Howard R. Hughes, Sr.

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Howard Robard Hughes, Sr. (September 9, 1869 – January 14, 1924) was an American businessman. He is best known as the father of Howard Robard Hughes, Jr., the famous aviation pioneer and film producer. Hughes, Sr. created the fortune that Hughes, Jr. inherited when he turned 18.

Early years[edit]

Hughes, Sr. was born in Lancaster, Missouri. His parents were Felix Turner Hughes (Millstadt, Illinois, 10 November 1837 – Los Angeles, California, 19 October 1926) and Jean Amelia Summerlin (Keosauqua, Iowa, 6 May 1842 – Los Angeles, California, 4 November 1928), who had been married in Scotland County, Memphis, Missouri on 1 August 1865. In turn, Felix was the son of Joshua Hughes and Martha Askins, while Jean was the daughter of Thomas Summerlin and Bathsheba Robard

His older sister Greta Hughes (born in Lancaster, Missouri, 4 June 1866) was "Jeanne Greta" the grand opera and concert singer, and his younger brother Rupert Hughes was the well known novelist and screenwriter. Felix Hughes (born Lancaster, Missouri, 1 October 1874), named after the father, was his youngest brother, an opera singer. Hughes, Sr.'s youngest sister Jean Hughes, named after the mother, and an unnamed male child "Baby Hughes" (both born in Keokuk, Iowa, 1880) died in the year they were born. His father was in the Union Army (enlisted Missouri Volunteer Forces, 18 August 1862) during the American Civil War.

Hughes was a classic entrepreneur, trying and failing at many endeavors before eventually finding success. After spending his childhood and early adulthood in Keokuk, Iowa, Hughes lived in Houston, Texas (where Howard Hughes, Jr. also lived before his life in Los Angeles).

Education and marriage[edit]

Hughes, Sr. attended grade school at Keokuk, Iowa, and prepared for college at Morgan Park Military Academy in Chicago, Illinois and at Missouri Military Academy in Mexico, Missouri. He entered Harvard University in 1893 and after two years began the study of law at the University of Iowa College of Law. Without completing his law course, he began to practice with his father in Keokuk.[1] Later, in Dallas County, Dallas, Texas, 24 May 1904 he married Allene Stone Gano (Georgetown, Kentucky, 14 July 1883 – 29 March 1922, daughter of William Beriah Gano and wife Jeannette de la Fayette Grissim). His wife and mother-in-law (Grissim) were descendants of Owen Tudor, second husband of Catherine of Valois, Dowager Queen of England.[2][3] Their honeymoon in England, France and Germany was a "journey around the world" for them, and they returned to Hughes' home at 1404 Crawford Street, Houston, Texas with very little money.

Hughes drill bits[edit]

Hughes engaged in various mining business endeavors before capitalizing on the Spindletop oil discovery in Texas, as a result of which he began devoting his full-time to the oil business. On 20 November 1908, he filed the basic patents for the Sharp-Hughes Rock Bit, and on 10 August 1909 was granted U.S. Patent 930,758 and U.S. Patent 930,759 for this rock drill. Hughes' two-cone rotary drill bit penetrated medium and hard rock with ten times the speed of any former bit, and its development revolutionized oil well drilling. It is unlikely that he actually invented the two-cone roller bit, but his legal experience helped him in understanding that its patents were important for capitalizing on the invention. According to the PBS show History Detectives, several other people and companies had produced similar drill bits years earlier. In its initial tests at Goose Creek Oilfield in 1909 where the first offshore drilling for oil in Texas was occurring in Harris County, 21 mi (34 km) southeast of Houston on Galveston Bay, the Sharp-Hughes Rock Bit penetrated 14 ft (4.3 m) of hard rock in 11 hours which no previous equipment had been able to penetrate at all.

He co-founded the Sharp-Hughes Tool Company with Walter Benona Sharp, based in Houston, Texas in 1909, and after Sharp's death in 1912 took over management. Hughes began purchasing the Sharp stock immediately and by 1918 had acquired full ownership of the company. The essential asset of Hughes Tool Company (renamed) were the 10 August 1909 patents for his dual-cone rotary drill bit. The fees for licensing this technology were the basis of Hughes Tool's revenues, and by 1914 the dual-cone roller bit was used in eleven U.S. states and in thirteen foreign countries. After Hughes Sr.'s death in 1924, his only child, Howard R. Hughes, Jr., assumed control of the company as its sole owner. Nine years later Hughes Tool Company engineers created a tri-cone rotary drill bit, and from 1934 to 1951 Hughes' market share approached 100%. Sharp-Hughes Rock Bit found virtually all the oil discovered during the initial years of rotary drilling, and Hughes Jr. became the wealthiest person in the world. During 1972, he made the tool company public and realized $150 million the day it sold.[4]

In 2009, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Designated Hughes Two-Cone Drill Bit as a Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark.[5]


  1. ^ Donald L. Barlett, James B. Steele. Howard Hughes: His Life and Madness. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2004.
  2. ^ Tombo do Guarda-Mór Guarda-Mór-Edição de Publicações Multimédia, Lda Lisboa, 2000
  3. ^ - Howard Robard Hughes Jr
  4. ^ Texas Monthly: Read Me. Texas, Texas Monthly
  5. ^ Hughes Two-Cone Drill Bit Designated a Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark by The American Society of Mechanical Engineers, August 10, 2009. PDF