Childhood & Early Life
Howard Robard Hughes, Jr was born on December 24, 1905, in Humble, Texas, U.S., to Howard R. Hughes, Sr., and Allene Stone Gano.
During his youth, he showed great inclination toward engineering and built Houston’ first radio transmitter and a motorized bicycle before he was 12. He showed interest in maths, flying, and also took flying lessons at 14.
He lost his mother in 1922, and father two years later; he inherited 75 percent of the family fortune. On his 19th birthday, he took complete control of his legacy.
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Hughes moved to Los Angeles, where he hoped to make a name for himself in movies. When his first attempt failed, he hired Noah Dietrich to head the movie subsidiary of his tool company.
His first two films, 'Everybody's Acting' and 'Two Arabian Knights,' were financial successes. The latter (directed by Lewis Milestone in 1928), won an 'Academy Award' for 'Best Comedy Direction.'
He produced the crime film ‘The Racket’ in 1928, and ‘The Front Page,' a comedy film, three years later. Both the films were nominated for the Oscars.
He spent US$3.8 million to make the 1930 flying film, 'Hell’s Angels,' and earned nearly $8 million above production and advertising costs. It received one 'Academy Award' nomination, and its aviation sequences remain unequalled.
In 1932, he founded 'the Hughes Aircraft Company' in Glendale, California. He got a job under the pseudonym "Charles Howard," as a baggage handler for 'American Airlines' and became a co-pilot within weeks.
On September 13, 1935, he set a new land speed record of 352.46 M.P.H. at Santa Ana, California, in the Silver Bullet, the world’s fastest plane, built by Hughes Aircraft.
In 1937, he made the world's greatest long-distance speed flight, setting a new transcontinental record from Los Angeles to Newark, New Jersey, of seven hours, twenty-eight minutes - an improvement over his own record.
In 1938, he flew around the world in a record three days, nineteen hours, and seventeen minutes, with four crewmen, in a Lockheed 14 twin-engine transport Model and returned home to a ticker-tape welcome.
In 1939, he quietly purchased a majority share of 'TWA' stock for nearly US$7 million and took control of the airline, but was forced by the federal courts to sell his shares later.
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He directed the 1943 Western film 'The Outlaw,' which starred Jane Russell. He designed a special bra for his leading lady, and turned the actress into a diva and a Hollywood icon.
The 'Hughes D-2,' an American fighter and bomber project begun by him as a private venture never proceeded past the flight testing phase, but was the predecessor of the 'Hughes XF-11.'
The 'Hughes XF-11,' a prototype military reconnaissance aircraft was designed by him for the USAF. Although 100 F-11s were ordered in 1943, only two prototypes were completed and subjected to a Senate investigation.
Involved in a near-fatal aircraft accident in 1946, while performing the first flight of the reconnaissance aircraft 'the XF-11' near California, he sustained serious injuries and was rescued by Marine Master Sgt. Durkin.
'The Hughes H-4 Hercules,' popularly called the 'Spruce Goose,' was a prototype heavy transport aircraft designed and built by the 'Hughes Aircraft company.' The project was aborted after its only flight in 1947.
He gained control of 'RKO Pictures,' which suffered because of his capricious management style. He sold the company to the 'General Tire and Rubber Company' for $25 million in 1955.
In 1947, Hughes proved skeptics wrong with a surprise test flight of the 'HK-1' in The Long Beach, California, lasting less than sixty seconds, one of the most known flights ever.
In 1953, he set up the 'Howard Hughes Medical Institute' in Miami, Florida, with the express goal of basic biomedical research, including trying to understand, in Hughes' words, the "genesis of life itself."
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Awards & Achievements
Hughes was awarded the 'Congressional Gold Medal' in 1939, in recognition of his achievements in advancing the science of aviation.
He was presented with the 'Octave Chanute Award' in 1940 for outstanding contribution made by him as a pilot or test personnel to the advancement of arts, science and technology, and aeronautics.
Between 1952 and 2003, he was inducted into the 'Aviation Hall Of Fame,' 'International Aerospace Hall Of Fame' and 'Nevada Business Hall Of Fame,' the last two posthumously.
Family, Personal Life & Legacy
Hughes married twice: first to Ella Rice and then actress Jean Peters. He dated many famous women, including Billie Dove, Bette Davis, Ava Gardner, Olivia de Havilland, Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, and Gene Tierney.
As early as the 1930s, he displayed signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder, which only worsened with time. The numerous aircraft crashes left him in pain and physically dependent. He became reclusive and eccentric towards his end.
In 2004, his early life was depicted in the film 'The Aviator,' played by Leonardo DiCaprio who was nominated for an 'Academy Award' for his portrayal of the aviator.