J. Paul Getty Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Getty amassed a personal fortune exceeding $3 billion, making him one of the first billionaires in the United States and one of the richest men in the United States from the 1950’s to his death. He also played a role in deepening the link between American oil companies and Saudi Arabia.

J. Paul Getty graduated from Oxford University in 1914, majoring in economics and political science. He returned from England, and working independently of his father, president of Minnehoma Oil, he excelled at trading Oklahoma oil leases and by 1916 had earned his first million.Getty, J. Paul

Getty quit the business and moved to Los Angeles to be a playboy. This period began a lifetime of failed romantic relationships, with five marriages ending in divorce. These failures always bothered Getty, who never had a bad word to say about his former wives, blaming only his own nature. In 1919, Getty grew tired of Los Angeles, moved back to Oklahoma, resumed his Petroleum industry;J. Paul Getty[Getty]oil career, and devoted himself to his father’s business, George F. Getty Oil. George F. Getty never forgave his son for wasting those years or for his divorces, and thought he would ruin the family business. Therefore, on his death in 1930, he left his son only $500,000 and a one-third share in the company.

Through the 1920’s, J. Paul Getty increased his fortune by about $3 million. During the Great Depression, he continued to accumulate wealth by purchasing undervalued stock, focusing his attentions on acquiring Pacific Oil Corporation. This allowed to Getty to emerge from the Depression more powerful and richer than before. He continued to buy up oil leases and negotiated with his mother for control of her two-thirds of George F. Getty Oil, which he finally received in 1953.

Getty’s most important deal was a 1949 rental agreement made privately with Saudi Arabia’s Ibn Saՙūd. Getty paid $9.5 million for a sixty-year lease of apparently barren Saudi land near Kuwait, invested $30 million to develop the site, and discovered an untapped oil reserve, which proceeded to produce more than 16 million barrels a year for in excess of thirty years.

J. Paul Getty.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

In 1953, Getty obtained Mission Oil and in 1967 combined it and Tide Water Oil, Skelly Oil, and his father’s company, creating the Getty Oil CorporationGetty Oil Corporation, which remained independent from the major oil corporations.

Although one of the world’s richest men, Getty had a reputation for tightfistedness, having a pay phone installed in his home for guests’ use. In 1973 he refused to pay ransom for his kidnapped grandson, John Paul Getty III, until after an ear was sent as proof of the kidnappers’ resolve. Getty claimed that his initial refusal was not due to cheapness but to discourage copycat criminals and protect his fourteen other grandchildren.

Getty died in 1976, at his England estate, Sutton Place; he is buried in Malibu, California.

Further Reading
  • De Chair, Somerset Struben. Getty on Getty: A Man in a Billion. New York: Sterling, 1989.
  • Getty, J. Paul. As I See It: The Autobiography of J. Paul Getty. Rev. ed. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2003.
  • _______. How to Be Rich. 1966. Reprint. New York: Jove Books, 1986.

U.S. Department of Energy

International economics and trade

Petroleum industry

John D. Rockefeller

Standard Oil Company

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