Howard Hughes: manufacturer, aviator, film producer and recluse. 1905 - 1976

Born in Houston, Texas on 24th September 1905 (or December, according to some sources), he was orphaned at age 17, and studied at the California Institute of Technology and the Rice Institute of Technology before taking over his father's oil equipment company (the Hughes Tool Company), and inheriting around $900,000.

Hollywood Years

In 1925 he moved to Hollywood, to follow in the footsteps of his uncle (the novelist Robert Hughes), to pursue his dream of producing films, and began a career which spanned over 30 years, introducing such stars as Jean Harlow, Paul Muni and Jane Russell to worldwide filmgoers. In 1948 he bought a controlling interest in RKO Pictures and bought the whole company in 1954, remaining as chairman of the board until 1957.


  • Swell Hogan (1926) unreleased
  • Two Arabian Knights (1927) Academy Award winner
  • The Mating Call (1928)
  • Hell's Angels (1930)
  • The Front Page (1931)
  • Cock of the Air (1932)
  • Sky Devils (1932)
  • Scarface (1932)
  • The Outlaw (1943)
  • The Sin of Harold Diddlebock (1947)
  • Vendetta (1950)
  • The Whip Hand (1951)
  • Two Tickets to Broadway (1951)
  • The Las Vegas Story (1952)
  • Second Chance (1953)
  • Louisiana Territory (1953)
  • The French Line (1954)
  • Son of Sinbad (1955)
  • Underwater! (1955)
  • The Conqueror (1956)
  • Jet Pilot (1957)


As is evident from many of his films (for 'Hell's Angels' he created his own air force of 87 vintage Fokkers and Sopwith Camels), Hughes had always been keen on aircraft and flying. Having founded the Hughes Aircraft Company in 1933, he went on to design both aeroplanes and the associated technology, including radio equipment. In 1935 he established a new speed record of 352 mph in one of his own designs, and set a new US coast-to-coast record two years later. His involvement with companies such as Lockheed and TWA also enabled him to pursue his dream of making flying an everyday activity for everyone.

In 1942 he began his affair with the flying boat which came to be known as the Spruce Goose. This eight-engined monstrosity was designed to carry up to 750 passengers, and once built, only ever flew once, with Hughes at the controls.

The Recluse

Following his first nervous breakdown in 1944, he became increasingly reclusive. Never very happy in the public eye, in 1950 he went into complete seclusion, refusing to venture out even to answer antitrust charges in regard to Trans World Airlines (he refused to appear in court and lost control of the organization by default).

After a second breakdown in 1958 he began moving from one place to another (including the Bahamas, Canada, England, Las Vegas and Mexico),taking elaborate precautions to arrive secretly at luxury hotels, and employing only male members of the Mormon church as aides.

His behaviour became increasingly eccentric - his diet was meager, he neglected his personal appearance and was obsessive about hygiene. Working for days at a time, without sleep, in blacked-out rooms, his health suffered as he became emaciated and reliant on drugs. He finally died in an airplane en route to Apapulco to seek medical treatment. He died intestate, many alleged wills being disputed and declared forgeries.

Although popular belief places his birthday at December 24th 1905 he was actually three months old at the time. He was born on September 24th 1905.

If you've never seen the flying boat (Hughes hated the name Spruce Goose... the airplane was mostly birch) it's definitely worth seeing. It's currently on permanent display in Oregon. I saw it in Long Beach while they were disassembling it for its move. The size of it is mind blowing. I have tried hundreds of times to explain to people how big it is and have failed miserably... The closest I've gotten is to explain that you could play a whole football game on the top of its wings.

The flying boat's one and only flight lasted less than one minute and was less than a mile in distance at under 100 feet of altitude, yet it's still one of the most celebrated moments in aviation history.

Wertperch asked for the reference to his real birthdate:

My source is from page 21 of "Hughes, The private diaries, memos and letters" Their source is page 120/121 of the baptismal record at the Saint John's Episcopal Church, it reads,

Howard Robard Hughes Jr.
Born: September 24th, 1905
Baptised: October 7th, 1906
Parents: Howard R. and Allene Hughes
Witnesses: Mrs. W.B. Sharp and Rev. R.C. McIlwain

Also, on page 22 it notes that his aunt Annette signed a notarized replacement birth certificate in 1941 that had December 24th, 1905 listed as his birthdate. This date was the date carved on his gravestone.

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