Hotel magnate Conrad Hilton. Hilton was born in 1887 in what is today New Mexico, and worked in the family businesses (a general store, bank and hotel, among others) as a youth. After attending military school and college, he served in the newly formed New Mexico House of Representatives from 1912-1914, then started a bank of his own. When World War I broke out, he enlisted and ended up serving two years in the Quartermaster Corps.
When Hilton came back to the United States in 1919, he found himself staying the night in the failing Mobley Hotel in Cisco – a small, oil-booming Texas town near Dallas – after trying unsuccessfully to buy another bank. Thinking of how he could make the hotel more successful clarified the ideas that would ultimately enable him to build the Hilton Hotels empire, the first truly international hotel chain and a corporate embassy, of sorts, for the United States wherever it put down roots.
Hilton bought the Mobley and went to work. He was battered, but not broken, by the Great Depression of the 1930s. Securing loans, he went right back to the business of buying existing hotels and opening new ones – one at a time. He even got back some of the ones he had to sell during the downturn. When he died in California in 1979 at 91, Hilton Hotels was an international juggernaut in the industry, and remains so today.
At the same time, Hilton was looking to the future in another realm. He became a charter member of Post 58 in El Paso, Texas, just across the border from his home state of New Mexico – and remained a member of the post, regardless of where he was living, for the rest of his life. He even contributed to a Legion public relations campaign in 1961, writing that the first Legionnaires (of which he was one) had created "a vigorous defender of basic American principles of justice, freedom and equality of opportunity. I am proud to have been a charter member of my post." Hilton himself had created outposts of American prosperity in action around the world – an important message itself in the mid-20th century and beyond.