The birthplace of Howard Hughes is recorded as either Humble or Houston, Texas. The date remains uncertain due to conflicting dates from various sources. He repeatedly claimed that his birthday was on Christmas Eve. A 1941 affidavit birth certificate of Hughes that was signed by his aunt Annette Gano Lummis and Estelle Boughton Sharp states that he was born on December 24, 1905, in Harris County, Texas.[N 1] However, his certificate of baptism recorded on October 7, 1906, in the parish register of St. John's Episcopal Church in Keokuk, Iowa, listed his birth as September 24, 1905 without any reference to the place of birth.[N 2]
Hughes was the son of Allene Stone Gano and Howard R. Hughes Sr., a successful inventor and businessman from Missouri. He was of English, Welsh and some French Huguenot, ancestry, and was a descendant of John Gano, the minister who baptized George Washington. His father had patented the two-cone roller bit, which allowed rotary drilling for petroleum in previously inaccessible places. The senior Hughes made the shrewd and lucrative decision to commercialize the invention by leasing the bits instead of selling them, obtained several early patents, and founded the Hughes Tool Company in 1909. Hughes' uncle was the famed novelist, screenwriter, and film director Rupert Hughes.
At a young age, Hughes demonstrated an interest in science and technology. In particular, he had great engineering aptitude and built Houston's first "wireless" radio transmitter at age 11. He went on to be one of the first licensed ham radio operators in Houston, having the assigned callsign W5CY (originally 5CY). At 12, Hughes was photographed in the local newspaper, identified as being the first boy in Houston to have a "motorized" bicycle, which he had built from parts from his father's steam engine. He was an indifferent student, with a liking for mathematics, flying, and mechanics. He took his first flying lesson at 14, and attended Fessenden School in Massachusetts in 1921.
He later attended math and aeronautical engineering courses at Caltech. The red brick house where Hughes lived as a teenager at 3921 Yoakum St., Houston today serves as the headquarters of the Theology Department of the University of St. Thomas.
His mother Allene died in March 1922 from complications of an ectopic pregnancy. Howard Hughes Sr. died of a heart attack in 1924. Their deaths apparently inspired Hughes to include the creation of a medical research laboratory in the will that he signed in 1925 at age 19. Howard Sr.'s will had not been updated since Allene's death, and Hughes inherited 75% of the family fortune. On his 19th birthday, Hughes was declared an emancipated minor, enabling him to take full control of his life.
From a young age, Hughes was a proficient and enthusiastic golfer. He often scored near par figures, played the game to a three handicap during his 20s, and for a time aimed for a professional golf career. He golfed frequently with top players, including Gene Sarazen. Hughes rarely played competitively and gradually gave up his passion for the sport to pursue other interests.
Hughes withdrew from Rice University shortly after his father's death. On June 1, 1925, he married Ella Botts Rice, daughter of David Rice and Martha Lawson Botts of Houston. They moved to Los Angeles, where he hoped to make a name for himself as a filmmaker.