James H. Hilton

The only Iowa State graduate to occupy its highest office,1 Hilton grew up on a farm near Hickory, N.C., attended North Carolina State College one year; completed his B.S. in animal husbandry at Iowa State in 1923; his M.S. at the University of Wisconsin in 1937. He was awarded the D.Sc. degree by Purdue University in 1945.


He was county extension agent for Greene County, Iowa, from 1923 to 1926, then joined the Purdue staff. He was put in charge of dairy production teaching and research at Purdue in 1939, and the following year became assistant chief of the dairy husbandry department.  In 1945, he returned to North Carolina State as head of animal husbandry. Three years later he was named dean of agriculture, where he served until becoming Iowa State president (1953-1965).


During his administration, Iowa State experienced the greatest growth in its history. Enrollment soared from 7,800 to more than 12,400. The "book value" of the physical plant increased from $38 million to 471 million. The volume of research rose to $20 million annually. Course offering and public service programs were greatly broadened.

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 Iowa State's first director of development.


Dr. Hilton married Lois Baker and they had three children, Eleanor, Helen and James G.  After her death in 1969, Dr. Hilton married Helen LeBaron, retired Dean of the College of Home Economics.


  • 1. As of Nov. 20, 2017, Hilton is no longer the only Iowa State University President to graduate from Iowa State. Wendy Wintersteen, 16th president, earned her Ph.D. from Iowa State in 1988.

Iowa State Sesquicentennial

Time Line
Cyclone Facts and Trivia
Campus Buildings

Student Life

People of Distinction

James H. Hilton

Oral Histories


This is a historic exhibit and the information provided within it may be out of date. Please contact the Special Collections and University Archives Department with questions about Iowa State history (archives@iastate.edu).




Resources available online

James H. Hilton Papers

RS 2/10
University Archives, Iowa State University Library