Greek shipping magnate who from 1932 built up one of the world's largest independent shipping lines. During the 1950s he was one of the first to construct supertankers, and was also the founder of the Greek national airline, Olympic Airways, in 1957. In 1968 he married Jacqueline Kennedy (see Jacqueline Onassis), widow of US president John F Kennedy.
Sent to Argentina in 1923, he first worked as a telephone operator on a nightshift while trying, during the daytime, to start a tobacco importing business. Capitalizing on the growing popularity of Turkish tobacco imports, he started to manufacture cigarettes. He negotiated a trade agreement with Argentina on behalf of the Greek government in 1928. In 1932, in the depths of the economic Depression, he bought six Canadian freighters for $20,000, a fraction of their actual value. After the war Onassis bought surplus wartime Liberty ships from the USA and, as the international freight market expanded, invested in oil tankers, going on to build supertankers in the 1950s.
Onassis was born the son of a wealthy tobacco merchant in Smyrna (now Turkish Izmir), which was briefly a Greek city after World War I. In 1922 his family escaped to Greece as Smyrna was recaptured by the Turks.
With his tobacco success in Argentina, he became for a time a Greek consul in Buenos Aires. He diversified into other commodities and was a millionaire at the age of 25. He started in the tanker business in the late 1930s, leasing some ships to the US government during World War II. In 1946 he married the daughter of Greek shipowner Stavros Livanos; together with his brother-in-law Greek shipowner Stavros Niarchos, the three men formed a powerful shipping alliance (although they later became rivals), sometimes using controversial business methods.
In 1953 Onassis bought a controlling interest in Société des Bains de Mer, which owned the casino, two luxury hotels, and other property interests in Monte Carlo. Having sold his whaling fleet in 1956, he was then awarded the contract to establish the Greek national airline. He opened its first international route in 1957 and the Athens–New York route in the mid 1960s. He sold the airline to the Greek government in 1975, after his son was killed in a plane crash.
Prior to his marriage to Jacqueline Kennedy, Onassis had a long relationship with US opera singer Maria Callas.
Onassis, Aristotle Socrates
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