Conrad Nicholson Hilton, 32 years old and fresh from the battlefields of World War I, came to Texas in 1919 to find his fortune. Little could he have realized what an impact this trip to the Lone Star State would have on his life and the world.
Connie (as his family called him) was born in San Antonio, New Mexico, in 1887, the second of seven children of Gus and Mary Hilton. Friends knew Gus (August) as a tall Norwegian who could strike up a conversation with anyone, and usually did. He had a keen nose for business and stepped out to take risks when there were profits to be made. Connie's mother, born Mary Laufersweiler, had an opposite personality. Quiet and full of faith, she led her children with a gentle, determined, and firm hand.
As a $15-a-month clerk, young Connie cleaned, stocked, and ordered supplies for his father's general store. Unlike today's stores where everything is priced, clerks of that era had to negotiate prices with customers. A certain code of ethics existed between the contentious parties where, in the end, each one of them had to think they got a good deal. Connie got good at selling and one day decided to spend some of his hard earned money on a personal luxury, an L. C. Smith twelve-gauge hammerless shotgun. He placed an order. When his penny-pinching father found out about it, he gave his son a piece of his mind. Not because of what he'd ordered, but how. For the twenty-pound shipping charge paid to deliver the rifle, Connie could have shipped a hundred pound of goods.
"You threw away an eighty pound opportunity. You could have gotten a keg of nails for the same freight charge. You'll never get rich that way."
Although Connie enjoyed his small hometown, he also had ambition. He tried his hand at several different careers including managing his sister's singing trio, and politics, where he won a seat in the New Mexico State Assembly when it first became a state. Neither of these careers satisfied him.
. . .continues. . .
Recent photo of the refurbished building that was the site
of the Mobley Hotel in Cisco, Texas.
(Courtesy Cheryl Lindsay, Conrad Hilton Community Center.)
. . . Conrad Hilton, the shop manager, the politician, the banker, and the Army Lieutenant found himself the proprietor of a first class flophouse hotel in the middle of a West Texas oilfield. The Mobley Hotel in Cisco, Texas, had become the first "Hilton" hotel. That night the hotel was full, and Connie and his partner slept in the office.
. . .All of Hilton's experiences of the past blended together into a torrent of ideas on how to make his hotel produce more money. What he’d learned from his father's obsession with squeezing every penny out of every square inch of a business led him to take quick steps to improve the cash flow of his new business. He tore out the cafeteria and added more rooms. After all, there were plenty of "hash-houses" in the city. He shortened the reservation counter by half and put in a tobacco and newspaper stand. A corner that housed a large palm tree became a small novelty shop. This became a pattern for future Hilton Hotels. Every bit of space must have a purpose, and every resource must be utilized.
... Little by little the building took shape. In August 1925, the last rug was laid and the last doorknob was polished. The Dallas Hilton opened. It was an immediate success.
Dallas Hilton Hotel from a postcard circa 1925
Texas Tidbit: Two top companies that set world standards for sophistication and style started around the corner from one another in Dallas in the 1920s – Hilton Hotels and Neiman-Marcus.
The story continues in the book Texas Ingenuity... For complete information on this and other Texas stories...