American businessman, film producer and pilot Howard Robard Hughes Jr. was born on December 24th, 1905, in Harris County, Texas. Showing interest in science and technology from a young age, Howard had a talent for building things just like his father, who was a businessman and inventor himself. By the age of fourteen he had already built a “wireless” radio transmitter and a “motorized bicycle,” as well as taking flying lessons. In 1925, after his father’s death and the inheritance of the family fortune, Hughes dropped out of University, got married and moved to Los Angeles, where he hoped to start a career in the film-making industry.
Hughes produced his first movie, Everybody’s Acting, in 1926, followed by Two Arabian Knights (which won the Oscar for Best Director), and was met with great financial success. Subsequent movies, The Racket (1928), Hell’s Angels (1930), and The Front Page (1931) were also nominated for Academy Awards, with Hell’s Angels, which was his first run as director, winning for Best Cinematography. In 1932, he produced the box office hit Scarface. In 1943, Hughes directed The Outlaw, which was distributed by RKO Pictures, known as one of the “Big Five” movie studios during Hollywood’s Golden Age. In 1948, the production company was bought by Hughes, but was eventually re-sold in 1955 due to economic difficulties under Howard’s management.
Hughes was involved in many different business ventures, one of them being the Hughes Aircraft Company, founded in 1932. Passionate about aviation, Howard set out to design and create various aircrafts through his enterprise, as well as break world records in aviation. In 1935, he flew the Hughes H-1 Racer, setting the airspeed record at 352 mph, and in 1937, Howard made a non-stop seven-hour flight from Los Angeles to New York City, setting a new record. The H-1 Racer itself introduced a number of innovative features to the airplane design, and might have influenced future models. In 1938, Hughes completed a 91-hour flight around the world, beating the previous record of four days. In the 1940s, he became the owner of major U.S. commercial airline, Trans World Airlines, and thirty years later acquired Air West, which Howard renamed as Hughes Airwest. For his contributions to the aerospace travel industry, Hughes was awarded with several accolades in recognition of his achievements, and in 1973 was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.
Hughes’ empire also reached into the medical field, as he inaugurated the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in 1953. The institute, located in Miami, Florida, was focused in biomedical research and genetics, as intended by Hughes himself, and has now become one of the U.S.’s biggest private and research foundations. Not limiting his influence to the aerospace field, Hughes participated in the 1970s on a secret government operation in which he would use the specially built ship, the Hughes Glomar Explorer, to retrieve the Soviet submarine K-129, lost in the sea years before.
While at first maintaining a public and outward profile, Hughes became increasingly secluded in his final year, partly due to his severe obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and other health issues derived from previous life-threatening accidents. He lived in different hotels across multiple cities, and settled in Las Vegas near the end of the 1960s. In that city, Howard bought several businesses with the intent of transforming its image into something more glamorous. He eventually came to own casinos, hotels, and media outlets in the city, where he had a lot of political and economic influence. On April 5th, 1976, after suffering through decades of mental and physical ailments, Hughes died due to kidney failure while flying on an aircraft en route from his home to a hospital in Houston, Texas. He was 70 years old at the time of his death.