Edward Smallwood Hughes, businessman, was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, on January 16, 1863, the youngest son of Dr. Isaac Wayne and Annie M. (Smallwood) Hughes. Edward S. Hughes attended Bingham Military Academy in North Carolina and graduated from Princeton University with a B.A. degree in 1882. He chose a career in business rather than following his father's work in medicine, and moved to Baltimore, Maryland. Soon he heard stories from a friend about abundant herds of cattle and sheep in Texas and was overcome by "western fever," as Hughes later recalled. He learned of Abilene, Texas, from Professor Henry Wise, whose brother resided there. In 1882 Hughes and his nephew, Wayne Hughes, made an exploratory site visit. He quickly decided to settle in Abilene and invest in sheep. The Hugheses' initial investment was mostly lost as a result of severe winter weather. Shortly after arriving in Abilene he became a junior member in the mercantile firm of Lee and Hughes. This beginning in retailing grew into a large wholesale company, Edward S. Hughes Co., which was incorporated in 1905. The company grew to include subsidiaries in San Angelo and Lubbock. In partnership with Felix Jackson, an excowboy from Stonewall County, Hughes opened a wholesale saddlery business in El Paso in 1900. He also branched out into the railroad business, purchasing a South Texas short line from Morgan Jones that operated from Velasco to Anchor. This investment became very profitable when sulphur was discovered in the Freeport area; the railroad later became part of the Missouri Pacific system. In 1906–08, in association with Henry and Fleming W. James, Hughes helped finance the Roscoe, Snyder and Pacific Railway. Hughes remained chairman of the board of directors even after selling part of the controlling interest to Horace O. Wooten. Hughes continued his Morgan Jones association, most notably in building the Abilene and Northern (later called Wichita Valley) line.
Dissatisfied with the rates charged on his class of goods from the Atlantic Seaboard, Hughes joined other Texas merchants who invested in a steamship line, the Seaboard Gulf S. S. Company, and a feeder rail line (renamed the Houston and Brazos Valley Railway). Hughes became associated with other steamship lines, the New York Canal and Great Lakes line, as well as Florida real estate and a sugar making project. In 1886 Ed Hughes returned to North Carolina to marry Minerva Baker Rogers on December 21 of that year. They had one daughter. Hughes's shipping interest led him to establish a New York City Central Park residence where the family spent part of the year. In 1887 Hughes purchased thirteen acres of land on which he had a house constructed in west Abilene. Hughes also pioneered in the automobile business. In the early 1900s he opened the first Studebaker agency in West Texas, subsequently adding a Dodge dealership and other branches. By 1900 he was one of the five wealthiest men in the town. Hughes was one of the leaders of the Abilene Progressive Committee and the 25,000 Club, devoted to making Abilene the "Key City of West Texas." As Hughes later explained his success: "I gambled on the growth of Abilene and guessed right, for there is no safer investment than to take advantage of rising land values in a good town." Hughes died in New York City on January 13, 1939. At the time of his death he served as president of the Ammoniate Products Corporation, president and treasurer of the Seaboard and Gulf Steamship Company, chairman of the board of the Philadelphia and Norfolk Steamship Company, secretary of the Penick-Hughes Company, and chairman of the board of the Farmers and Merchants National Bank in Abilene. He was a member of the Knights of Pythias, an Episcopalian, and a Democrat.