The University of Iowa LibrariesThe Biographical Dictionary of Iowa: Jacket Art - Agriculture - Cresco, Iowa by Richard Haines ca 1934 -  Photo by Scott Christopher courtesy of Gregg Narber


University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Hilton, James Harold
(November 20, 1899–January 14, 1982)

–expert in animal and dairy husbandry and Iowa State College president—was born in Hickory, North Carolina, and graduated from Startown High School there. He enrolled in North Carolina State University in 1918 and took care of the dairy herd while also working for the Extension Service. The next year, he decided to transfer to Iowa State College in search of better livestock production facilities and resources.

    During his time at Iowa State, Hilton continued to support his studies by working with dairy cattle and in the meat laboratory. He did leave school briefly in 1921 to serve as the assistant county extension agent in Jefferson County, and also served as the assistant 4-H Club leader at Iowa State (1922). He received his B.S. (1923) in animal husbandry from Iowa State and was hired as an instructor there. He became the county extension agent for Greene County, Iowa (1924-1927), after which he joined the Dairy Extension staff at Purdue University as an assistant professor (1927-1936). He was promoted to associate professor (1936-1938) and professor (1939- 1944) and was also named the assistant chief of the Dairy Husbandry Department in 1940. He received his M.S. from the University of Wisconsin (1937) and his Ph.D. from Purdue (1945). Later in his career, he received honorary doctorates from Cornell College, North Carolina State University, and Iowa State, as well as a Doctor of Laws degree from Lenoir Rhyne College (Hickory, North Carolina).

    In 1945 Hilton returned to North Carolina State University as head of the Animal Husbandry Department, and in 1948 was appointed dean of agriculture. During his time at North Carolina State, Hilton was named "Man of the Year" by the Progressive farmer magazine (1948), and also represented agricultural interests on several state boards and committees. In 1952 the North Carolina State yearbook was dedicated to Dean Hilton as a leader in agriculture whose "time has been spent unselfishly in raising the standards in his school."

    In 1953 Hilton was appointed to the presidency of his alma mater, Iowa State College, the first alumnus to undertake the position. During his 12-year presidency, Iowa State witnessed tremendous growth in physical facilities, enrollment, course offerings, and public service, in many ways the result of Hilton's vision. Although he was associated mainly with the development of the Iowa State University Center, comprising Hilton Coliseum (named in his honor), Stephens Auditorium (voted "Building of the Century" by the Iowa chapter of the American Institute of Architects), and Fisher Theater, Hilton once remarked that he received greater satisfaction from his efforts in "getting from the legislature the necessary funds needed to improve salaries, insurance programs, and retirement programs."

    In 1959, a year after its centennial, the institution received official recognition of its status as Iowa State University of Science and Technology. Upon his retirement from the presidency, Hilton was named ISU's first director of development. He later returned to North Carolina, where he served as the executive secretary and treasurer (1967-1971) for the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.

    Hilton was also actively involved in the Ames community by serving on the board of Mary Greeley Hospital and the Ames Foundation; he was also a member of the Rotary. Nationally, he served at various times on the boards for the Quaker Oats Company, the Federal Reserve of Chicago, the Northwestern Bell Telephone Company, and the Farm Foundation of Chicago. He was a member of several academic organizations and societies, including Sigma Xi, Phi Kappa Phi, Alpha Zeta, Gamma Sigma Delta, Epsilon Sigma Phi, the Americandairy Science Association, and the American Society of Animal Production.

    Hilton married Lois Baker in 1923, and they had three children, Eleanor, Helen, and James G. After the death of Lois Hilton in 1969, he married Helen LeBaron, retired dean of the College of Home Economics, in 1970.
Sources The James H. Hilton Papers are held in the University Archives, Iowa State University Library, Ames.
Contributor: Tanya Zanish-Belcher