Conrad Nicholson Hilton was an American businessman. He founded the global hotel chain bearing his name. Hilton was born on December 25, 1887 in San Antonio, in what is now New Mexico. Starting as a young boy he helped his father rent out rooms in the area and manage a local shop.
In 1912, New Mexico became a US state. Hilton ran as a candidate for the Republican party and was elected to the state’s congressional legislature. In 1917, shortly after the US entered World War One, Hilton abandoned his political career, joined the army and headed for Europe.
Upon his return, in 1919, he decided to invest in a business. He chose Cisco, in Texas, as a location. Cisco was enjoying strong economic growth thanks to its abundant oilfields. Hilton purchased the Mobley Hotel there, and went on to buy three other hotels. By 1923, Hilton owned 530 hotel rooms around Texas. He was 36. He had begun to build his empire.
In 1925, he opened the Dallas Hilton, the first hotel to carry his trademark name. That same year he married Mary Adelaide Barron, with whom he had three children. They divorced nine years later. In 1929, the United States was struggling with a serious economic crisis. Hilton had to sell some of his hotels, although he kept the management rights.
Having recovered economically, in 1939 Hilton opened his first hotels outside of Texas, choosing Long Beach and San Francisco in California, and Albuquerque in New Mexico. Three years later he married the Hungarian actress Zsa Zsa Gabor. They had one daughter, Constance Francesca Hilton, before divorcing in 1946. The Hilton hotels continued expanding into the largest American cities, including Beverly Hills, New York and Chicago.
Rapid US economic growth, along with increasing American tourism in the rest of the world, drove Hilton to expand his business abroad. The Hilton Hotels Corporation was born in 1946, incorporated two years later as the Hilton International Company. Hilton soon owned 278 hotels in the United States and abroad.
Although its style differed from country to country, the company guaranteed consistent quality standards across several continents, an approach that proved successful. In 1966 Hilton made his son William Barron the company chairman, while he retained a supervisory role.
In 1976, on the day of his 89th birthday, he married for the third time, wedding Mary Frances Kelly.
Conrad Hilton died on January 3, 1979 in Santa Monica, California. He was 91.
Today the Hilton galaxy comprises 2,700 hotels in 80 different countries.