Be His Guest: How Conrad Hilton Made Hotels Better than Homes

Be His Guest: How Conrad Hilton Made Hotels Better than Homes

History Hangout: Conversation with Megan Elias


Hilton Hotels started in Texas and swelled into a globe-straddling hospitality behemoth. Along the way company founder Conrad Hilton kept ideas about affordable luxury at the center of his business model. Among the affordable luxuries on offer in Hilton Hotels was an “eclectic modernist” design sensibility that placed the American consumer at the apex of a global cultural hierarchy. In her book project, Megan Elias, associate professor and director of the Gastronomy program at Boston University, traces a design history of Hilton Hotels.  

To uncover this story, Elias conducted research in multiple Hagley Library collections, such as the William Pahlmann Associates papers, and the Ernst Dichter papers. Among her key findings are how design decisions bore upon the business of hospitality at every turn. From architecture to furniture, food, and art, every aspect of the experience of a Hilton Hotel was crafted to appeal to consumer desires. Whereas hospitality had traditionally been an ersatz affair with uncomfortable boarding houses and public accommodations that compared unfavorably with the comforts of home. In the twentieth century, Hilton and competitor firms, transformed hospitality into an industry for the mass consumption of luxury, and made hotels better than homes.  

To support her research Dr. Elias received funding from the Center for the History of Business, Technology, & Society at the Hagley Museum & Library.

The audio only version of this program is available on our podcast.