J. Paul Getty
Source of Wealth: Oil
The son of an oil man, J. Paul Getty showed great aptitude for his father’s business.
After graduating from Oxford in 1913, Getty went to Tulsa, Okla., where he bought and sold undervalued oil leases. Three years later, he had earned his first million.
Getty, who is said to have once quipped that “the meek shall inherit the earth, but not the mineral rights,” went on to California. During the 1920s, he gained control of several independent oil companies, including Pacific Western Oil Co. in Los Angeles. Pacific Western was renamed Getty Oil Co. in 1956 and became the nucleus of Getty’s immense financial empire.
His biggest coup came in 1949 when he secured a 60-year oil concession in Saudi Arabia. Profits from that venture made him a billionaire in the 1950s and one of the wealthiest men in the world.
Money did not buy him happiness, though. Getty married and divorced five times before he gave up on matrimony altogether at the age of 47. That didn’t prevent him from pursuing the opposite sex; he became legendary for his string of girlfriends.
After World War II, Getty settled in England, in a baronial mansion in Surrey, where he remained for most of the rest of his life. Among the residence’s more notable features was a payphone for his guests.
In 1953, Getty established the J. Paul Getty Museum as a charitable trust at his ranch in Malibu. He later ordered the construction of an exact replica of the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum, Italy, to house his extensive collection of antiquities.
At his death, Getty’s wealth was estimated at between $2 billion and $4 billion. He left $1.2 billion to the J. Paul Getty Trust, which operates the museum, making it the wealthiest private museum in the world. The trust built the Getty Center in Brentwood.