February 24, 2024
Discover the success story of Howard Hughes and how he made his fortune through film, aerospace, real estate, airlines, and defense contracts. Learn valuable insights and advice from Hughes' life for aspiring entrepreneurs and investors.


Howard Hughes was an American entrepreneur, inventor, and filmmaker who amassed an immense fortune through his business ventures. Although Hughes was born into immense wealth, a considerable portion of his net worth came from his investments in various industries, including film, aerospace, real estate, airlines, and defense contracts. His contributions to these industries, coupled with his personal interests and pursuits, made him one of the most successful businessmen of the 20th century. In this article, we explore Howard Hughes’ life and legacy, specifically how he made his money, and draw valuable insights that entrepreneurs and investors can learn from his successes.

Early Life and Inheritance

Howard Hughes was born in Houston, Texas, on December 24, 1905. His father, Howard Robard Hughes Sr., was an inventor and successful businessman who made his fortune in the oil industry. His mother, Allene Stone Gano, was a socialite who came from a wealthy family. Hughes inherited his father’s business acumen and wealth, and at the age of 18, he inherited approximately $425 million from his father’s estate when he passed away.

Despite his immense wealth, Hughes sought to make a name for himself in the business world. He invested in a range of early ventures, from new businesses in the oil industry to real estate projects. His early investments helped grow his wealth, and allowed him to finance later endeavors in the aerospace, airline, and entertainment industries.

Film Industry

Hughes began his foray into the entertainment industry as a film producer in 1926. He produced two silent films and directed a partially stripped-down version of Hell’s Angels, a World War I air epic. The film became a commercial success, grossing over $8 million. Hughes produced a number of other films such as Scarface and Two Arabian Knights, and by the end of his film career, he averaged a profit margin of over 200%.

However, Hughes’ films were not always profitable, and he faced several production issues that led to delays and cost-overruns. Despite these challenges, Hughes gained a reputation as a filmmaker who delivered quality films, and several of his movies won Academy Awards. Across his career, Hughes’ films grossed over $150 million, essentially setting the stage for his later business ventures.

Aerospace Industry

Hughes became particularly interested in the aerospace industry after setting a world air speed record in 1935 while flying his own manufactured plane, the H-1 Racer. In 1939, Hughes used funds from his inherited wealth to purchase a controlling interest in the Hughes Aircraft Company, an aircraft manufacturer that had already secured defense contracts from the US government. In addition to his work on aircraft, Hughes used his background in the aviation industry to design a new type of helicopter, the first working model of which was created in 1942.

The Hughes Aircraft Company quickly became one of the country’s largest defense contractors, developing cutting-edge technology such as radar systems and guided missiles. The company also produced several famous planes, including the H-4 Hercules, also called the “Spruce Goose,” the largest plane in the world at the time. Hughes’ involvement in the aerospace industry not only cemented his reputation as a pioneer in the field but also contributed significantly to his net worth.

Real Estate

Hughes’ ventures in real estate were particularly successful. Over the years, he purchased numerous properties throughout the United States, including sizable investments in Las Vegas real estate. One of his most well-known investments was the purchase of the Desert Inn in 1947, which he later expanded by purchasing nearby properties and constructing a golf course. He also acquired several other hotels in Las Vegas and helped transform the city into a mecca for entertainment and gambling. By the end of his life, Hughes’ real estate investments were valued at well over $300 million.


Hughes’ involvement in the airline industry started in 1939 when he purchased controlling interest in Trans World Airlines (TWA), which he later helped transform into one of the leading airlines in the world. In 1953, a Senate investigation revealed that Hughes held a controlling interest in several airlines, including Northeast Airlines, over which he fought a legal battle to gain control. Following this investigation, Hughes sold his interest in TWA in 1960, but his ventures in the airline business helped him amass a significant fortune.

Defense Contracts

Hughes’ successful aerospace company secured numerous defense contracts over the years. In the 1950s and 1960s, the company was awarded defense contracts worth billions of dollars, including aircraft for the United States Air Force. Hughes’ connections and influence in the government allowed him to obtain favorable contracts and expand his business. The revenue generated from these contracts was significant and contributed to Hughes’ overall business success.

Personal Investments

In addition to his numerous ventures in various industries, Hughes also dabbled in personal investments in commodities and stocks. He invested in a range of industries, including mining, aviation, and entertainment, among many others. Although his personal investments did not contribute to a significant proportion of his net worth, they are a testament to Hughes’ business acumen and his ability to spot valuable opportunities.


In conclusion, Howard Hughes was a remarkable businessman who made his fortune through a range of ventures in various industries. His early inheritance, coupled with his investment in the film industry, aerospace, real estate, airlines, defense contracts, and personal investments, allowed him to amass a considerable fortune that made him one of the richest people in the world. His life and legacy offer valuable insights and advice for aspiring entrepreneurs and investors who wish to emulate his business successes.

By understanding how Hughes created his wealth, aspiring entrepreneurs and investors can learn to identify lucrative opportunities, take calculated risks, and develop a strong business acumen. In this way, they can hope to achieve the same level of business success that Hughes enjoyed during his lifetime.

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