Today is the birthday of Howard Hughes (December 24, 1905–April 5, 1976). He was, of course, “an American entrepreneur, known during his lifetime as one of the most financially successful individuals in the world. He first made a name for himself as a film producer, and then became an influential figure in the aviation industry. Later in life, he became known for his eccentric behavior and reclusive lifestyle, oddities that were caused in part by a worsening obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD) and chronic pain from a plane crash.”
As a maverick film tycoon, Hughes gained prominence in Hollywood beginning in the late 1920s, when he made big-budget and often controversial films like The Racket (1928), Hell’s Angels (1930), Scarface (1932), and The Outlaw (1943).
Hughes formed the Hughes Aircraft Company in 1932, hiring numerous engineers and designers. He spent the rest of the 1930s setting multiple world air speed records and building the Hughes H-1 Racer and H-4 Hercules (the “Spruce Goose”). He acquired and expanded Trans World Airlines and later acquired Air West, renaming it Hughes Airwest. Hughes was included in Flying Magazine’s list of the 51 Heroes of Aviation, ranked at No. 25. Today, his legacy is maintained through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Howard Hughes’ connection with the Houston-based Hughes Tool Company is fairly well-known. It is less well-known that Hughes started a brewery in Houston, on the grounds of the Hughes Tool Company, called Gulf Brewing Company. Hughes opened the brewery at the end of Prohibition, and its profits helped the tool company survive the Depression.
Gulf Brewing Company produced Grand Prize beer, which for a time was the best-selling beer in Texas. It has been reported that a beer called Grand Prize beer was also produced prior to Prohibition, by the Houston Ice and Brewing Company. While that may be accurate, any confusion is likely connected to the fact that Hughes’ Grand Prize brewery was operated by the man who served as brewmaster at Houston Ice and Brewing before Prohibition. In 1913, while he was brewmaster at the Houston Ice and Brewing Company, Belgian-Houstonian Frantz Brogniez was awarded Grand Prize at the last International Conference of Breweries for his Southern Select beer – beating out 4,096 competing brewers. Brogniez left Houston during Prohibition, but Hughes convinced him to return to serve as brewmaster for the Gulf Brewing Company. Brogniez’ son operated the brewery after his father’s death.