hormel made reference to Mr. Hill in his autobiography “Three Men and A Business.”

James J. Hill

James J. Hill

George was writing about the scarcity of hogs around the turn of the century and the methods being developed to remedy the situation. Improved corn strains and more quality dairy farms led to better and more consistent feed, producing better hogs for the company to process.

He wrote, “Since we had long ago learned that our products would be no better than what the farmer had to sell, these changes meant that we could now have uniformity in quality not possible to processors whose hogs were bought at stockyard centers where the quality varied because the animals came from localities far and near, having different feeding methods.”

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Of Hill he wrote “Perhaps no single factor so influenced my thinking at this time as that very great and farsighted man, James J. Hill. He became for me a symbol of the business man I wanted to be, and his railroad the kind of business I wanted to help bring into being. Much has been written about him, but not half enough. He had the vision, the inspiration, and the insight to help himself by helping others. He was not — and never pretended to be — a philanthropist. He didn’t like the word; it smelled of charity. His idea of social responsibility had nothing to do with ameliorating the condition of the poor through establishing soup kitchens and milk funds for undernourished children, or through political maneuvers designed to help the politicians more than the sufferers. He thought the poor had sense enough to endow themselves if men in his position had the wit to help them come by the means.”

George wrote extensively about Hill’s contribution to the railroad industry and to farmers looking for a new start. Perhaps George saw a bit of himself in Hill as he commented on Hill’s modest start in business. Like George, he left school at an early age and worked through many jobs before becoming the successful railroad tycoon he was known to be. The two men recognized the value of equipping farmers with the tools to create successful ventures. George wrote, “My contacts and association with him [Hill] were frequent in later years, and I count them among my outstanding privileges.”

Although Hill was more than 20 years older than Hormel, the two men developed a relationship that George valued greatly.

 Veldman and Friends VIP

Pre-matinee champagne brunch

Tickets are on sale now for the Veldman VIP Pre-Matinee Champagne Brunch to be held at the HHH on Dec. 6, 2014. Contact the Paramount Theatre to purchase your tickets today.

 Author Visit/Presentation

5:30 to 7:30 p.m., Oct. 16

Author Walt Bachman will present his research regarding slavery in Minnesota during the 1860s.  He will share his personal connection to the time and theme. Free event sponsored by the Mower County Historical Society, the Austin Public Library, and the Hormel Historic Home.

 Social Concerns

10 to 11 a.m., Oct. 21

Presented by Jeff Baldus, Executive Director of the Austin Area Foundation. Join us to hear how the Foundation continues its mission of enhancing our community through charitable giving.

Free event, coffee and snack provided. Please call to let us know you plan to attend.

 Antiques Appraisal event at the Austin Public Library

9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Oct. 23

Antiques expert Mark F. Moran will be at the Library to evaluate your treasures. He has been active as an appraiser of antiques and fine art for more than 20 years. Pre-registration is required. Cost is $15 per item for members of the Mower County Historical Society, the Austin Public Library and the Hormel Historic Home and $25 for non-members. Register at the Mower County Historical Society Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Space is limited.