Through much of the twentieth century, Hughes was the embodiment of the American businessman as a larger-than-life adventurer: half-hero and half-outlaw. His most important business contributions were in the field of aeronautics, the film industry, and in investments in Las Vegas casinos and real estate.
Much of Howard Hughes’s reputation came not from his enormous success or business talent–he was, for much of his life, one of the wealthiest people on the planet–but from the staggering diversity of his enterprises. From the late 1920’s through the 1950’s, he was a successful Hollywood producer/director. Throughout the 1930’s and 1940’s, he gained fame as a daring aviator and test pilot, founding
This montage shows Howard Hughes along with charts listing his holdings and properties as of August 18, 1968.
Another source of Hughes’s fame was the scandal that accompanied almost every enterprise.
A final factor contributing to Hughes’s status as celebrity-businessman is the aura of mystery that surrounded him throughout his life. So much about this successful American entrepreneur remains uncertain, beginning with the date of his birth, Christmas Eve, which may be apocryphal. Also uncertain is the number of his marriages, as he may or may not have been married to film actor Terry Moore from the late 1940’s until his death. In addition, his sexual preferences are debatable, as Hollywood gossip and a popular biography have suggested that he was gay or bisexual. Toward the end of his life, his very sanity was questionable, as he became a hypochondriac, germophobic loner living in rigorously enforced seclusion, in hotels in Las Vegas, Houston, and other locales. This hermetic existence during his final years only heightened his celebrity, as he was spoofed in various television series and celebrated in song by different artists. Not until Donald Trump did another American businessman come close to becoming such a celebrity mogul.
Bartlett, Donald L., and James B. Steele. Empire. New York: Norton, 1979. Higham, Charles. Howard Hughes. 1993. Reprint. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2004. Wildenberg, Thomas, and R. E. G. Davies. Howard Hughes: An Airman, His Aircraft, and His Great Flights. McLean, Va.: Paladwr Press, 2006.
Air transportation industry