Frederick Billings: A Life
The nineteenth century was the golden age of enterprise in the United States. A small group of rich and powerful men changed the way we do business, and forever altered the American landscape by criss-crossing the country with railway lines. Although less well known than the great "robber barons," Fredrick Billings was one of the extraordinary men of his era, combining a shrewd business sense with a love of nature. Born in Vermont in 1823, Billings was one of the early "Forty-Niners," making his fortune during the gold rush, becoming the first person to practice law in California, and the state's first Attorney General. He was also a leading conservationist--he helped establish Yosemite National Park, and initiated the reforestation of Vermont. As a wealthy railroad entrepreneur, he invested in the first northern transcontinental line, the Northern Pacific, of which he was later president.
In this definitive biography of Frederick Billings, Robin Winks provides the first full-length study of the nineteenth-century giant. An eminent historian, twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and a recipient of the Conservationist of the Year award from the National Park Service, Winks captures the many sides of Billings in a lively and enjoyable narrative. We find Billings the adventurer, crossing the Panama isthmus by boat, mule, and foot to get to California, but losing his beloved sister to a fever caught on the difficult journey; Billings the entrepreneur, financing the Northern Pacific Railroad, and then losing it in the first hostile take-over in American business history; and Billings the conservationist, setting up a model farm in Vermont, and securing valuable park land in California. There are many insights into public and private life in nineteenth-century America, and Winks paints a vivid portrait of San Francisco during the gold-rush years. San Francisco was a rough town, ruled by vigilante justice, and Billings was one of the few citizens who attempted to maintain law and order. In that tumultuous era of expansion, the population of San Francisco was heavily male, and in only forty years it grew to the size which it had taken Boston 250 years to attain.
Winks has based his biography of this powerful, but charming, man on a largely untapped family archive, as well as extensive research in libraries across the country. Deftly narrated by a leading scholar, the story of Frederick Billings touches on many of the key events in nineteenth-century American life, revealing concerns for profit, family, and the land which remain crucial today.
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FREDERICK BILLINGS: A LifeUser Review - Kirkus
The well-told life and times of Frederick Billings (1823- 1890): Forty-Niner, attorney, railroad entrepreneur, philanthropist, and conservationist. Yale history professor Winks (Cloak and Gown, 1987 ... Read full review
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