After graduating from MMA, Hughes attended Harvard University, and then later law school at the University of Iowa, after which he practiced law at his father's firm. Not long into his practice, however, Hughes decided law was not his calling and began investing his time and talents in prospecting.
A classic entrepreneur, Hughes experienced many failures before eventually finding success. He began prospecting lead and zinc in Midwest locales, then later oil in Texas. While he found some success, he was often thwarted by inferior drill bits.
When he and his business partner, William Sharp, founded Sharp-Hughes Tool Company, they invented the Sharp-Hughes Rotary Dual-Cone Rotary Drill Bit during the Texas Oil Boom. As it turned out, Hughes’ legal education was one of his most valuable assets as a businessman, providing him the knowledge of the importance of patents and how incremental they were in capitalizing on an invention.
The Sharp-Hughes Rock Bit penetrated medium and hard rock with ten times the speed of any former bit. In its initial tests at Goose Creek Oilfield in 1909, the Sharp-Hughes Rock Bit penetrated 14 feet of hard rock in 11 hours – an achievement previous equipment had not been able to penetrate at all.
This invention revolutionized oil well drilling. In five short years, it was being used in 11 U.S. states and 13 different countries.
His company, later renamed Hughes Tool Company after Hughes bought Sharp’s share of the company after his partner’s death, made the majority of its revenues from the fees for licensing this technology.
In 1924, Hughes died of a heart attack at the age of 54, leaving his only child, Howard Hughes Jr., a 75% owner of Hughes Tool Company at the age of 19. His son would then buy the remaining 25% of the company and diversify their holdings in filmmaking, aviation and the casino industry, but ultimately kept his father's core tool manufacturing business as the company’s primary operation and source of revenue.
When Hughes Tool Company engineers invented the Tri-Cone Rotary Drill Bit, Hughes Jr. became one of the wealthiest people in the world. In 1987, Hughes Tool Company merged with Baker International to form Baker-Hughes, a large oilfield service company still operating in Texas.
Still considered a pioneer of the industry, the Sharp-Hughes Rotary Rock Drill Bit was designated a Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 2009.
MMA is proud to recognize this outstanding alum for his achievements as a businessman and a prospector during one of history’s most competitive eras.