Transportation historian George W. Hilton dies

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BALTIMORE – George Woodman Hilton, retired professor of economics at the University of California at Los Angeles, long time Trains contributor, and a prolific author of books on transportation history and economics, died on Aug. 4, 2014. He was 89 years old.

Born in 1925, Hilton graduated with an A.B., summa cum laude, from Dartmouth College in 1946, and earned an M.A. in 1950. He attended the London School of Economics from 1953 to 1955 and earned his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1956. He was professor of economics at the University of California, Los Angeles, until his retirement.

Hilton specialized in transportation economics. He practically identified himself with competitive organization of the railroads and prided himself on his contribution to the abolition of the Interstate Commerce Commission.

Hilton was a frequent and insightful Trains contributor for many years, and enjoyed tremendous respect from then-editor David P. Morgan. Hilton's versatility as a writer for Trains was never more visible than in 1972. He showed his enthusiast side in the May issue with "The View of the Viaduct From in Front of the Diner," a witty, bittersweet memoir of riding Erie passenger trains. Then he demonstrated his power as an economist in October with "What Does the ICC Cost You and Me?", a penetrating, no-holds-barred critique of the Interstate Commerce Commission. It's a measure of David P. Morgan's regard for Hilton that the editor gave the story five pages of solid text, with no illustration. It delivered a powerful message.

He wanted to be remembered best for his works on transportation history. Of his fifteen books and countless articles, many were on transportation history. Many of these are considered the definitive work on their particular subject: The Great Lakes Car Ferries, The Cable Car in America, The Ma & Pa, Eastland, Legacy of the Titanic, American Narrow Gauge Railroads, and Lake Michigan Passenger Steamers. In 2008 he received the Samuel Ward Stanton Award from the Steamship Historical Society of America for scholarship in steam navigation.

In addition to publication, Hilton contributed in other ways to transportation history. For example, he funded the work of a summer intern at the Smithsonian Institution who redrafted plans of the Detroit River railroad car ferry Lansdowne and funded the construction of an exhibit model of the Great Lakes car ferry St. Ignace.

In 1982, he endowed the George W. and Constance M. Hilton Book Award of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society. This award is granted annually for an outstanding book on railroad history, and is considered by many to be the most prestigious award that a book on railroad history can receive.

Hilton had many interests beyond transportation. He was a baseball fan. For many years his car bore the license plate “Sox 06.” His sports interests extended to women’s college volleyball.

Hilton traveled to England to celebrate the performances of Gilbert & Sullivan works. He was a fan of theatre organs. He edited the newsletter of a breweriana collectors group.

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