The winner of the 2021 George F. and Constance M. Hilton Book Award is Patrick C. Wider’s Railway Prototype Cyclopedia Vol. 35: Association of American Railroads 40-Ft Standard Box Car of 1937. (SilverLake Images, 2020).


In this this book, Patrick Wider examines the origins and development of one of the most ubiquitous sights on railroads during the twentieth century, the 40’ box car.  This should not be a surprise since approximately 92,000 were manufactured for 63 railroads and owners between 1936 and 1953.


Wider picks up where White’s American Railroad Freight Car ended to write a thorough history of the box car in the mid-twentieth century.  The first section traces the origins of the 40’ box car back to the effort in the late nineteenth century to standardize freight cars, describing the ebb and flow of those efforts into the 1940’s. In addition to tracing the development of the 40’ box car, Wider describes the development of related equipment (e.g. air brakes, trucks) and features (e.g. dimensions, materials used), demonstrating the complexity of freight car design process over multiple decades. The second section is a detailed photographic catalog of the box cars manufactured for 57 railroads and rail car owners. As indicated by its title, this work is part of an ongoing series [or is the last volume in a series] that describes the development, design and construction of railroad equipment ca. 1918-1980.


The committee selected this work for its exemplary use of primary and secondary sources including contemporary publications and related archives to produce a comprehensive history of the development of the 40’ box car.  More than a comprehensive case study in technical history, one whose use of primary and secondary sources thoroughly impressed the committee, this book is an homage to a staple of the American railroad scene that was extraordinary in its commonness.  Seemingly basic, if not humble, in outward appearance, the circumstances and details of the standard 40-foot boxcar’s construction, so well-documented within its pages, are no less extraordinary and well-worthy of our appreciation.