The Los Angeles Times once ran a story that began:
"The kid never walked, he ran. He trotted ahead of the traveling salesmen, heavy cases swinging against his long, thin legs, his bare feet padding on the hot baked earth of a New Mexico town.
" 'You the bellboy?' the salesmen would ask.
" 'I'm Hilton,' the boy would say and point at the five-room adobe building bearing the sign: Hilton Hotel.
" 'Stick to it, kid,' the salesmen would advise. 'Someday you'll own the Waldorf."
The Times carried that story on Nov. 14, 1949. The month before, Hilton had purchased the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York for $36 million.
The article says of Hilton:
"No other man in hotel history has the equal of his properties."
It also notes:
"The Hilton story began in New Mexico. He was born there. His father, Augustus, was a stern man of Norwegian descent."
When Hilton was born on Christmas Day in 1887 New Mexico was still a territory. His father, who had survived an attack by Apaches, owned a thriving general store in the small town of San Antonio. In his autobiography, he credited his father's example of hard work as a major factor in his own success, as well as the religious teachings of his German-American mother.
For a time, Augustus Hilton rented out rooms in the family home, and Conrad Hilton helped run the "hotel." Whether an incident such as that described in the L.A. Times story actually occurred is anyone's guess.
Conrad Hilton was educated at the New Mexico Military Institute, at St. Michael's College (now the College of Santa Fe), and at the New Mexico School of Mines (now New Mexico Tech).
In 1912, Hilton was elected, as a Republican, to the first legislature of the new state of New Mexico.
Shortly after the United States entered World War I in 1917, Hilton enlisted in the U.S. Army. His draft registration card, executed May 26, 1917, shows him to be tall, slender, with brown eyes and brown hair.
He was sent to Officers' Training Command, Presidio of San Francisco. Second Lieutenant Hilton arrived in France, Feb. 14, 1918. His unit, the 304th Labor Battalion, saw limited combat. Hilton was discharged Feb, 11, 1919 at Camp Dix, New Jersey (now Fort Dix).
Hilton built a store in Socorro County, New Mexico, but later moved to Texas. He entered the hotel business by buying the Mobley Hotel in Cisco, Texas, in 1919. The first high rise hotel he built was the El Paso Hilton (now the Plaza Hotel (El Paso)), which opened on Nov. 20, 1930. He formed the Hilton Hotels Corporation in 1946. The company expanded into credit cards, car rentals, and other travel services.
During the Great Depression, Hilton was nearly forced into bankruptcy and lost several of his hotels. He was retained as a manager and eventually bought them back.
Hilton had three wives and four children:
He married Mary Adelaide Barron in Kentucky in 1925 in Dallas. The couple was divorced in 1934. Meanwhile, they had three sons: Conrad Nicholson "Nicky" Hilton Jr. (19261969) (first husband of Elizabeth Taylor), William Barron Hilton (1927-), and Eric Michael Hilton (1932-)
His next wife was actress Zsa Zsa Gabor. They were married in 1942 and divorced four years later. The couple has one daughter: Constance Francesca Hilton.
Hilton's third wife was Mary Frances Kelly. They were wed in 1976 and remained married as of the time of Hilton's death on January 3, 1979, in Santa Monica, California, from natural causes. He was 91.
His estate founded the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize.
In his will, Hilton left more than 99 percent of his assets to a foundation, with instructions that the funds were to go to various orders of Catholic nuns. However, the decedent's son Barron contested the will, and a settlement was reached in 1988.
According to a 1996 Court of Appeal opinion:
"Multimillionaire Conrad Nicholson Hilton...died [with a will]..., leaving the bulk of his estate to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation....On eventual settlement, the Foundation received assets valued somewhere between $406 million and $744 million.
The opinion quotes the Office of Attorney General as observing that the amount
at issue for charity in this case is the largest of any case known to us.
Under the accord, the net worth of Barron Hilton and his descendants jumped to over $335 million.
Conrad Hilton's autobiography, Be My Guest, was published in 1957 by Prentice Hall. A copy of the book is placed in every Hilton Hotel room.
He is the great-grandfather of socialites Paris Hilton and Nicky Hilton.
The Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management at the University of Houston is named after Conrad Hilton, as is the College of Business Administration building at Loyola Marymount University.
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