Conrad Hilton Started an Empire and Created a Family Dynasty

The world is filled with people constantly worrying about their future. Everyone is always wondering what is going to come next, after high school, after college, or after their careers. Many students are nervous about finding jobs in the tourism and hospitality industries. Workers in those types of fields are uncertain about the future of their jobs and, thus, the future of their families. Meanwhile, business owners are stressed about keeping their companies afloat and keeping their staff employed.

Conrad Hilton receiving kisses on the cheek from Miss Universe and the runner up / Conrad Hilton Sr dancing with Elizabeth Taylor circa 1951 / Rick and Kathy Hilton with Paris and Nicky as young children / Kris Jenner, Kathy Hilton, Kyle Richards, and Faye Resnick on the red carpet in 2019 / Paris and Nicky Hilton in shiny red dresses on the red carpet in 2020 / Paris and Carter Reum at a ski resort in 2020

Photo by Everett, Shutterstock / Snap, Shutterstock / Globe Photos, mediapunch, Shutterstock / MediaPunch, Shutterstock / Broadimage, Shutterstock / Source: Shutterstock

There are prominent families like the Rockefellers, Rothschilds, and Hiltons who set their families up for generations. They built themselves from the ground up to give their children a better life. In the late 1800s, many businessmen wanted to get involved in the oil industry, and Conrad Hilton was no exception. But his destiny was to build a hotel empire and create the Hilton family dynasty.

Hilton Family Royalty

It’s evident that we are currently in the midst of one of the greatest catastrophes of our time. But if you look at the history of humankind, people have an incredible ability to adapt to new situations and find creative solutions to circumstances that arise. When you need a little inspiration to find the strength to push yourself, it’s important to see how people dealt with these situations in the past.

Conrad Hilton posing for a portrait

Conrad Hilton Sr. Photo by Everett / Shutterstock

One impressive man who overcame extremely tough times, including the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, and several tragedies in his own personal life, was Conrad Hilton, the founder of the extremely successful hotel company. The iconic hotel owner stuck to one motto, and that was to “dream big.”

This is how one man practically made his family royalty.

San Antonio Boy

Conrad Hilton is often associated with Texas, but the truth is that he was born and raised in San Antonio, New Mexico, in a community near the Rio Grande, surrounded by stark mountains and vast deserts. He was welcomed into the world on Christmas Day, 1887, the second out of nine children.

Conrad Hilton standing in front of a room of men speaking

Conrad Hilton circa 1949. Photo by Everett / Shutterstock

As the firstborn son, he was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps and quickly learn business skills so that he could take over the family shop one day. Conrad opened up about his childhood and the early stages of his career in his 1957 autobiography, Be My Guest.

Work Hard, Pray Hard

In the autobiography, Conrad explained that he was raised with two values that guided his entire life: work and faith. Conrad’s father was August Halvorsen Hilton, known as Gus. Gus was an entrepreneur who immigrated from Norway. He opened and operated the first dry goods store in San Antonio, and the supplies were brought in on mules! Gus taught his kids how to help run the business from a young age.

Conrad Hilton receiving kisses on the cheek from Miss Universe and the runner up

Conrad Hilton. Photo by Everett / Shutterstock

But Conrad’s relationship with his father was not always easy. Gus was strict and demanding. Conrad took that on in the way he treated his own children and employees: strict but fair. He demanded that they work hard, but he was also there to offer support when needed. Conrad’s mother, on the other hand, Mary Genevieve, was an American from Iowa of German descent, and she was a very religious woman. She certainly instilled a devotion to the Catholic faith and belief in the power of god into her son. It had a huge impact on Conrad’s life and career.

Bankers’ Panic Wipeout

The family store and their home were right next to the main train line, so the family business was doing extremely well until 1907, when a sudden national financial crisis, known as Banker’s Panic, wiped out Hilton’s finances. The family needed an alternative source of income, so Gus decided to listen to his oldest son’s idea of opening and running a family hotel.

Conrad Hilton shaking hands with a young page boy

Conrad Hilton. Photo by Brooks / ANL / Shutterstock

They started off renting out rooms in their own home. Mary Hilton and Conrad’s four sisters were on kitchen duty, while the boys, Gus, Conrad, and his two brothers, were in charge of handling baggage and all other heavy-duty responsibilities.

Taste of the Hotel World

The service was great and reliable, and the price was also quite reasonable. Word spread that when passing San Antonio, the Hiltons’ was the place to stay. This was Conrad’s first glimpse into the hotel industry and where he got management experience.

Conrad Hilton with another man on the building site for a Hilton Hotel with workers digging around him

Photo by Edwin Sampson / ANL / Shutterstock

What he didn’t realize at the time was that this side job would become his career and eventually become a hotel empire making him internationally famous. But meanwhile, Conrad was working other jobs before returning to the industry he was destined for.

Finding His Destiny

Before becoming a full-fledged hotelier, Conrad tried several different career paths. As he explains in his biography, he didn’t really care what field of work he was in. All he wanted was to become independent from his controlling father. In 1911, he got his chance when New Mexico became a state, and there were suddenly political opportunities.

Sir Charles Clore and Conrad Hilton posing for a photograph at the site for a Hilton Hotel

Sir Charles Clore and Conrad Hilton. Photo by Edwin Sampson / ANL / Shutterstock

Conrad actually spent two years serving in the Lower House of New Mexico’s First State’s Legislation in Santa Fe. However, it didn’t take long for Conrad to get frustrated in the slow-moving political world. That’s when he decided to move back to his hometown for a couple of years.

Disappointing Daddy

That’s when he started working as a manager for his sister’s musical band. But to his disappointment, the business barely broke even. After his venture in the entertainment industry was a huge fail, he turned to the finance world. He decided to create the first bank in San Antonio- against his father’s advice.

Conrad Hilton shaking hands with Sir Charles Clore sitting in front of a table of contracts

Conrad Hilton and Sir Charles Clore. Photo by Edwin Sampson / ANL / Shutterstock

Unfortunately, the economy proved Gus right: San Antonio wasn’t big enough to sustain a bank, and, after just one year of operation, Conrad was forced to close it down. These failures really affected him. He had dreams and he had faith, but it seemed like he wasn’t getting anywhere. On top of all of these disappointments, Conrad had to face his father and admit that he couldn’t make it on his own. “Failing was bad enough, but failing in front of his father was much worse,” according to his biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli.

Conrad’s Rise

In 1917, America entered the First World War, and Conrad, who had completed Army Officer Training School as a second lieutenant, went to Europe and served in France. It didn’t take long for his superiors to notice that Conrad had excellent entrepreneurial talents and experience in the dry goods industry. So, they assigned him to the Quartermaster Corps stationed in Paris.

Conrad Hilton sitting behind a desk

Source: Pinterest

Instead of fighting on the front-line, Conrad got to explore the famous cafés and cabarets of Paris. It was there that he realized that there is a huge world to be conquered outside of New Mexico. Conrad was enjoying his bachelor lifestyle in Paris, but he suddenly got the news of his father’s untimely death. Gus Hilton was a victim of his own success. He owned the first automobile in San Antonio and died in the first car accident in his town.

Taking Over the Family Business

Despite the years of animosity, Conrad took the death of his father really hard, particularly since he couldn’t make it back from France in time for the funeral. It was now time for Conrad to take over the family business and run it the way he wanted to. However, by that time, Conrad had already seen so much of the world that he couldn’t feel content with what San Antonio had to offer.

Conrad Hilton posing in front of a building

Source: Wikimedia Commons

He knew that if he wanted to gain new opportunities, he would have to leave his hometown. Even his recently widowed mother encouraged him to follow his dreams. In his autobiography, he revealed that his mother said, “You’ll have to find your own frontier, Connie. If you want to launch big ships, you have to go where the water is deep.”

Off to Texas

Conrad felt encouraged by his mother’s words and decided to go to Texas, the place where “Black Gold” was making millionaires overnight! After extraordinary reserves of petroleum were discovered in Beaumont, Texas became the leading oil-producing state in the U.S. It even took the top spot of petroleum products from the Russian Empire.

Oil workers screwing a piece of drill pipe to another piece in Texas circa 1939

Oil workers in Texas circa 1939. Photo by Everett Collection / Shutterstock

This period had a really transformative effect on the state, and Conrad wanted a piece of the action. He found out that there was a bank for sale in a town called Cisco, and he was convinced that investing in a business serving the oil industry would be just as profitable as doing the actual oil-digging.

Conrad Needed a Nap

After getting his still-grieving mother’s blessing, Conrad took all his life savings and headed to Texas. When he got to Cisco, he found out that the bank suddenly decided to raise its price, and it was far out of Conrad’s reach.

Conrad Hilton posing in front of a globe / The Mobley Hotel with an old car out front

Source: Hospitality Industry Archives / Pinterest

Disappointed, Conrad went back to a small hotel where he tried getting a bed for the night, wondering what his next move would be. While he was waiting for an available room, he noticed that the hotel owner was desperate to sell the place and get involved in the oil industry instead.

Finding His Destiny

The Mobley was a 40-room flophouse, and despite how run-down it looked, it was fully booked for all its by-the-hour shifts. The hotel rented out beds in three eight-hour shifts. Right away, Conrad saw enormous potential and made an impulsive, life-changing decision. With financial help from his mom, friends, and a loan from the bank, Conrad bought his first hotel, The Mobley in Cisco, Texas.

The Mobley Hotel in the early 1900s on the left and it is fading into the renovated version of it

Source: Pinterest

At the time, he was unaware that this was his true destiny. The hotel is where he found success and made the Hilton name associated with fortune and prestige.

The Hilton Hotel

Conrad immediately sent his mother a telegram saying, “Frontier found. Water deep down here. Launched first ship in Cisco.” The telegrapher was surprised and must have thought Conrad was losing it when he said, “Mister, you sure you know what you’re saying? There’s never been a boat in Cisco. I’ve lived here all my life. There ain’t even any water.”

Conrad Hilton standing in front of a model of the Hilton

Source: Twitter

Well, Conrad knew exactly what he was saying. Over the years, Conrad continued to buy various hotels around Texas, and in 1925, he opened the first hotel with his name in it: The Dallas Hilton.

His Cheating Wife

Conrad’s first wife was Mary Adelaide Barron Hilton, and the couple had three sons together. In 1934, she left him for a local school football coach with whom she was having a steamy affair. Hilton was a strong and reserved Catholic for much of his life, but after his wife cheated on him, he got involved in the Hollywood party scene.

Zsa Zsa Gabor and her daughter Francesca Hilton posing in large brimmed hats

Francesca Hilton and Zsa Zsa Gabor. Photo by Silverside / ANL / Shutterstock

In 1942, Conrad exchanged vows with actress Zsa Zsa Gabor, and it’s safe to say the marriage was doomed from the start. Hilton made her sleep in a different bedroom and controlled her spending habits.

There’s Something About Georgia

Conrad’s second marriage was consumed by the tabloids. The actress discussed their relationship in her autobiography, explaining how he limited her freedom and controlled her identity. Apparently, he even renamed her Georgia because Zsa Zsa was too hard for him to pronounce. Gabor also claimed she had an affair with her stepson, Hilton’s eldest child, Conrad “Nicky” Hilton.

William Barron Hilton posing for a portrait

William Barron Hilton circa 1990. Photo by Globe Photos / mediapunch / Shutterstock

Conrad Hilton passed away when he was 91 years old. He left most of his fortune to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, a non-profit charity that he created in 1944. Conrad’s second son, William Barron Hilton, inherited control over the Hilton hotel business and expanding the Hiltons’ wealth.

Poor Little Rich Boy

Conrad “Nicky” Hilton Jr. was the oldest Hilton child. He died at the young age of 42 due to heart complications stemming from a life-long addiction to alcohol. Hilton Jr. is mostly famous for his short and toxic marriage to the then barely 18-year-old Elizabeth Taylor.

Elizabeth Taylor and Nicky Hilton in the back of a car on their wedding day / Elizabeth Taylor and Conrad Nicky Hilton waving from the ship Queen Mary circa the 1950s

Elizabeth Taylor and Nicky Hilton. Photo by Snap, Shutterstock / Everett, Shutterstock

Reportedly, Nicky was quite the ladies’ man, but Elizabeth Taylor’s flirty demeanor was out of this world. He once revealed that during a glitzy party, Taylor whispered to him that she wasn’t wearing any underwear. Someone definitely needed a cold shower after that. Hilton Jr.’s marriage to Elizabeth Taylor barely lasted eight months. He was Taylor’s first of seven husbands and greatly resented the press calling him Mr. Taylor.

Hilton Honeymoon from Hell

After their wedding, Conrad Hilton Jr. and Elizabeth Taylor went on what was quite literally the honeymoon from hell. They cruised through Europe with a cloud of paparazzi and photographers constantly following their every move.

Elizabeth Taylor and Conrad Nicky Hilton eating dinner on personal trays in their ship’s suite

Elizabeth Taylor and Nicky Hilton aboard the RMS Queen Mary on their honeymoon. Photo by Solent News / Shutterstock

Taylor brought along a maid and a squad of 12 friends and associates. Sounds romantic. Hilton spent most of his time at the bar, and Taylor accused the hotel heir of physical and verbal abuse. According to some of Hilton’s friends, Taylor was just as physical as he was, and the two often fought with each other like angry cats.

Heir to the Hilton Throne

Conrad Hilton Sr.’s second son, Barron, was the one everyone expected to succeed in the family hotel business. Especially since his older brother Nicky was overshadowed by his marriage, scandal, and alcoholism. But Conrad was strict about his children making their own money, which is why he intentionally left 97% of his fortune to the nonprofit charity he founded in his name.

William Barron Hilton standing in front of an aircraft

William Barron Hilton. Source: Pinterest

But after Conrad Sr. died, Barron challenged his father’s will. After a successful court battle in 1998, Barron walked out of the courtroom as an incredibly rich man.

A Man of Many Talents

William Barron Hilton took over the Hilton hotel business, and his business savvy mind made the Hilton Hotel Corporation even more successful. Despite making his family business more profitable, it wasn’t Barron’s proudest professional achievement. That came from a completely different interest.

William Barron Hilton sitting in front of a chessboard

William Barron Hilton. Source: hiltonfoundation.org

What Barron was really passionate about was sports. He was a founding member of the American Football League (AFL). In 1966, the AFL and the NFL merged and transformed into professional football we all know and love today. He was also the owner of the original Los Angeles Chargers.

Daddy’s Boy After All

Sports weren’t the only thing Barron was enthusiastic about; he also had a passion for flying. At 17 years old, he got his pilot license in single and multi-engine aircraft and eventually in gliders, balloons, and helicopters. Not bad for a hotel heir.

William Barron Hilton standing over an aircraft when he was younger

William Barron Hilton. Source: hiltonfoundation.org

In the ‘80s, Barron famously contested his father’s will. But in a noteworthy and similar move, Barron ended up following in his dad’s footsteps and left 97% of his own estate to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. Barron died of natural causes at 91 years old; ironically, his father Conrad Sr. died at the same age in the same way.

The Hiltons Are Just Like Us

Before we get into the train wreck antics of Paris Hilton and her brother, we need to give some credit to something that’s unusual in their wild world: the two relatively normal (yet filthy rich) and happily married Hiltons, Rick and Kathy. These two are best friends and parents to four Hiltons: daughter Paris, son Conrad, daughter Nicky, and son Barron II.

Rick and Kathy Hilton playing with their daughters Paris and Nicky

Paris, Rick, Kathy, and Nicky Hilton. Photo by Globe Photos / mediapunch / Shutterstock

The couple met when they were teenagers and tied the knot. Kathy was barely 21 years old when she welcomed her first baby Hilton into the world.

A Star Is Born

Supposedly, the Hilton happily-ever-after story is that Rick and Kathy practically spend every waking moment with each other. It’s a truly shocking fact. There is a rumor that Kathy Hilton loves a good trip to discount shopping malls. Who would have thought?

Kathy holding Paris as a baby

Paris and Kathy Hilton 1981. Photo by Globe Photos / mediapunch / Shutterstock

When Paris was a youngster, her mom Kathy nicknamed her “Star.” Paris dabbled in modeling, acting, singing, and she even DJed in Ibiza; her ventures had varying degrees of success. She also wrote books that became New York Times bestsellers. Paris seems to be the most successful Hilton and gained notoriety after becoming of the most notorious socialites of the century… Her claim to fame literally and infamously happened in just one night…

One Night in Paris

For Paris Hilton, the fame seed was planted when she filmed a now infamous and smutty tape of herself with a man named Rick Salomon. The video, which was later titled One Night in Paris, was leaked and made her an instant star. The video even won multiple adult film awards.

Nicky, Kathy, and Paris Hilton at an event in 1997

Nicky, Kathy, and Paris Hilton. Photo by Globe Photos / mediapunch / Shutterstock

Ultimately, both Paris and Rick sued each other over control of the tape. In the end, Hilton won a $400,000 settlement that she reportedly donated to charity. That’s one way to make a name for yourself. Shortly after this stint, Kim Kardashian made the same move, which led her and her family to extreme fame.

The Bling Ring

It has become a Hollywood legend, which even generated a Sophia Coppola movie involving a bunch of Hollywood teenagers, partying aimlessly, calling themselves “The Bling Ring” gang, who went on a crime spree and robbed famous celebrity mansions in Hollywood, including Paris Hilton’s.

Mugshots of Rachel Lee, Diana Tamayo, Jonathan Ajar, Alexis Neiers, Nick Prugo, Courtney Ames, and Roy Lopez Jr.

Rachel Lee, Diana Tamayo, Jonathan Ajar, Alexis Neiers, Nick Prugo, Courtney Ames, and Roy Lopez Jr. of “The Bling Ring” gang. Source: LAPD

The criminals later bragged about how easy it was to break into Paris Hilton’s house because she left the key under the doormat. The doormat is really commonplace to keep a spare key. It’s the first place burglars look. Note to self: change the hiding spot for my spare key.

Welcome, Camera Crew

As frustrating and scary as it must have been to have your home broken into, Paris Hilton seemed to get over it pretty easily. While Coppola was shooting The Bling Ring movie, Hilton allowed the crew to come to film some scenes in her actual house. Paris even made a little cameo in the movie.

Paris Hilton crawling on the ground in the film House of Wax

Paris Hilton in House of Wax. Source: MoviestillsDB.com / Copyright: Warner Bros

Paris was also featured in other films. She had a brief acting career and starred in movies such as The Hottie and the Nottie and House of Wax. But she stopped acting and embarked on some business ventures instead.

Good Karma

During the years of the Depression, Conrad Hilton needed to seek out financial assistance wherever he could. He even took a $500 loan from one of the bellhops working at his hotel to cover the bills. Let’s just say karma is a beautiful thing, and the bellhop was rewarded for his generosity.

Conrad and Barron Hilton talking

Conrad and Barron Hilton.Source: hiltonfoundation.org

Not only did that bellhop get paid back, but he was later promoted and became a high-ranking executive in the Hilton empire, earning hefty stock dividends for the rest of his life. No good deed goes unnoticed. This proves you should be nice to everyone; you never know who’s going to be rich!

Choose Your Diamond

Sári Gábor, better known as Zsa Zsa, met Conrad in the Hollywood party scene. Hilton was captivated by the voluptuous Hungarian immigrant who was 30 years younger than him. Hilton was suspicious that Gabor might be after his money.

Zsa Zsa Gabor posing in a pretty strapless dress / Conrad pointing to a photograph with his two sons standing beside him

Photo by Hollywood Photo Archive, Mediapunch, Shutterstock / Source: hiltonfoundation.org

So, one night, Hilton apparently presented her with two jewelry boxes and made her pick. One box had a gigantic ring, and the other one held a smaller sparkler. Since Gabor chose the less expensive ring because she knew this was a test.

The Forgotten Hilton

In her autobiography, Zsa Zsa admitted that she was assaulted by Conrad during their marriage, which resulted in pregnancy with her only child, Constance Francesca Hilton. Unfortunately for Francesca, she was born after her hotel tycoon father divorced her mom. Therefore, she didn’t grow up close to the patriarch.

Zsa Zsa Gabor with her daughter Francesca Hilton and dog Genghis

Zsa Zsa Gabor with Francesca Hilton and their dog Genghis. Photo by Fotos International / Shutterstock

When Hilton died, Francesca got a trivial $100,000 while her father’s fortune was $200 million. After failed legal attempts to change the will, Francesca was forced to work odd jobs until she passed away in 2015 from a stroke in her car.

Little Brother Conrad

Paris’s little brother Conrad has ended up in the spotlight a number of times, and not for positive reasons. Vanityfair.com reported that he tried to break into a house and subsequently violated a restraining order against him. Conrad ended up spending some time behind bars.

Paris and Conrad Hilton as a young boy / Conrad Hughes Hilton sitting on his phone out in LA

Photo by MB Pictures, Shutterstock / Broadimage, Shutterstock

He is known to be a very destructive person. One time, he crashed his car into someone else’s. He clipped another car before any of this happened, which makes the whole situation worse. After the car wreck, he threw something out of the window, and it was clear that something was up with him.

Paris’s Trouble with the Law

Paris has also had a few notable run-ins with the law. The first time she got arrested in 2006, her license got suspended. But that was just the beginning of her legal issues. She continued driving with a suspended license and ended up in a lot more trouble.

Paris Hiltons mugshot from 2007

Source: Shutterstock

Paris got caught driving while under the influence. Despite not being in the right state of mind, she learned something from that incident. TMZ reported that the star ended up preventing her friend from going through the same thing. When she noticed that her friend was drinking, she took his keys away and wouldn’t let him drive.

Conrad Was Institutionalized

Vanityfair.com revealed that Conrad once took someone else’s car. It’s pretty obvious that he is a troubled man. Unlike his sisters, this Hilton brother tried to stay away from the spotlight. But whenever he is in the headlines, it’s because he did something bad. Conrad has had to deal with various legal issues throughout the years.

Paris and Conrad in the dining hall of a hotel

Source: Instagram

One time when Conrad got in trouble, he didn’t handle himself very well. It led to a judge deciding that he should spend time in a psychiatric hospital. He was supposed to stay there for a certain amount of time, but according to eonline.com, he violated that order and was going to be put behind bars once again.

The Other Hilton Siblings

Conrad isn’t the only Hilton brother who dealt with some serious legal issues. Paris’s other brother Barron had to pay an astonishing $4.9 million to someone who worked at a gas station after Barron harmed that man in 2008.

Tessa Grafin con Walderdorff and Barron Hilton II posing on the red carpet /

Tessa Grafin con Walderdorff with Barron Hilton (left) and Nicky Hilton with James Rothschild (right). Photo by Stephen Lovekin, Shutterstock /

These days, Nicky Hilton has a beautiful life and is happily married to James Rothschild. But marriage hasn’t always been easy for her. According to thetalko.com, Nicky was briefly married to another man in the early 2000s. The two had a secret ceremony in Las Vegas but planned on having a big wedding party.

Rick and Kathy Hilton

Most of us would love to crash weddings or bar mitzvahs, but the Hiltons only crash the most luxurious events. Rick and Kathy Hilton crashed Cosmopolitans 50th-anniversary party. Pagesix.com revealed that even though they weren’t invited, they showed up. It was also reported that they didn’t treat some of the other guests [the ones that were invited] very nicely.

Barron, Paris, Nicky, Kathy, and Rick Hilton posing on the red carpet in 2010

Barron, Paris, Nicky, Kathy, and Rick Hilton. Photo by Matt Baron / BEI / Shutterstock

Kathy Hilton can be like a popular reality show. She is half-sisters with Kim Richards and Kylie Richards, the stars of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.

The Party Starts When Paris Gets There

If there is one thing everyone knows about Paris Hilton, it’s how much she loves herself. Confidence is extremely important. But according to usatoday.com, the socialite decorates her entire home with photos of herself. She even has a giant self-portrait on display, and if you look closely, it’s made up of small pictures of her.

Paris Hilton and Carter Reum sitting by the water at a fancy dinner on vacation / Paris Hilton and Carter Reum posing in front of a beautiful sunset

Paris Hilton and Carter Reum. Source: Shutterstock

Paris is the best-known Hilton child, famous for her antics and party days. Some folks believe that she tarnished the Hilton name with her wild girl reputation. Well, that isn’t necessarily the case. The Hiltons actually have a long history of being party animals. We mentioned Paris’s great uncle Nicky, who had his own sort of craziness.

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