About our founder

Born on Christmas Day to humble roots in territorial New Mexico Conrad N. Hilton became an international business pioneer, living out the American Dream. Never losing his sense of responsibility for others, he left nearly his entire fortune to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation with a mandate to “relieve the suffering, the distressed and destitute” without regard to race, religion, or country. True to form, his gravestone inscription reads, Charity is a supreme virtue and the great channel through which the mercy of God is passed on to mankind. Christmas is forever.”

Conrad N. Hilton (1887-1979)

Guided by the example of his German-American mother and Norwegian immigrant father, Conrad Hilton's life was grounded in a deep faith in God and country, an intrinsic belief in hard work, and the ability to "dream big." He was also profoundly influenced by the Catholic Church and its Sisters. He served his country as a representative in New Mexico’s first state legislature before enlisting in World War I. After the Armistice, he heeded his mother’s advice to “find your own frontier.” Conrad Hilton ventured to Texas to buy a bank…and bought a hotel instead.

International hotel magnate

The Waldorf Astoria Hotel

Known for his optimism, honesty, and unfailing sense of fairness, Conrad Hilton eventually created the largest and most profitable international hotel empire of his era. He purchased his first hotel in Cisco, Texas, during the 1919 oil boom, upon learning that room occupancy turned over three times a day. Thirty years later his acquisition of the famed Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City made national headlines. When Hilton Hotels Corporation acquired control of Statler Hotels in 1954, the real estate transaction was the largest the world had known to date. His business acumen was built on a keen sense of property values, good timing, patience and skill in negotiating, an understanding of financial dealings, and a singular talent for “picking the right man for the right job.” He attributed his success to his philosophy that “man with God’s help and personal dedication is capable of anything he can dream.” Among industry firsts, Hilton Hotels developed the concept of franchising hotels, launched the first airport hotel, introduced the first multi-hotel reservation system, and became the first U.S. coast-to-coast hotel chain.

Conrad Hilton believed in the power of travel to foster understanding among peoples of the world. He embraced this philosophy in the Hilton corporate motto, "World Peace Through International Trade and Travel." Hilton International promoted, financed, developed, and managed hotels in foreign countries at the invitation of the American government or foreign governments, and thereby contributed to the local economy. Conrad Hilton always insisted that local building materials and furnishings be used, and local people trained to staff the hotels – policies which enhanced the American image abroad.

Statesman and humanitarian

Conrad Hilton shaking hands with President Eisnehower

In addition to his reputation as a leading hotelier, Conrad Hilton was a fervent patriot, international statesman, and ambassador of goodwill. He hosted the first Congressional Prayer Breakfast in 1953 with President Dwight D. Eisenhower. He spoke often about world peace and vigorously advocated international cooperation and progress in developing countries.

His concern for the disadvantaged was genuine and deep, and he expressed it by donating and helping to raise significant funds to advance key causes. Catholic Sisters were frequently a conduit for his philanthropy in the United States and overseas. He left essentially his entire estate to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation to alleviate human suffering throughout the world, establishing a perpetual legacy of global humanitarianism.

Hilton leadership continues

Barron and Steve Hilton stand before a portrait of Conrad Hilton

Today the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation is guided by the intentions expressed in our founder's last will. Our board of directors and our staff include Hilton family members, and the Foundation continues to operate as a family philanthropy, deeply influenced by the principles cherished by Conrad Hilton. Barron Hilton, son of Conrad, served as Chairman of the Foundation board until 2012 and is now Chairman Emeritus. Steven M. Hilton, grandson of Conrad, serves as President and CEO, and was named Chairman in 2012.