Overton, Richard C. (Richard Cleghorn), 1907-1988
Richard C. Overton was born on November 9, 1907 in Montclair, New Jersey. He attended Williams College, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in History in 1929 and a Master of Arts in Economics in 1934. From Harvard University, he received a Master of Arts and a Doctorate in History (1944).
Overton worked for the Chatham Phoenix National Bank and Trust Company, New York, between 1930 and 1932. His teaching career began in 1928 as a part-time instructor in public speaking at Williams College. From 1932 to 1933 he taught French at the Hotchkiss School, and in 1933 taught American History part-time at North Adams State Teachers College. Between 1935 and 1938 Overton also taught at Harvard University and Amherst College while working on his Masters degrees. From 1939 to 1945, while pursuing his Doctorate, Overton worked for the Chicago Burlington and Quincy Railroad Co. In 1945 he accepted the position of Professor of Business History at Northwestern University.
Professor Vanderblue, Dean of the School of Commerce at Northwestern University, recruited Overton to help accommodate the school's postwar influx of students, and to modify the commerce school curriculum. In 1946 business history was adopted as an integral part of the academic curriculum for freshmen. This course was expanded from “Introduction to Business” to “American Business History,” and structured into a comprehensive three-quarter sequence. While he was at Northwestern University, Overton was Chairman of the Business History Department from 1949 to 1954. During Overton's career as Professor of Business History, his primary area of research was in railroad history and economics, and general business history. His interest in business history went well beyond the classroom. For example, he initiated a committee in 1949 to publish histories of particular business and industrial concerns in the greater Chicago area—this was known as the Business History Writing Project.
Overton's lifelong interest in railroad history was manifested in books, and articles published in the American Life History Series. His last book, "Perkins/Budd: Railway Statesmen of the Burlington" (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1982), dealt with Charles E. Perkins and Ralph Budd, two former presidents of the Chicago Burlington and Quincy Railroad Co. Overton was also involved in professional organizations like the Mississippi Valley Historical Association (now the Organization of American Historians), serving on the editorial board of the Organization's journal, the "Mississippi Valley Historical Review". He was also a founding member of the Lexington Group, which promoted the study of railroad history, serving as the Group's Secretary from its inception in 1942. A compilation of Overton's articles, edited by H. Roger Grant, was published by the Lexington Group in 1998 as "Richard C. Overton, Railroad Historian".
In 1954, Overton relinquished his position as Chairman of the Business History Department at Northwestern's School of Commerce to accept a similar appointment at the University of Western Ontario, where he remained until he retired.
Richard Overton died on September 30, 1988. He was survived by his wife, Nini, two sons, and a daughter.