Aristotle Onassis

Aristotle Onassis was born on 20 January 1906. He was a Greek shipping magnate and built the world’s largest privately-owned shipping fleet. In his time he was one of the world’s richest men, as well as famous for his work. His business success was a huge story and his personal life was also heavily publicized. He married Athina Mary Livanos, the daughter of a famous shipping tycoon Stavros G. Livanos. His personal life was rocky and he was known for an affair with an opera singer called Maria Callas. In 1968, he married Jacqueline Kennedy, who had recently been widowed after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Aristotle Onassis was born in Smyrna, which is now known İzmir in Turkey. In 1922 he fled the city with his family due to the Greco-Turkish War. In 1923 he moved to Argentina and quickly established a business as a tobacco trader. During World War II he was established as a shipping owner. 

Onassis owned SBM and the Monte Carlo Casino, and when he lived in Monaco he tried to seize economic control of the country from Prince Rainier III. In the 1950s he secured an oil shipping deal, as well as engaging in whaling. During the 1960s, Aristotle Onassis tried to establish an investment called Project Omega with the Greek military junta. He also sold Olympic Airways which he had created in 1957. Onassis’ son Alexander was involved in a tragic plane crash aged 24 in 1973. Aristotle himself was affected badly by this and died just two years later. 

Aristotle Onassis was a Shipping Magnate

Aristotle Onassis was most well-known for his shipping company exploits and built a fleet of freighters and tankers that exceeded 70 vessels. He took advantage of lax laws under flags of convenience meaning most of his vessels operated with more freedom. Countries such as the USA allowed for higher wages and safety standards. They also allowed access to domestic routes with higher freight rates but these came with a higher expense. Onassis’ fleet mainly consisted of Panamanian and Liberian flags which allowed them to sail tax-free. His business acumen allowed him to build a successful empire and he made huge profits when Texaco, and Mobil signed contracts. 

Aristotle Onassis Shipping
Aristotle Onassis: Olympic Vessels

Aristotle had a disregard for many of the standards that would govern international shipping due to the profits he made. One example of this is when one of his Liberian tankers spilled oil in Chedabucto bay in Nova Scotia in 1970. A commission of inquiry was put together by Dr. Patrick McTaggart-Cowan and found that the SS Arrow had been operating with un-serviceable navigation equipment. The radar stopped functioning an hour before the spill and other parts of the equipment had not been working for at least two months. This blatant safety issue caused a huge oil spill that is still the biggest off Canada’s East Coast today. 

Aristotle Onassis and Prince Rainer III of Monaco

In 1953, Onassis arrived in Monaco and purchased shares of the Société des Bains de Mer de Monaco (SBM). He took control of the whole company later that year. After taking control of SBM, he began feeling friction between himself and Prince Rainier III. Both had visions for Monaco that differed and Onassis wanted the country to remain a resort for exclusive visitors. However, Rainier wanted to build hotels to attract tourism. Onassis was reluctant to invest in hotels because he didn’t want any competition, however, Rainier convinced him to build two hotels and a block of apartments.

Aristotle Onassis and Prince Rainier of Monaco
Aristotle Onassis and Prince Rainier of Monaco

Rainier did not want to guarantee there would be no competition and instead badmouthed SBM on television, criticizing Onassis. In 1966, Rainier approved a plan to have 600,000 shares in SBM to be held by the state. This would reduce Onassis’ share to 52%. Following this Onassis sold his shares in SBM and left Monaco. 

Saudi Arabia

In the 1950s there was a huge spike in the oil business and Onassis planned to take advantage of this. He was in final discussions with the King of Saudi Arabia to secure a tanker transport deal. The US government was surprised by this deal because the Arabian- American Oil Co. had a monopoly on Saudi oil. 


Onassis dabbled in the whaling business between 1950 and 1956, and he found success in this field. He worked off the Peruvian cost and his first expedition made a $4.5 million profit. However, his success was cut short when Norwegian Whaling Gazette accused Onassis of bad business. Testimony from the sailors present said that “Pieces of fresh meat from the 124 whales we killed yesterday still remains on the deck. Among them all, just one could be considered adult. All animals that pass within the range of the harpoon are killed in cold blood.”  

He was also heavily involved in Olympic Airways, investments, and Project Omega over the years. 

Athina Livanos

In 1946 Onassis married Athina Mary “Tina” Livanos. She was the daughter of Stavros G. Livanos. At the time they married Onassis was 40 and Livanos was 17. They had two children together: Alexander and Christina. Onassis named his yacht after his daughter. Onassis saw his marriage as a good stepping stone to success as well as a kick in the teeth for his father-in-law who did not approve of him. The marriage was not perfect and by the 1950s they were pretty much separated. The end of their marriage came when Livanos found Onassis in bed with her friend. Then, during Onassis’ affair with Maria Callas, they divorced. 

Maria Callas

Maria Callas was an opera singer that had an affair with Onassis despite them both being married at the time. They met in 1957 at a party in Venice and they both divorced their spouses, but never got married to each other. 

Jacqueline Kennedy

One of the most famous marriages he had was to Jacqueline Kennedy after her President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated years earlier. He was a friend to Jacqueline and they got married on his private island on 20 October 1968. 


Scott Cooper from Florida is a distinguished biographer known for his extensive research on the Kennedy family. With a career spanning over two decades, Cooper has delved into the personal and political lives of the Kennedys, shedding light on their influence in American history. His work is characterized by meticulous research, drawing from a wide array of sources, including personal letters, interviews, and previously unreleased documents. Cooper's dedication to uncovering the truth, combined with his eloquent writing style, has made his books critical and commercial successes, establishing him as a leading authority on the Kennedy family.

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