Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hilton, Charles Rhoads (1889–1982)

by K. H. Kennedy

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Charles Rhoads Hilton (1889-1982), mining engineer, was born on 16 September 1889 at Tama, Iowa, United States of America, son of Charles A. Hilton, merchant, and his wife Ida, née Rhoads. After attending primary school at Tama, he completed his secondary education at Modesto, California, and studied organic chemistry at the University of Nevada (BA, 1914). His mining career commenced at Goldfield, Nevada. Hilton enlisted in the United States Army in August 1917 and served as a lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers in France. Discharged on 8 May 1919, he joined the American Smelting & Refining Co.’s lead plant at Selby, California. After seven years’ metallurgical experience, he transferred to Leadville, Colorado, and in 1927 to East Helena, Montana. In January 1933 he was promoted as smelter superintendent to ASARCO’s operation at Mount Isa, Queensland, teaming up with Julius Kruttschnitt.

Having solved problems with the mill and lead smelter, Hilton became manager of Mount Isa Mines Ltd in 1937, his appointment coinciding with its first profit. Next year he was promoted to general manager. Two significant, related issues that he handled with quiet authority were workforce attrition rates and community housing. By 1939 the workforce was turning over by half annually; by 1946 the rate reached 113 per cent. Hilton subsidised cultural, social and sporting organisations, and undertook a revised company housing program. Between 1938 and 1940 forty-two new family homes were built. In 1946 alone three dormitories for a hundred single men were completed. The company subsequently provided a swimming pool, tennis courts, children’s playgrounds, library and improved roadways. Its store continued to subsidise foodstuffs and domestic requirements.

Another issue for Hilton was the lead bonus, believed by many to be a trade-off for plumbism within the workforce. Introduced in 1937, the bonus initially lasted for only a few months, but was reinstated in 1946 and linked to world metal prices. By early 1951, when the basic wage for miners stood at £9 6s. 5d. Per week, the lead bonus gave an additional £15 10s. In the pay packet. Hilton wryly noted its effect on industrial harmony.

Hilton was a director of the company in 1948-53. However, his major contribution to Mount Isa’s prosperity was his far-sighted interest from the 1930s in leases to the north. They were pegged but remained idle for decades until developed from 1970 and known as the Hilton Mine; its lead reserves were projected to be larger than Mount Isa’s big lode.

Preferring his mineralogical texts and technical journals in the evening to social functions, Hilton led a quiet life. His broad physique contrasted with a gentle, courteous nature. His wife, a hypochondriac, loathed her time in Australia and returned permanently to the USA in the mid-1940s, leaving Hilton to serve out his contract, which he terminated in March 1953. He was affectionately known as `Uncle Charlie’ by staff and workers; his farewell, according to Geoffrey Blainey, `created one of the densest traffic jams seen in Mount Isa’ and was attended by two thousand people. Accompanied by his daughter Sally, he toured Australia, England and France before retiring to California. He later lived with his other daughter, Marybelle, at San Carlos. Predeceased by his wife, he died on 19 December 1982 at Belmont and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Blainey, Mines in the Spinifex (1960)
  • D. Chaput and K. Kennedy, The Man from ASARCO (1992)
  • K. Kennedy and N. Kirkman, `The Evolution of Company Welfare Practices at Mount Isa, Queensland’, in K. Tenfelde (ed), Sozialgeschichte des Bergbaus im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert (1992)
  • N. Kirkman, Mount Isa (1998)
  • Mount Isa Mines Ltd, Report and Accounts, 1937-53
  • Mimag, Aug 1952, p 13, Apr 1953, p2
  • M.I.M. News, 13 Mar 1980.

Citation details

K. H. Kennedy, 'Hilton, Charles Rhoads (1889–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hilton-charles-rhoads-12639/text22773, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 20 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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