How The Hilton Family Built An International Hotel Brand And Got Super Rich

Hilton familyPascal Le Segretain/Getty ImagesBarron Nicholas Hilton, Kathy Hilton, Nicky Hilton, Paris Hilton and Rick Hilton attend the Chopard 150th Anniversary Party at Palm Beach, Pointe Croisette during the 63rd Annual Cannes Film Festival on May 17, 2010 in Cannes, France.

It’s been a good couple of years to be a Hilton.

Last year the company, mostly now owned by private equity firm Blackstone, went public in a massive $US2.35 billion IPO — the biggest for a hotel company ever.

Just this month, the company sold New York City’s Waldorf Astoria to a Chinese insurance company for an eye-popping $US1.95 billion.

Plus it seems Paris Hilton has really taken to her new calling as a DJ.

It’s a lot of great success and of course it didn’t come out of thin air. The Hilton family brand is a dynasty generations in the making.

This is the story of how it all started.

Augustus had seven children, including Conrad, who became the scion of the Hilton empire.

Conrad Hilton

Conrad was born in New Mexico in 1887 and would become one of the most famous Hiltons for his business savvy.

Source: Albuquerque Journal

He was also a war veteran and served in the US army during WWI.

Poster showing Uncle Sam in a quartermaster's uniform.

He served as a lieutenant in France with allied forces in the Quartermaster Corps, responsible for supplying fuel, food, clothes, and household items to the army. Quartermasters also identified and cared for dead soldiers.

He was discharged from the army in 1919 after his father died in a car accident.

Sources: US Army Quartermaster Foundation, Texas State Historical Association

After the war Conrad moved to Texas and bought his first hotel in 1919.

The Mobley Hotel in Cisco, Texas.

He tried to buy a bank but that didn't work out, so he bought a hotel instead - the 40-room Mobley Hotel in Cisco, Texas in 1919. It was so successful that they turned the dining room into additional rooms to meet demand.

Sources: CNBC, The Guardian

The 'first Hilton hotel' is now the Conrad Hilton Center.

The Old Mobley Hotel historical marker.

It still has the old signage, and two rooms have been preserved since 1919. It hosts the Cisco Chamber of Commerce and a room for special events like weddings.

Source: Cisco Chamber of Commerce

He grew his holdings, and in 1954, Conrad made the largest purchase in real estate history at the time.

The Buffalo Statler towers.

The Statler Hotel company sold for $US111,000,000 and it was the biggest transaction ever in the hotel industry. He called himself 'the innkeeper of the world.'

He then added more jewels to the Hilton crown, like the Stevens Hotel in Chicago, then the world's largest, and the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. Hilton also acquired an international gaming company and created the world's first international hotel chain.

Source: Ohio County Library, Marketing Week

In 1949, Conrad bought the iconic Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York.

It was his longstanding ambition to own the hotel, but at first its owner didn't want to sell it to someone who had other business interests. The New York State Realty and Terminal Company owned the land and was also concerned that he would run it down.

He lobbied with the company anyway.

After several months, Conrad found out that someone else was interested in buying the hotel. He decided to use his own money instead of Hilton Hotel Corporation's. One of the majority stockholders agreed to his proposal to buy 249,024 shares of stock at $US12 a share.

In the end, he paid $US3 million for about 69% of Waldorf and gradually increased his share to 10%.

The legendary hotel is a landmark building in New York and has hosted every president since Herbert Hoover.

Source: The Hiltons: The True Story of an American Dynasty

Hilton has collected some even more impressive holdings since then -- like the Conrad Maldives, which has a restaurant under the sea.

The Conrad Maldives

The hotel is spread across two islands in the Indian Ocean that can only be crossed by a 30-minute seaplane flight. There's also an underground wine cellar with 20,000 bottles.

Source: Conrad Maldives Rangali Island

And the Conrad Pezula, where a room could set you back $8000 per night.

Conrad Pezula

Some rooms in this hotel in South Africa are built directly on the edge of a cliff. CNBC named the Conrad Pezula hotel 'the best property in the world' in 2008 and Nelson Mandela was its first guest that same year.

Source: City Press

Conrad got divorced twice and married three times.

Zsa Zsa Gabor

Actress Zsa Zsa Gabor was his second wife.

Gabor has had nine husbands - she divorced seven times and had one marriage annulled. She's quoted as once saying: 'I am a marvellous housekeeper: Every time I leave a man I keep his house.'

In 2009, it emerged that she lost $US10 million through Bernie Madoff's company.

Sources: Newsday, Wikipedia

Conrad died in 1979 and left inheritances behind for his three children.

Conrad Hilton

His two sons got $US500,000 each, his daughter got a measly $US10,000, and the remainder went to the Conrad N. Hilton foundation.

Source: The Guardian

One son, Richard started his own real estate firm.

Wroxall Abbey Hotel and Estate in Warwickshire, England.


He joined the New York office of Eastdil Secured and later founded Hilton Realty Investment in 1984.

With Jeffrey Hyland, he formed the real estate firm Hilton & Hyland in 1993. Several of their salespeople were part of the reality TV show Million Dollar Listing.

Source: State of California,

Conrad's other son, William Barron Hilton I, took over the family business.

Barron Hilton

Barron contested his father's will and received 4 million shares of the hotel.

In 1966 he became Chairman of the board, president and CEO of the company. His charitable remainder unitrust received 6 million shares of Hilton, and 3.5 million went to Conrad's foundation.

Source: The Guardian

Barron has eight children and is Paris and Nicky's grandpa.

Nicky and Paris Hilton

Barron's sixth child Richard is their father.

Paris, currently the most famous Hilton, came along in 1981 and started modelling as a teen.

Paris Hilton

Paris was born in New York and split her childhood between the city and Beverly Hills.

After seeing photos of herself in the New York Post's 'best dressed' fashion section, she signed with Donald Trump's agency, T Management. She was part of New York Fashion Week, and modelled for various designer brands.

Source: Paris Hilton: A Biography

She really became a star, though, after her sex tape was published in 2003.

Hilton attends CIROC presents Bootsy Bellows at the Liquid Cellar on January 31, 2014 in New York City.

The footage with Ricky Salomon leaked on the internet and the following April, he sold the rights to an adult film studio. After several lawsuits, Salomon and the company agreed to pay Paris $US400,000.

Her first big screen role was as co-star on the Fox reality series about socialites called This Simple Life. She's since starred in about 13 reality TV shows and 22 feature films, and performed seven movie roles as herself.

She's also launched several businesses including a beach club in Manila, a jewelry line, and a perfume range.

Sources: IMDB, Entertainment Weekly

In 2007, Blackstone bought Hilton Hotels for $26 billion at the height of the real estate bubble.

The Blackstone Group Headquarters in New York.

The Blackstone Group bought Hilton Hotels for $US47.40 a share, 40% more than its closing price the previous day. The deal included $US7.5 billion in debt.

It was the second largest transaction Blackstone ever made, and gave them ownership of nearly 4,000 hotels.

Bloomberg called it 'the best leveraged buyout ever.'

Sources: Bloomberg Businessweek, The New York Times

In September 2013, Hilton filed for a $1.25 billion IPO.

A Hilton Hotel.

The IPO raised nearly $US2.4 billion from the sale of 117.6 million shares.

Hilton was initially priced at $US20 a share, just above the midpoint of the expected range. The IPO was run by Deutsche Bank, Goldman, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley.

Source: The New York Times

The IPO raised $2.35 billion and was the largest ever for a hotel.

Its stock market value topped rivals including Marriot International and Hyatt Hotels.

Hilton had a market capitalisation of $US21.52 billion and opened at $US22.41 a share on Friday.

Source: Bloomberg, MarketWatch

Hilton sold the Waldorf Astoria to a Chinese insurance conglomerate for $1.95 billion in October.

The Waldorf Astoria in New York.

Anbang Insurance Group approached Hilton before the hotel was up for sale and beat out at least two other bidders for the purchase. It was the largest sale of a hotel.

Hilton Worldwide will continue to manage the 1232-room hotel for 100 years as part of the agreement. It was in need of an upgrade, and Hilton decided it was better to sell off the property than to pay for the renovations.

Sources: Forbes, Bloomberg

The Hiltons own several pads all over the world and a ranch in Costa Rica.

Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico.

The family reportedly owns a ranch with its own landing strip in Costa Rica where police seized 400 kilos of cocaine in August.

In 2009, Paris bought a $US3.2 million home in London just steps away from Amy Winehouse.

Some Hiltons reportedly still live on the original family farm in Norway.

Sources: The Mirror, People, Gawker

Want to learn more about the wealthy families who shaped America?

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