The man who started Hilton Hotels, Conrad Hilton left his fortune to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. In life, he believed in the power of international travel and trade to foster world peace, and he left guidance for the Foundation to alleviate human suffering around the world, without regard to race, religion, or country.
A history of Hilton family philanthropy
Conrad N. Hilton, founder of Hilton Hotels, established the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation as a philanthropic trust in 1944. In 1950, the Foundation was legally established as a nonprofit corporation, separate from Hilton Hotels Corporation. Upon his death in 1979, Conrad Hilton left nearly his entire estate to the Hilton Foundation. His son, Barron Hilton (1927-2019), joined the Foundation in 1950 and served as board chair from 2007 to 2012. Over the years, he contributed many millions to the work of the Foundation, and following his father’s example, in 2007, Barron Hilton pledged to leave 97% of his estate to the Foundation. Steven M. Hilton, son of Barron and grandson of Conrad, joined the Foundation in 1983 and was named president in 1998, CEO in 2005, and chairman in 2012. He retired as President and CEO at the end of 2015. Other Hilton family members serve on the Foundation board.
Founded on a genuine concern for less fortunate people
Conrad Hilton built a thriving global hotel enterprise, and throughout his life, his genuine concern for those less fortunate led him to charitable giving. He made personal gifts to benefit educational institutions and hospitality education programs, hospitals, programs affiliated with churches of various denominations, and—a group that had profoundly influenced him since childhood—the Catholic Sisters. From the Foundation’s beginning until Conrad Hilton’s death in 1979, we awarded $7.6 million in grants.
Conrad Hilton left virtually his entire estate to the Foundation. In his last will, he charged the Foundation to:
- relieve the suffering, the distressed, and the destitute
- shelter little children with the umbrella of your charity
- support the Catholic Sisters, who devote their love and life’s work for the good of mankind,
- let there be no territorial, religious, or other color restrictions on your benefactions.
The last will leaves latitude for the board of directors to translate noble goals into specific, practical actions.
Charting a course to measurable impact
In 1981, the board elected Donald H. Hubbs to the Foundation’s board of directors and named him president. An attorney and CPA, Hubbs had worked closely with both Conrad and Barron Hilton and had managed the Foundation since 1969 in his capacity as assistant secretary treasurer. He and the board charted the Foundation’s course, implementing a major project approach while maintaining a steadfast loyalty to Conrad Hilton’s intent. Hubbs served as chairman and CEO from 1998 until his retirement in 2005.
Until his passing in 2019, Barron Hilton, son of Conrad Hilton, has played a guiding role on the Foundation’s board of directors since 1950. Following a successful career at the helm of Hilton Hotels Corporation, he served as chairman of the Foundation from 2007 to 2012. Like his father, Barron Hilton committed his personal fortune to the Foundation. His contribution surpasses the initial amount that Conrad Hilton left to the Foundation, making Barron Hilton the organization’s most significant donor. His leadership, together with his financial contributions, has enabled the Foundation to significantly increase its impact well into the future.
Steven M. Hilton, grandson of Conrad Hilton, joined the Foundation staff in 1983 and was elected to the board of directors in 1989. In 1998, he became president, in 2005 his responsibilities expanded to include CEO, and in 2012 he was named chairman. He retired as President and CEO at the end of 2015. Mentored by Barron Hilton and Donald Hubbs, Steve Hilton and the board of directors have led the Foundation to pursue deeper, field-specific expertise in our focus areas, and to take an active approach to increase our impact through partnerships with grantees, governments, corporations, and other foundations and funders.
Engaging new generations in the Hilton family legacy
In 2005, the board of directors resolved to ensure that direct descendants of our founder will forever constitute a majority of the board. The Foundation’s Generations in Giving program was launched to cultivate the philanthropic spirit among successive generations of Hilton family members and prepare them for board service. Today’s board of directors includes several generations of Hilton family members.
About our founder, Conrad N. Hilton (1887-1979)
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.”
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
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 Eisenhower 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.
Last will and testament
When Conrad N. Hilton died in 1979, he left virtually all of his estate to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. In the Foundation’s first published annual report (1982-83), then-president Donald H. Hubbs wrote: “The task of accomplishing some positive change in a complex and strife-ridden world is not an easy one, but we welcome it. As we embark on this era of expanded responsibility, we do so with the hope that we can build a strong foundation from which to carry out the wishes of our founder, Conrad Nicholson Hilton.”
Today, the Foundation’s work continues to be guided by intentions expressed in Conrad Hilton’s last will and testament. His words are prominently displayed in our office as a constant reminder of the Foundation’s underlying principles. Our strategic initiatives and major programs reflect many of his deepest concerns. Like our founder, we are determined to succeed. This requires investing in innovative approaches, forging strong partnerships, measuring progress, sharing knowledge, and building on successes.
Excerpts from Conrad Hilton’s last will
“Love one another, for that is the whole law; so our fellow men deserve to be loved and encouraged—never to be abandoned to wander alone in poverty and darkness.”
“There is a natural law, a Divine law, that obliges you and me to relieve the suffering, the distressed and the destitute.”
“Charity is a supreme virtue, and the great channel through which the mercy of God is passed on to mankind. It is the virtue that unites men and inspires their noblest efforts.”
“Love one another, for that is the whole law; so our fellow men deserve to be loved and encouraged—never to be abandoned to wander alone in poverty and darkness. The practice of charity will bind us—will bind all men in one great brotherhood.”
“As the funds you will expend have come from many places in the world, so let there be no territorial, religious, or color restrictions on your benefactions.”