J. Paul Getty

J. Paul Getty Biography.com

Art Collector, Philanthropist(1892–1976)
Billionaire businessman J. Paul Getty became president of the Getty Oil Company after the death of his father, George Getty. His Getty Foundation funds the J. Paul Getty Museum and other artist endeavors.


J. Paul Getty was born on December 15, 1892, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 1914, Getty began brokering oil leases for his father. In 1916, he established his first successful oil well in Oklahoma. In the 1920s, he drilled in California and continued to amass his fortune. When his father, George Getty, died in 1930, he became president of the Getty Oil Company. In 1967, after gaining control of multiple oil interests, he merged them into the Getty Oil Company and served as its president until his death on June 6, 1976, in Surrey, England. Getty died one of the wealthiest people in the world.

Early Years

Jean Paul Getty was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on December 15, 1892. In 1903, his father, former attorney George Franklin Getty, entered the oil industry. The following year, George, J. Paul and J. Paul's mother, Sarah Risher Getty, moved to Oklahoma. In 1905, the family pulled up stakes again and relocated to Los Angeles, California, where J. Paul was raised.

J. Paul Getty graduated from Los Angeles' Polytechnic High School in 1909. He spent the next couple of years attending the University of Southern California at Los Angeles and the University of California at Berkeley, and then transferred to Oxford University in England. In 1914, Getty graduated from Oxford with a degree in politic science and economics.

Oil Empire

Following graduation, J. Paul Getty returned to the United States and began working as a wildcatter, buying and selling oil leases in Oklahoma for his father. By 1916, the younger Getty, who was operating independently of his father's company, had made his first million from a successful well. With his new fortune, he briefly retired to a life of leisure in Los Angeles before going back into the oil business in 1919. 

Throughout the 1920s, J. Paul Getty and his father continued to amass wealth through their own drilling, as well as through lease brokering. As J. Paul continued to find success, George gained confidence in his son and granted him a third of the interest in his company. When George passed away in 1930, J. Paul received a $500,000 inheritance (a somewhat meager sum, considering the $10 million value of the elder Getty's estate) and became president of the Getty Oil Company.

In his new position, Getty set out to restructure and expand the company into a self-sufficient business—one that did everything from drilling to refining to transporting and selling oil. After gaining majority control of the Getty Oil Company, Getty soon began buying other oil companies as well, including Pacific Western Oil, Skelly Oil and Tidewater Oil, which he later merged into the Getty Oil Company. Following World War II Getty also took a risk by investing millions in a strip of land in Saudi Arabia. His gamble paid off in 1953 when oil was struck and began to flow at a rate of 16,000,000 barrels a year. J. Paul Getty would serve as president of the Getty Oil Company for the rest of his life, building a personal fortune of roughly $4 billion in the process, making him one of the richest men in the world.

Personal Life

The frequent subject of tabloids both in the United States and abroad, Getty's personal life was a tumultuous one. He married and divorced five times. His first marriage, which took place in 1923, was to Jeanette Dumont, who gave him his first child, George Franklin Getty II. In 1926, he then married Allene Ashby, and after they divorced two years later he wed Adolphine Helmle. His marriage to Helmle resulted in a second son, Jean Ronald. In 1932, Getty married starlet Ann Rork, and the couple had two more sons, Eugene Paul and Gordon Peter. Getty's fifth and final wife was singer Louise Lynch. They married in 1939 and had one son, Timothy, who tragically died at age 12. Getty and Lynch divorced in 1958.

Death and Legacy

In 1959 Getty took up permanent residence at a massive 16th-century estate in Surrey, England, and made it the center of his business operations. He died of heart failure there on June 6, 1976, and his body was buried in Malibu, California, on the grounds of his villa property. Getty had built the villa (a reconstruction of a 1st-century Roman country house) in the early 1970s to house his expansive art collection. It was opened to the public as a museum in 1974. Upon his death, Getty bequeathed $1.2 billion to his charitable trust, the Getty Foundation, to be used toward the endowment of the arts. In 1997 the foundation opened the Getty Center cultural complex in Los Angeles, California. 

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