When Conrad Hilton first laid eyes on the two-story, 40-room Mobley Hotel in Cisco, Texas in 1919, it looked “like a convenient place to sleep. Nothing more,” he wrote in his memoir, "Be My Guest."
Hilton had come to oil-crazy Cisco to make his fortune, with plans to a buy a bank. But when the deal fell apart, he thought some rest would help him figure out his next move.
He didn’t get the rest, as the hotel was full with oil workers, sleeping in eight-hour shifts. But when the owner mentioned the hotel was for sale, he instead heard his wake-up call.
While Hilton may not have been dreaming of the international empire with nearly 6,000 hotels that is Hilton today, he did have a vision of what this singular property could one day become.
That vision enabled Hilton to resist resting on his laurels and to keep pushing forward, finding new and innovative ways to better serve guests, anticipating their needs before they did themselves. “He was always learning,” says Mark Young, Director of the Hospitality Industry Archives at the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel & Restaurant Management, University of Houston. “No matter how old he was, he was always learning things, and he would apply it to the company.”
As the company grew over the coming decades, it faced countless changes and challenges, ranging from the Depression, to World War II, to shifting traveler tastes and dramatic shifts in technology. But one thing that didn’t change was its core pioneering spirit and vision for what hospitality could be, which fueled Hilton’s path forward.
That spirit of innovation has continued throughout the company’s nearly 100-year history, right on until today.
Here are just some of Hilton’s firsts, both in history and throughout the hospitality industry:
Conrad Hilton bought his first hotel, the Mobley Hotel, in Cisco, Texas.
Conrad Hilton opened the first hotel to carry the Hilton name, the Dallas Hilton. He also showed an early insight into forward-thinking design: In the pre-central air era, he didn’t put any guest rooms on the west wall, where the sun hit hardest in the summer.
The Waco Hilton added innovations including cold running water and air conditioning to common areas. Later, in the 1950s, Hilton was one of the first to make a major investment in air conditioning. This large, multimillion-dollar bet had an unexpected side effect: It created a year-round convention business for its hotels in Chicago and New York which previously did not exist.
Hilton was the first to standardize the concept of room service in hotels, growing it from its origins in the Waldorf Astoria New York throughout the industry.
Hilton became the first coast-to-coast hotel group in the U.S. with the purchase of the Roosevelt and Plaza hotels in New York.
Hilton Hotels Corp. was formed and became the first hotel company post-WWII to sell stock in New York. Hilton was listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1947.
Hilton was the first hotel to install televisions in guest rooms at the Roosevelt Hilton in New York City.
Hilton was the first to install multi-hotel reservations system, the beginning of the modern-day reservations system.
Conrad Hilton was the first hotelier featured on the cover of Time Magazine, following his purchase of the Waldorf Astoria in New York. He later became the first hotelier to make Time’s cover twice when he appeared in the July 19, 1963 issue.
Hilton created its first special amenity for female travelers – a sewing kit and booklet with helpful names and telephone numbers. This led to the 1965 launch of Lady Hilton, the first hotel concept designed for female travelers.
Ramón “Monchito” Marrero, the bartender at the Caribe Hilton in Puerto Rico, experimented with a new recipe that blended rum, coconut cream and pineapple juice in an icy beverage. After three months of perfecting the recipe, Marrero felt that the drink finally captured the flavors of Puerto Rico and named it the “Pina Colada.” The new cocktail was served by Marrero for 35 years and became the official drink of Puerto Rico in 1978.
Hilton struck the largest real estate deal in history, at the time, with the purchase of Statler Hotels for $111 million dollars in 1954.
First hotel built from the ground up in Europe after WWII, the Hilton Istanbul.
First in-room direct dial telephones at the Waldorf Astoria.
Hilton opened its first airport hotel, the San Francisco Airport Hilton, and pioneered the airport hotel concept for the modern, jet-setting business traveler.
Conrad Hilton was the first hotelier to be featured in a syndicated cartoon, Batman.
Developed first computerized central reservations system, a breakthrough in customer service.
Globalized the in-room minibar with Hong Kong Hilton.
First to have a hotel with both LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and Green Seal certifications.
First hotel to scale the use of smartphones as room keys with Hilton’s Digital Key technology.
Hilton introduced Connected Room, a truly mobile-centric hotel room.
Hilton opened the world’s first underwater hotel suite at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island.