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The Transportation Center was established in 1954 by Northwestern University president J. Roscoe Miller to fill the growing need for a broad and imaginative program of transportation education and research at the university level. A joint undertaking of the Northwestern School of Commerce, the Technological Institute, and the Traffic Institute, the Transportation Center at Northwestern University—the first of its kind in the nation—was expected to offer an expanded program of research to help solve major problems in the highway, rail, air, pipeline, and water divisions of the national transportation industry. “It seems desirable to expand the work of the university in this field,” Dr. Miller told the Chicago Tribune upon the Center’s founding. “Because of rapid developments, transportation has become increasingly complex and has created many unsolved problems—economic, technical, and social.”
From the outset, the Transportation Center’s leadership included some of the finest and most influential minds in the industry. Franklin M. Kreml, then the director of the Traffic Institute and a principal architect of the Center’s establishment, was named the Transportation Center’s first director in 1955. Fred G. Gurley, President of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railfroad, was named chair of the Center’s first Advisory Committee; he was joined by other influential executives such as United Airlines president William A. “Pat” Patterson, standard Oil president Alonzo Peake, and Lockheed Aircraft Corporation chairman Robert E. Gross. To supplement the Center’s work, the University established the Transportation Library in 1958; it remains one of the largest transportation information centers in the world.
In 1963, with the Transportation Center’s influence growing, director William C. Flaherty helped establish the master of science in Transportation program. The next director, John A. Bailey, helped secure funding from the Urban Mass Transit Administration (UMTA, now the Federal Transit Administration) for a fellowship program. Graduates of this program went on to leadership roles in both industry and government.
In 1974, Leon N. Moses was appointed the Center’s director. He secured support from the university for a number of joint faculty appointments, helping to strengthen the Center’s strong multidisciplinary character. He also helped establish the William A. Patterson Distinguished Chair in Transportation, named after one of the TC’s most prominent early proponents. This would prove a transformative milestone in the University’s ability to attract and foster world-class scholarship in Transportation.
Named director in 1979, Robert P. Neuschel oversaw a restructuring of the master of science in Transportation program, which included the addition of an internship as well as a refinement of the curriculum. A year later, the Center established one of its most lasting institutions, the annual William A. Patterson Transportation Lecture.
In 1998, under the leadership of director Aaron Gellman, construction began on a permanent home for the Transportation Center. Opened in 1999, Chambers Hall was named after Jerry Chambers, founder of the firm that became Clipper Exxpress in 1938. Three years later, Transportation Center director Robert E. Gallamore helped establish a new Undergraduate Minor in Transportation & Logistics.
Following Gallamore’s departure, Interim Director Joseph Schofer helped reposition the Transportation Center administratively within the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, reflecting its close connection to Engineering faculty while still maintaining the Center’s university-wide mission and dedication to multidisciplinary research. To this end, Hani S. Mahmassani, who joined Northwestern as the Patterson Chair in 2007, became the Center’s director in 2008. Along with more than 60 faculty affiliates and 80 members of the Business Advisory Council, Mahmassani oversees one of the world’s leading interdisciplinary education and research institutions dedicated to influencing national and international transportation policy, management, operations, and technological developments.
Chambers Hall, the headquarters of the Transportation Center, is named for Jerry Chambers, who in 1938 founded the firm that became Clipper Exxpress. Clipper was an intermodal marketing company some decades before the term was invented, offering scheduled, less-than-carload service form Chicago to the West Coast at extraordinarily low rates.
While he volunteered in Europe during World War II, his wife, Evelyn, ran the firm and positioned it for the trailer-on-flat-car systems that would emerge in the late 50's. Clipper was an innovator in service and pricing, moving away from the commodity-specific rates of that era to the "Freight-All-Kinds" structure and creative volume discounts.
Typically ahead of the industry, Jerry Chambers commissioned the design of a double-stack container car and promoted the technology for several years before it was was accepted. Before deregulation of rail pricing in 1980, Clipper was providing rate and service options to its customers, and leading fights for rate equity at the Interstate Commerce Commission. Ready for deregulation, Clipper prospered until it was acquired by Arkansas Best freight, Inc., in 1994.