The Eccentric Howard Hughes
The Greek philosopher Aristotle once said, "There was never a genius without a tincture of madness." Texan Howard Hughes once said, "I'm not a paranoid deranged millionaire. I'm a damned billionaire." Both of them were right.
On Christmas Eve; 1905, Allene (Gano) Hughes and Howard Robard Hughes, Sr., (nicknamed Bo) had a son in a little frame house on the east side of downtown Houston. They named the boy Howard, Jr. (and called him Sonny), although no birth certificate exists. It seems young Howard's entry into the world foreshadowed the mystery that would surround much of his life.
Sonny's dad, Howard, Sr., did not seem destined for greatness. Bo dropped out of Harvard, couldn't make it at his father's law practice and spent his early years searching for a quick fortune in silver, zinc, and lead mining. When the Spindletop oil gusher made news in 1901, Howard, Sr. came to south Texas to search for the black gold that lurked beneath the surface of the earth. Although not a top student, he did have a mind for mechanics, and learned from his wildcatting days about the difficulties of drilling through Texas rock. He teamed up with a partner, Walter Sharp, and together they worked on ways to improve drilling techniques. In 1908, they developed a new kind of drill bit, dubbed the Hughes rock bit that significantly improved the drilling process. How it came about is a mystery. Hughes, Sr. claimed he invented it. Sharp's widow claimed they both invented it and another story contends that Hughes bought the idea from another oilman for $150. The drill bit consisted of three rotating cones, each with a set of cutting teeth that crushed the rock as the bit rotated.
When Hughes and Sharp tested the first prototype of the bit in 1909, they were able to drill through solid rock at the rate of about a foot an hour, an astonishing feat for the time. The new bit revolutionized the oil business and made both men wealthy. But wealth can't buy long life. Sharp died in 1912, leaving the company in the hands of Howard, Sr. Continues in book . . .
During World War II, he produced the infamous gigantic troop carrier dubbed the "Spruce Goose" that flew only once. However, the engineering developed for his state-of-the-art planes led to innovations that would earn millions of dollars for him in the future. These include flush riveting (which reduced air drag on the plane) and the variable-pitch propeller.
Howard Hughes with a Boeing Army Pursuit Plane, circa 1941.
(Courtesy of Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-63333).)
Other inventions that emerged from the diverse life and mind of Howard Hughes include geosynchronous communications satellites and a half-cup "push-up" bra developed to show off the cleavage of movie star Jane Russell in the 1943 Hughes film, The Outlaw.
Texas Tidbit: The Texas Theatre built by Hughes in 1931 and located in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas, was at the time the country’s largest suburban theater. It is also where Lee Harvey Oswald fled after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November, 22, 1963. For more information, visit www.texastheatre.com or www.oakclifffoundation.org.
The story continues in the book Texas Ingenuity... For complete information on this and other Texas stories...