Hilton’s 100th Birthday: A Leader In Innovation

Hilton 100th Birthday Red Velvet Cupcakes
Red velvet cupcakes, a tribute to the Waldorf Astoria’s red velvet cake.

Who knew that the Hilton hotel chain had notched up so many firsts, among them the chocolate brownie, the red velvet cake, Thousand Island dressing, the Waldorf salad, the martini and the piña colada? Phew. And that’s not to mention being the first to install televisions in guest rooms (at the Roosevelt Hilton in New York City in 1947) and being an early adopter of air-conditioning in its hotels.

Hilton was the first to standardize the concept of room service in hotels, growing it from its origins in the Waldorf Astoria New York throughout the industry. It was the first to install a multi-hotel reservations system (1948) and was the first to open an airport hotel (San Francisco Airport Hilton, 1959).

Hilton was an early adopter of air conditioning in guest rooms and public space, as highlighted in this 1956 ad.
Hilton was an early adopter of air conditioning, as highlighted in this 1956 ad. © 2019 Hilton

The Hilton story began 100 years ago this month, when Conrad Hilton bought the small, 40-room Mobley Hotel in Cisco, Texas. He was originally planning to buy a bank but when the price was raised at the last minute, he broke off negotiations and bought the hotel instead. The town was booming and the Mobley was registering 300% occupancy because the guests were mainly oil field workers who rented the rooms in eight hour shifts.

It was a decision that would change travel forever.

Conrad Hilton's first purchase: the Mobley Hotel in 1919.
Conrad Hilton’s first purchase: the Mobley Hotel in 1919. © 2019 Hilton
© 2019 Hilton

Hilton reportedly once said: “To achieve big things you need to have big dreams.” And dream he did. Over the past century, the hotel group has expanded to include 17 brands and more than 5,700 properties in 113 countries. It has welcomed 3 billion guests and provided employment opportunities for more than 10 million people.

“Yet we still have big dreams to pioneer the next century of hospitality,” said Fiona Pryde, general manager at the Hilton Surfers Paradise Hotel.

Hilton 100th Birthday Oysters
So many oysters! Part of the amazing spread celebrating Hilton’s 100th birthday.

Pryde was speaking at a glamorous cocktail party which was marking a few key moments, including the 100th birthday of the Hilton brand and the hotel’s acquisition by the Sydney-based Schwartz family. It is the first Queensland acquisition for Schwartz, which has a string of hotels and other business interests in NSW.

Following on from a speech by the Queensland Minister for Tourism, Kate Jones, Dr Jerry Schwartz promised to transform the Hilton into “an absolute stand-out 5-star hotel in Surfers Paradise”.

Hilton 100th Birthday Pina Colada
Hilton 100th Birthday Pina Colada Cocktails
Piña coladas, the ultimate tropical drink.

Doubling as a charity fundraiser, the celebration in the hotel ballroom featured live entertainment and an array of cocktails and canapés that paid tribute to innovations from the kitchens and bars of Hilton hotels around the world.

There was plenty of martini flowing, in a nod to the martini that was first mixed at New York’s Waldorf Astoria in the 1890s (Hilton bought the hotel in 1949). There were dainty little canapés of Waldorf salad, the mix of apples, celery, grapes and walnuts in a mayonnaise dressing created by the Waldorf’s original maître d’hôtel.

Hilton 100th Birthday Fancy a Martini
Fancy a martini, anyone?

Prawns in shot glasses were served with Thousand Island dressing, reputedly created for the then owner of the Waldorf, George Boldt, who asked for salad dressing while on a boat trip around the Thousand Islands in upper New York State. Short of the usual ingredients, the chef invented the mayonnaise-based dressing that is still loved today.

Hilton 100th Birthday Waldorf Salad
Dainty canapés of Waldorf salad and other morsels.

Adding a tropical note to the party was a palm-fringed cocktail bar serving piña colada, the ultimate tropical drink. The cocktail of rum, coconut cream and pineapple juice was invented by a bartender at the Caribe Hilton San Juan in the 1950s.

Hilton 100th Birthday Dessert
Hilton 100th Birthday Dessert Buffet
The spectacular dessert buffet.

Today you can buy a brownie at just about any bakery but in 1893 the only place they could be found was the Palmer House in Chicago (bought by Hilton in 1945 and now known as Palmer House – A Hilton Hotel). A creative pastry chef came up with the recipe for this much-loved chocolate dessert, and exactly the same recipe is still used in the hotel kitchen today.

As well as brownies, the cocktail party’s impressive dessert buffet featured red velvet cupcakes, a nod to the red velvet cake which is said to have come from the Waldorf Astoria kitchens.

John Lennon penned the lyrics of Imagine on the stationery of the New York Hilton.
John Lennon penned the lyrics of Imagine on the stationery of the New York Hilton.

Conrad Hilton was clearly a dreamer, but there was another dreamer with a connection to Hilton. John Lennon penned the lyrics of Imagine on the stationery of the New York Hilton. A copy of his scrawl was proudly displayed at the birthday bash. His handwriting is awful but we all know what a legendary contribution it was.

Hilton 100th Birthday Desserts

Christine and Maurie were guests at the Hilton Surfers Paradise Hotel’s 100th birthday celebration.

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