Imagine How Rich You'd Be If You Bought All Of Saudi Arabia's Oil Exploration Rights Back In 1949. That's What J. Paul Getty Did…

By on August 19, 2014 in ArticlesEntertainment

At the time of his death in 1976, Jean Paul Getty was worth $2 billion dollars.  After adjusting for inflation, that's equal to $8.3 billion in today's money. That fortune made him the richest person in the world, a title he held for over three decades. He was also one of the first people in human history to amass a fortune exceeding $1 billion dollars.  The scion of the Getty family and Getty Oil Company, for much of the 20th century J. Paul Getty was the ultimate symbol of wealth and power. Today he is probably more famous for the museums and renowned art collections that carry his name. He is also legendary for being incredibly cheap, despite his vast wealth. Getty infamously refused to pay his grandson's kidnap ransom when because he thought that would just leave inspire more kidnappers kidnapping more of his grandchildren for ransom money. Whatever people thought of J. Paul Getty during and after his life, it cannot be overlooked that he is one of the great American businessmen of the last 100 years. A businessman who also left the world with some amazing quotes on the pursuit of wealth that any Celebrity Net Worth fan would appreciate:

"Formula for success: rise early, work hard, strike oil." – J. Paul Getty

getty

Jean Paul Getty was born on December 15, 1892 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.   His father, George Franklin Getty got into the oil industry in 1903. In 1904, the family moved to Oklahoma.  In 1905, they moved again, to Los Angeles, were J. Paul was raised. He graduated from Los Angeles' Polytechnic High School in 1909 and enrolled at the University of Southern California where he studied for a couple of years, and then at the University of California, Berkeley. He ended up graduating from Magdalen College at Oxford University in 1914 with dual degrees in economics and political science.  In the summers between his school years, JPG worked his father's oil fields in Oklahoma.  By the time he was 22 years old he was brokering oil leases on his father's behalf. The younger Getty soon set up his own oil company in Tulsa, and by June 1916, the 24 year old had made his first million. (By the way, $1 million in 1916 is $21.8 million today.)

The Nancy Taylor No. 1 Oil Well Site near Haskell, Oklahoma was critical to the young Getty's early financial success. This oil well was the first to be drilled by J. Paul Getty as an independent driller. In 1917, after putting aside a nice little fortune, he announced with great fanfare that he was retiring to become a Los Angeles-based playboy. After two years, he returned to business, drilling for oil in California and continuing to grow that fortune. However, the whole retiring to become a playboy thing caused Getty to lose his father's respect. Just before George Franklin Getty died in 1930, he told his son that he was convinced that the younger Getty would destroy the family company and name.

"If you can count your money, you don't have a billion dollars." – J. Paul Getty

When his father died in 1930, JPG received a $500,000 inheritance ($7.1 million today) and became president of the Getty Oil Company.  J. Paul immediately set out to restructure and expand the family oil business into one that was fully self-sufficient. He started taking over oil companies in order to become an entity that owned 360 degrees of the operation, from drilling, to refining, transporting, and sellilng.

When the United States entered World War II in 1941, Getty sent a telegram to an old friend of his who just happened to work the Under Secretary of the Navy James V. Forrestal. The message, which was reproduced for Getty's autobiography said:

"I am 49 but in good health, have owned three yachts and am experienced in their care and maintenance. If Navy can use me in any capacity, please advise. Regards."

The Navy didn't need Getty's services as a seaman, but they did suggest he do something with the Spartan Aircraft Company, which was a subsidiary of the Getty owned Skelly Oil. During the war, Spartan made plane parts. Afterwards, Getty converted the company to a profitable manufacturer of mobile homes.

"If you owe the bank $100 that's your problem. If you owe the bank $100 million, that's the bank's problem." -J. Paul Getty

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Today, when most of us think of oil wells, we probably picture places in the Middle Eastern like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait or the United Arab Emirates. Now, let's take a step back in time. Back in the 1930s and 40s, oil really hadn't been found in significant quantities outside of the United States.

In 1949, Getty made an investment that most people thought was certifiably insane. Getty took $9.5 million dollars (roughly $100 million today) and purchased a 60-year exclusive lease to search for oil in a barren desert country that no western person had ever heard of. That barren desert country was called… Saudi Arabia.

As crazy as it sounds today, before Getty's arrival Saudi Arabia was a desolate little Kingdom with basically no naturally resources or wealth whatsoever. No oil had ever been found in Saudi Arabia before and no oil would be found for the next four years. Getty spent an additional $30 million of his own money ($300 million today) searching for black gold. In 1953, the gamble paid off ENORMOUSLY. From that point forward, his little tract of worthless land would go on to produce 16 million barrels of oil every year and completely transform the entire Middle East for the rest of history. The Saudi oil fields would also quickly turn Getty into a billionaire.

Riyadh Before Oil

Riyadh Before Oil

Riyadh Saudi Arabia Today

Riyadh Saudi Arabia Today

"Oil is like a wild animal, whoever captures it has it." – J. Paul Getty

By the early 1950s, Getty owned Skelly Oil, Tidewater Oil, and Mission Corporation. In 1967, he merged all three companies to form the Getty Oil Company. JPG would serve as the company's president for the rest of his life.  Along with his oil business, Getty also proved to be a successful real estate investor in the hotel industry, owning properties such as the Pierre Hotel in New York City.

"Money is like manure. You have to spread it around or it smells." – J. Paul Getty

On the personal front, J. Paul Getty was married and divorced five times. His first marriage was to Jeannette Dumont in 1923 and resulted in his first child, George Franklin Getty II. In 1925 he married Allene Ashby. In 1928 he tied the knot with Adolphine Helme and son Jean Ronald was born. In 1932 he married actress Ann Rork. The couple had two sons – Eugene (Jean) Paul and Gordon Peter. Getty's fifth wife was singer Louise Lynch. They married in 1930 and had one son Timothy, who died at the age of 12. Getty and Lynch divorced in 1958.

"I hate to be a failure. I hate and regret the failure of my marriages. I would gladly give all my millions for just one lasting marital success." – J. Paul Getty

It was 1957 when Fortune magazine first suggested that Jean Paul Getty was the world's richest person.  When Getty was asked how much he'd really get in cash if he were to sell his oil, real estate, art, and other holdings, he replied:

"I would hope to realize several billions. But, remember, a billion dollars isn't worth what it used to be." – J. Paul Getty.

Getty Museum

Getty Museum

But of course, Getty didn't sell off his concerns and nearly a decade later when his fortune had increased greatly he was complaining of the hardships of being oh so very wealthy and famous. From 1959 on, Getty lived primarily in England. He bought the 400 year old Sutton Place in 1959 as it was convenient for his Middle Eastern oil concerns and, at $840,000, it was cheaper than living in a hotel long term.

Getty, of course, was a renowned art collector, who took such joy in his hobby that he wrote two books about it. The first, in 1949 was "Europe in the Eighteenth Century" and that was followed by 1965′ "The Joys of Collecting".   After he purchased Sutton Place, he moved part of his art collection to the property. Worth more than $4 million, the collection included works by Tintoretto, Titian, Gainsborough, Romney, Rubens, Renoir, Degas and Monet. The rest of his collection resided in a gallery of his ranch home in Malibu.

Getty's collection contained more than 600 items. He started collecting art in the 1930s. He bought the Malibu house and 60-acre ranch in 1943 and later added a wing for his art gallery. At that time he placed the estate under a trust fund as the J. Paul Getty Museum, which was opened to the public in 1954. Some art objects were given to the Los Angeles County Museum including Rembrandt's "Martin Looter." Additional art acquisitions after 1973 were places in a Roman villa style museum on Getty's Malibu property.

Getty is said to have received 3,000 letters a month from strangers seeking money. In a magazine article called "It's Tough to Be a Billionaire," Getty said:

"I never give money to individuals. It's unrewarding and wrong."

The Getty Villa

The Getty Villa

When it came to his wealth, suffice it to say that were Getty alive today, he would not be a part of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett's Giving Pledge. In a 1965 "Saturday Evening Post" article called "The World is Mean to Millionaires", Getty said:

"If I were convinced that by giving away my fortune I could make a real contribution toward solving the problems of world poverty, I'd give away 99.5 percent of all I have immediately. But a hard-eyed appraisal of the situation convinces me this is not the case. However admirable the work of the best charitable foundation, it would accustom people to the passive acceptance of money."

The fact is, Getty was at times proud of his own entrepreneurial genius while simultaneously boasting over his penny pinching ways. For instance, the most talked about feature of his Sutton Place mansion was the telephone booth Getty had installed so that staff and guests did not have to feel they were imposing on their host when they needed to use the telephone.  He was legendarily thrifty – even going so far as to wash his own socks so as not to have to employ someone to do that for him nor have to own more socks than he absolutely needed.

It was this measure of frugalness that was employed in the 1973 kidnapping of his grandson J. Paul Getty III in Italy. Getty was asked to pay a $16 million ransom. He refused, saying: I have 14 other grandchildren and if I pay one penny now, then I'll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren."

Getty credited his luck in amassing his great wealth to his father's foresight and his own luck.

"In building a large fortune, it pays to be born at the right time. I was born at a very favorable time. If I had been born earlier or later, I would have missed the great business opportunities that existed in World War I and later." – J. Paul Getty

J. Paul Getty died of heart failure on June 6, 1976 at the age of 83. He was at his mansion in Surrey, England at the time. Upon his death, Getty bequeathed $1.2 billion to his charitable trust, the Getty Foundation, to be used toward endowment of the arts. Getty had been reclusive in his later years. Reportedly he talked about wanting to return home to Southern California many times, but he never did.

"I'm a bad boss. A good boss develops successors. There is nobody to step into my shoes."  – J. Paul Getty

Getty was survived by three sons, J. Ronald Getty, J. Paul Getty Jr., and Gordon Peter Getty, 16 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Articles Written by Amy Lamare
Amy Lamare is a Los Angeles based writer covering business, technology, entertainment, philanthropy, and pop culture. She spent 8 1/2 years covering the entertainment industry for www.hsx.com. She attended the University of Southern California where she majored in Creative Writing. An avid long distance runner, weekends she can be found running the streets of Los Angeles training for 1/2 and full marathons. Follow her on Facebook.
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