Me and Conrad Hilton


Conrad Nicholson Hilton, Sr. (December 25, 1887 – January 3, 1979) was an American hotelier and founder of the Hilton Hotel chain.

Some quotes from Conrad Hilton:

  • “Success seems to be connected to action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don’t quit.”
  • “If you are 100% occupied, you are not charging enough rent.”

Why does Conrad Hilton interest me? Indirectly because we share a first name. But indirectly he was a catalyst for me. If you have the time to read this tedious blog entry – then it just might have a nuggest of wisdom for you…

When I was 18 I worked in the restaurant at a Red Lion Inn in Belleveu, WA and guests would always read my name tag and say: “Conrad, mmm…are you related to Conrad Hilton?” Which was depressing for me because I wondered why they thought I would be serving them a meal if I was related to Conrad Hilton (and working for a competitor hotel!). And every once in a while someone would actually verbalize the zinger: “If he was related to Conrad Hilton you think he would be working as a waiter.” Wow, that’s a sure way to make someone feel important.

The big whigs would come to the hotel and I would be pouring their water as they talked about very important things. I remember thinking that someday I would like to have someone pouring water for me as I also talked about very important things.

That’s what occupied my mind as I served the food – how do I get to be the person sitting at the table, instead of the one serving them? When people are very important and you are the wait staff, it becomes clear very quickly how insignificant you are. They weren’t rude or anything like that. It just was a strong message: They made decisions and I was a generic thing, like something out of the movie The Wall by Pink Floyd.

So after working there a year or so I had a brilliant idea. If the hotel would rent a piano and put it in the main lobby, I would play piano. They could pay me minimum wage if I could keep tips and I would pay for the piano rental out of my pay. I brought my brilliant idea to the manager and they said they would think about it. Being naive I really thought they were thinking about it. But after several weeks of me nagging them with my brilliance the manager said: “Conrad, you’re not a piano player, you’re a waiter.”

And that was a real paradigm shift for me. I had thought I was a piano player who made his living as a waiter. Much like the old worn out joke about all the wannabee actors in LA (“Oh you’re an actor in Los Angeles? Which restaurant do you work for?”)

So that very week I looked for piano jobs and got an audition at Nordstrom in Belleveu Square (Bellevue, WA) and got offered a job as piano player. I gave my notice the next week at the Red Lion hotel. When the manager asked me why I was leaving I told her I got hired to play piano for Nordstrom. I still remember the look on her face, it was like “Oh, he really IS a piano player.”

I guess this info is tedious for any of you reading. But for me it was a real turning point to realize that what I spend my time on is what I do. Simple I know. But many of us spend our time doing one thing while living a secret fantasy life thinking we are actually accomplishing something else. (Ok, we ALL do that to a certain extent.)

So thank you to Conrad Hilton – because people thought I might be related to him they thought I should be doing something greater than waiting tables. And I’m thankful for that. There’s nothing wrong with waiting tables. Especially in the US as a rule we treat our wait staff very well. But it was not my road…

Conrad Nicholson Hilton was born in San Antonio, Socorro County, New Mexico Territory (now New Mexico) to Augustus Halvorson “Gus” Hilton (born August Halvorsen Hilton) (Søndre Hilton, Ullensaker, Akershus, Norway, August 21, 1854 – San Antonio, Texas, January 19, 1919), a Norwegian of German descent, and his wife (married in Fort Dodge, Iowa, February 12 1885) Mary Genevieve Laufersweiler (Fort Dodge, Iowa, December 3, 1861 – Long Beach, California, August 26, 1947), a German-American.

Conrad’s siblings were:

* Felice A. Hilton (December 6 1885–February 12 1968)
* Eva C. Hilton (December 29 1889–1979)
* Carl H. Hilton (January 1892–1957)
* Julian Hilton (1895–1897)
* Rosemary J. Hilton (June 20 1898–November 27 1995)
* August H. “Boy” Hilton (1901–1929)
* Helen A. Hilton (January 30 1906–February 22 2003)

Conrad Hilton was educated at the New Mexico Military Institute, at St. Michael’s College (now the College of Santa Fe), and at the New Mexico School of Mines (now New Mexico Tech). In his early twenties, he was a Republican representative in the first legislature of the newly-formed State of New Mexico.

Shortly after the United States entered World War I in 1917, Conrad Hilton enlisted in the U.S. Army and was sent to Officers’ Training Command, Presidio of San Francisco. Second Lieutenant Hilton arrived in France, February 14, 1918. His unit, the 304th Labor Battalion, saw limited combat. Conrad Hilton was discharged at Camp Dix (now Fort Dix), New Jersey on February 11, 1919. While Conrad was in the army, his father Gus had been killed in a car accident.

In concert with his father, Conrad Hilton had helped build up an inn as well as a General Store in Socorro County, New Mexico, but he then moved to Texas. He entered the hotel business by buying the Mobley Hotel in Cisco, Texas, in 1919. He went on to buy hotels throughout Texas. The first high rise hotel he built was the Dallas Hilton (now the Hotel Indigo), which opened in 1925. His first hotel outside of Texas was the La Posada de Albuquerque, which he built in 1939 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He formed the Hilton Hotels Corporation in 1946 followed by Hilton International Company in 1948. The company expanded into credit cards (Carte Blanche), car rentals, and other travel services.

During the Great Depression Hilton was nearly forced into bankruptcy and lost several of his hotels. He was retained as manager, however, and eventually bought them back.

During the post-war period, the 1950s and 1960s, Hilton Hotels’ worldwide expansion facilitated both American tourism and overseas business by United States corporations. At the same time it promulgated a certain worldwide standard for hotel accommodations. It was the world’s first international hotel chain.

In 1966 Conrad Hilton was succeeded as President by his son Barron and was elected Chairman of the Board.


His devotion to Catholicism and its tenets permeated his practices in both business and personal life. His mother, the former Mary Laufersweiler, and his father, Augustus Hilton, a first-generation Norwegian immigrant, shared a deep commitment to Catholicism, and they infused their son with their faith from an early age. He graduated from the clerically run St. Michael’s College, near his home in the New Mexico Territory, and his mother encouraged him from boyhood to pray and attend church, especially at times of difficulty and loss. He would need to.

The Great Depression proved debilitating to rich and poor alike, and Conrad Hilton was one of many future titans of business the devastatingly stagnant economy left grappling with a drastic loss of profits. His nascent hotel industry spiraled into debt and bankruptcy, and his marriage to his first wife, Mary Adelaide Baron, foundered. He couldn’t afford to finish hotels he had committed himself to building, and he began losing ones already open.

Faced with challenges that might have seemed insurmountable, he did what he had done since he was a boy—resolved to work hard and have faith in God. Others, it seemed, made up their minds to put their faith in Hilton. He was able to buy goods on credit from locally owned stores because they trusted his ability and determination to one day pay them back. As the kindness of others and his own ingenuity helped him rebuild his hotel empire to proportions previously unheard of, he solidified his commitment to charity and hospitality—two characteristics that became hallmarks both of Hilton Hotels and of the man who began them.

Kendra Walker, the vice president of brand communications at the Hilton Hotel Corporation, says, “He envisioned a world where acts of hospitality built bridges between people and even nations—hospitality as almost a social, respectful form of love; consideration, charity, and respect given unconditionally from one person to another. And there is no better place than the hotel business to become a beacon to encourage greater hospitality between people.”

By 1949, when he fulfilled a dream and made national headlines by purchasing the famed Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City, his financial problems were far in his wake. He was a father four times over and had recently finalized a divorce from his second wife, the actress Zsa Zsa Gabor. He was famously quoted as saying “Success seems to be connected with action. Successful men keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don’t quit.”

His death, in 1979, didn’t end his charitable giving. His will called for a large portion of his considerable fortune to be set aside for humanitarian efforts, and in it he wrote, “Love one another, for that is the whole law; so our fellow men deserve to be loved and encouraged—never to be abandoned to wander alone in poverty and darkness. The practice of charity will bind us—will bind all men in one great brotherhood.”

To that end he left the money that created the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. Despite disputes among Hilton family members, especially Conrad’s son Barron, about the foundation’s endowment, it continues to work to aid the Catholic Sisters, promote safe water development, blindness prevention, housing for the mentally ill homeless, and substance-abuse prevention, among other things.

Charity is something that has not been lost on Conrad Hilton’s descendants. Asked about the moral value that has most affected her life, his great-granddaughter Paris, undeniably the most famous living Hilton and one more widely associated with feckless hedonism than with anything deeper and more abiding, said, “Compassion. It is something that has always been very important to my family. It’s in my blood; it runs through my veins.”

— by Erin Gaetz, an undergraduate at the University of Virginia.

One thought on “Me and Conrad Hilton

  1. what a joke….if he was so religious, how come he got a divorce?
    i applied for a job a the waldorf-astoria and one of the questions on the application asked whether or not you’ve ever had an abortion. what business was it of this scum-sucking pig’s? i wonder if his precious paris ever had one? that’s who he needed to worry about.

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