The first Hilton Hotel came in 1920 when Conrad Hilton, intending to buy a Texas bank, witnessed the booming Ranger oilfield. He bought a motel in nearby Cisco instead.
In October 1917, the McClesky No. 1 well had revealed an oil-bearing sand at about 3,400 feet and launched the world-famous Ranger oilfield boom. Thanks to the “Roaring Ranger” field, eight refineries were soon under construction.
The Ranger field and other North Texas discoveries gained international fame by eliminating critical oil shortages during World War I. Its oil allowed the Allies to “float to victory on a wave of oil,” according to Britain’s Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon.
Investment capital and aspiring millionaires soon overwhelmed the little town of Ranger as well as nearby Cisco, where the Texas Central Railroad crossed the Texas & Pacific. The drilling boom brought newspaper accounts of fortunes being made. But only one tale has endured of a fortune made because oil was easier to find than a good place to sleep.
Conrad Hilton learned the banking business from the ground up in his hometown of San Antonio, N.M. As a young man with less than $3,000 in capital, he founded a successful bank there. He believed he had found his life’s work. World War I interrupted his plans, prompting Hilton to sell his bank and serve his country.
Returning from France after the Armistice, Hilton set out for Albuquerque determined to start again in the banking business. But times had changed and banking opportunities had dried up. Hilton couldn’t get back into the business. A friend suggested Texas, where the Ranger oilfield was making millionaires. Hilton boarded the train bound for Wichita Falls.
Thousands of oilfield workers rushed to Cisco and other Eastland County towns following the “Roaring Ranger” discovery well of October 1917.
However, just as he had found in Albuquerque, there was no room for a newcomer in the banking community of Wichita Falls. The same was true farther south in Breckenridge. Disappointed but determined, Hilton continued down the Texas Central Railroad to the Cisco railway station, just east of Ranger. He was 31 years old and determined to build a banking empire.
With $5,011 in his pockets, Hilton walked to the first bank he saw in Cisco and found to his delight that it was for sale for $75,000. Accustomed to finding financial backers and undeterred by the $69,999 shortfall, he wired the absentee owner in Kansas City to close the deal. The seller sent back a telegram tersely raising the price to $80,000.
In his autobiography, Be My Guest, Hilton recalled telling the startled telegraph operator, “He can keep his bank!” He then strode out of the station and across the street to a two-story, red brick building boosting itself as the Mobley Hotel.
Henry Mobley, the hotel’s owner, was making the most he could off of the Ranger oil boom. His lobby was constantly packed with tired roughnecks impatiently awaiting for a room. Mobley rented the hotel’s 40 beds in eight-hour blocks corresponding to shifts.
Hilton joined the crowd in line, suddenly alert to an unanticipated opportunity. He approached Mobley, who had become convinced the real money was in oil, not in the boarding house business. Before long, they closed a $40,000 deal and Hilton had his first hotel. He would never return to banking.
Today, the restored Mobley Hotel, which Hilton once referred to as “a cross between a flophouse and a gold mine,” serves as a museum and community center. Hilton later regarded his Cisco purchase as his “first love…a great lady.”