US oil billionaire and art collector. He was president and general manager of George F Getty Inc., his father's oil prospecting company, from 1930. The firm was reorganized as the Getty Oil Company in 1956 and Getty became the firm's director and principal owner. He was also the founder of the Getty Museum (housing the world's highest-funded art collections) in Malibu, California. Getty's publications include Europe In The Eighteenth Century (1941), My Life And Fortunes (1953), and How To Be Rich (1965).
Getty joined his father's company in 1914. He bought land leases cheaply and made a series of oil strikes, which made him a millionaire in his early 20s. He received a one-third interest in the company on his fathers' death in 1930, but most of the US$15 million estate went to his mother Sarah. He was first reported to be the richest man in the world by Fortune magazine in 1957.
In 1985 his son, US collector John Paul Getty Jr, established an endowment fund of £50 million for the National Gallery, London, England.
Getty was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the son of a lawyer who went into the Oklahoma oil business with a $5,000 investment in 1903. After the family moved to California, Getty attended Harvard Military Academy, Massachusetts, then studied at California University before taking a diploma in politics and economics at Oxford University, England.
During the Great Depression, Getty held senior appointments with several oil corporations. At the same time, he made a series of shrewd investments in undervalued stocks and eventually took control of Pacific Western Oil (a holding company with large oil reserves); he also negotiated a controlling interest in the Getty business. He acquired Mission Corporation (and its holdings in Tidewater Oil), and the Skelly Oil Company from the Standard Oil Company, subsequently restructuring all his interests into the Getty Oil Company in 1947 (with assets of over $3 billion).
He also went into the hotel business, purchasing the Pierre Hotel in New York City, for $2.5 million in 1938. He built the 22-storey Getty Building, at the back of the hotel, in the 1950s. In 1949 Getty purchased a 60-year oil concession (for $9.5 million in cash) on a barren tract of land in Saudi Arabia. He struck oil there in large quantities (an estimated 16 million barrels per year) in 1953, making him a billionaire.
Getty started his art collection in the 1930s. In 1954 he opened a small museum on his estate in Malibu, California, and in 1974 built a larger museum nearby in the style of a Roman villa.
Getty spent the last 25 years of his life at his 400-year-old mansion, Old Sutton Place, Surrey, England. Bought from the Duke of Sutherland in 1959, it housed part of his art collection including works by Thomas Gainsborough and Titian.
Getty, J(ean) Paul