Howard Hughes in the XF11 after his successful test flight, April 5, 1947 – Source: Welcome Home, Howard Digital Collection, UNLV University Libraries Special Collections.
Filmmaker, Aviator, Innovator, and Eccentric Billionaire
His personal aviation accomplishments and influential wealth allowed Hughes and his company to win government contracts for the research and development of aircrafts for military use. Perhaps the most famous of these planes was the H-4 Hercules, more commonly known as the “Spruce Goose.” Hughes had attracted a number of leading scientists from nearby Cal Tech to lead his research and development team, but relations between the obsessive and controlling Hughes and his management team began to fray. In 1953, most of his top managers walked out, causing chaos in the company and jeopardizing their many critical government contracts. The Secretary of the Air Force gave Hughes an ultimatum that he remove himself from the company or all of their Air Force contracts would be canceled. As a result, Hughes turned over this section of Hughes Aircraft to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in 1954. Without its eccentric founder, Hughes Aircraft continued to grow and diversify in subsequent decades.
In 1958, he suffered a nervous breakdown. Though his business ventures flourished, he was constantly at odds with the government over his taxes and eventually left California for Nevada. In 1967, he bought the Desert Inn in Las Vegas, allegedly because he was asked to vacate his room for another guest on New Year’s Eve of 1966 and did not wish to leave. Hughes went on to buy the Castaways, Frontier, Sands, Silver Slipper, and Landmark hotels making him Nevada’s largest employer. He left Las Vegas on Thanksgiving Day 1970, having never talked to anyone outside of his inner circle and very rarely leaving his penthouse at the Desert Inn.
Howard Hughes spent the last six years of his life in hotel rooms all over the world including the Bahamas, Nicaragua, Canada, England, and Mexico. He became emaciated and deranged from the effects of a poor diet and drugs he used to ease the pain of his 1946 airplane crash. Hughes died, ironically, on an airplane in 1976 during an emergency medical flight from Acapulco, Mexico to his childhood home of Houston.
Numerous biographies of Howard Hughes have been published since his death and he has also been the subject of several films. Check our “Theme Sources” list for the biographies used in the development of this website. You can also find additional facts and details on Hughes’ life and career in our Timeline.
For additional reading on the Hughes Industrial Historic District, Howard Hughes, the Spruce Goose, and the history of aerospace in Southern California, see the following sources, which were used in the preparation of this website.