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In His Own Words

Hughes Tool Co. Hard Formation Rock Bit Type R-1, the engineering marvel on which the Hughes fortune was founded.
Hughes Tool Co. Hard Formation Rock Bit Type R-1, the engineering marvel on which the Hughes fortune was founded.

One of the most intriguing files in the Hughes collections concerns a three-part series Look magazine published about Hughes in 1954. This particular series, one of the earliest extended bios of Hughes to appear in the popular media, was different from the countless other magazine articles that appeared or would appear about Hughes in that Howard Hughes himself agreed to meet with the writer, Stephen White, an associate editor of Look magazine. Hughes had met with and sometimes talked at length to reporters, but usually in the context of a particular event such as his around-the-world flight or the Senate Hearings in 1947, but he seldom commented on his own life. Look agreed that Hughes could read drafts of the story and have the opportunity to suggest changes or revisions and to correct factual inaccuracies.

Hughes did meet with Stephen White on at least two occasions during which Hughes offered detailed page by page comments. In the effort to assure that the corrections were made as stipulated by Hughes, a complete verbatim transcript was produced of the meetings, so that what was preserved is not simply an annotated manuscript or list of suggested changes, but a transcript of a conversation between Hughes and the writer in which Hughes discusses and elaborates on various aspects of this life and career, in his own words. It is the closest we have of an off-the-record interview, with Hughes commenting upon and reacting to many of the stories, rumors and legends that had already grown up around him by 1954. By this date Hughes had already withdrawn from the public eye, but not to the extent he would later when he allowed no contact with the media at all. This transcript is a curious document of Howard Hughes talking about Howard Hughes, before Howard Hughes withdrew completely into secrecy behind his army of agents and assistants. Hughes in this conversation was at times remarkably candid about some of the events of his life, at the same time displaying a growing obsession with protecting his reputation in aviation. Some of his quotes and comments made their way into the published article but many did not. What follows are excepts from these transcripts.

The Beginings

Howard R. Hughes, Sr., with trench mining drill 1917 Hughes Tool plant in Houston in background
Howard R. Hughes, Sr., with trench mining drill 1917 Hughes Tool plant in Houston in background

Hughes: My only comment here is Howard Hughes came in contact with speed at an early age and then if you could strike out 'that even today he drives a Chevrolet substantially faster than the law of common sense would call advisable'...

...Good grades at Fessenden and was an outstanding student at Thatcher but I was not goaded by my father and this had nothing to do with my learning to fly. The first opportunity I had to come in contact with the operation of an aircraft was at New London, Connecticut. We were at that time staying at the Griswold Hotel on the Thames River and we attended the Yale-Harvard boat races. My father had been on one of the crews at Harvard. I doubt that it was the Varsity Crew but he had some interest in rowing at Harvard and he was ardently anxious that Harvard win the race and promised me anything I wanted if Harvard should win. This was back in the old days when Harvard used the short stroke and Yale the long stroke. I remember that very well. We sat in the train and watched the race. My father thought I was going to ask for a canoe with a sail on it which I had been badgering him all summer to buy for me, but instead when Harvard won and he was ready to pay off his obligation to me I asked to be permitted to fly with a pilot who had an old broken down seaplane anchored in the river in front of the hotel and my father begrudgingly consented. He didn't like he looks of the contraption, corroded wires and so forth and so on but he finally gave in and this was the very first contact I had with flying...The age is correct -- 14.

Interior of Hughes tool co. in Houston, lab where trench drill was developed
Interior of Hughes tool co. in Houston, lab where trench drill was developed

White: Had your father done any flying?

Hughes: No. None at all. He was an ardent automobile driver but to my knowledge had never been up in an airplane.

I remember the airplane very well. It was a Curtis Flying Boat - not a land plane on pontoons. It was a single hull flying boat and the engine was overhead. It was a by-plane, and I'm quite sure it was a pusher. I think the engine was ahead of the propeller. If I remember right it was an OX5V-8 engine...

Father, high living and extravagant...anything but an efficient manager.

Hughes: The men in Houston worship him - why not say "his father, though a brilliant inventor, was prone to be extravagant." I wouldn't like anything about his management.

  1. He owns a factory that pours money into his pocket. . . .
  2. He hasn't seen the factory for 15 years and
  3. he runs it by telephone...

Hughes: (1) That isn't true - it makes some money but that goes into the Aircraft, etc. It doesn't pour into my pocket (2) This isn't true either - it hasn't been 15 years

White: Well, how long has it been?

Hughes: I don't know exactly - but more like 18 months. And on (3) that would be very much resented by the people down there.

White: OK I'll fix it.

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