Famous Greek People: Aristotle Onassis

Aristotle Onassis was one of the most successful businessmen in Greece’s history. Known for his massive shipping and cigarette business, he was likely the wealthiest Greek of the 20th century. 

Map of Onassis's Business Empire
Map of Onassis's Business Empire

Onassis’s Childhood

Onassis was born in Smyrna in 1906, and his father was a successful businessman who had 10 ships. Aristotle had the opportunity to get an education, which was rare at the time. He spoke 4 languages at the age of 16: Greek, Turkish, English and Spanish. 


The same year as his graduation, however, they were forced to leave their home in Smyrna because it was burnt down during the forced population exchange. 

Onassis’s Tobacco Company

Instead of settling in Athens like many other Greeks, he decided to go to Argentina with only 60 dollars in his pocket. He got his first job at the British United River Plate Telephone Company, and started a tobacco importing business with help from his father, who still lived in Greece. 


Onassis saw an opportunity to sell Turkish tobacco to American women, and he started his own line of cigarettes. He earned a lot of money with the marketing, adding pink tips to appeal to female buyers. At the age of 25, he became a millionaire. 

It wasn’t enough for Aristotle. During the Great Depression, when many businesses were shutting down, Onassis bought a fleet of ships and started a shipping business, which was very successful. His ships carried the flag of Panama, which transported goods tax-free. 

Onassis and Winston Churchill

Onassis’s Shipping Business

One of his best financial moves was during the war between Egypt and Israel in 1956. The Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean sea with Africa and Asia, was closed for 6 months. This created a big problem for shipping companies who were forced to go long distances because of the closure. 


Onassis had extra ships not under contract, so he could charge whatever prices he wanted. For example, before the canal was blocked, moving oil from Saudi Arabia to Europe was $4 per ton. Onassis charged $60 per ton, and he earned profits of over $2 million a trip.

Onassis and Olympic Airlines

Onassis wasn’t done yet. In 1956, the same year of his big shipping profits, the Greek National Airlines faced serious financial problems and the government needed to sell it to the private sector. So, Onassis bought rights to the Greek air industry and started Olympic Airlines. 


Olympic airlines was known for top-level service and gourmet food. The hostess’s outfits were blue and futuristic, with dresses created by top designers. Candles and gold-plated forks and knives were normal in first-class. 

Olympic Airlines Plane

Onassis’s Empire

These weren’t Onassis’s only businesses. Onassis also owned gold-processing plants in South America, a large part of a Latin American airline, and $4 million of investments in Brazil. Some companies he owned were Olympic Maritime, Olympic Tourist, and a chemical company in Persia. He also had apartments in Paris, London, Monte Carlo, Athens, and Acapulco, as well as a castle in France.


In America, he owned the 52-story Olympic Tower in Manhattan, as well as another building in Sutton Place. Perhaps his favorite possessions were the Greek island of Skorpios and the 99-meter yacht, “Christina O.” The current broker for the yacht is Morley Yachts, who offers charters here

Christina O | © Morley Yachts

Skorpios Island

Skorpios Island is a small, green island on Greece’s west coast next to Lefkada island. Skorpios was a paradise for Onassis where he rested, relaxed, and threw big parties for celebrities and Hollywood stars. 


He built a taverna on the beach where he drank ouzo and planted over 200 species of trees and flowers. On Skorpios, Onassis also spent time with his two lovers: Maria Callas and Jacqueline Kennedy.


Some of the famous guests to the island were Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Grace Kelly, Prince Rainier of Monaco, and Winston Churchill. They often partied on Onassis’s mega-yacht, which was named after his daughter Christina.

Skorpios Island

Onassis’s Personal Life

Like Onassis’s businesses, Aristotle’s love interests changed a lot. He was first married to Athina Livanos, a daughter of a Greek ship owner and businessman. They were married for 15 years and had 2 kids. Aristotle had several affairs, one with the famous Greek singer Maria Callas, who was also married. The relationship lasted for many years between Onassis and Callas, but they did not get married.


The big change came when Onassis decided to marry Jacqueline Kennedy, the widow of the 35th US President J.F. Kennedy. They got married on Skorpios, and rumors said that Onassis continued to visit Callas in Paris after marrying Jackie.

Onassis Stegi

Onassis’s mark was left all over Greece. One example is the Onassis Stegi, a contemporary arts and performance center that is also known as Onassis Cultural Centre Athens. The building is not in a central area, but this is perhaps its advantage, because nearby are authentic tavernas and local shops. 


Onassis Stegi was designed by French design firm Architecture Studio, and the building looks like a grey cube with an interior that glows at night. Most of the programs happen in the nighttime for this reason.  

Main Stage of the Onassis Stegi

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Table of Contents

Looking for something in particular?
BlogHistory & Culture

Why Do Greeks Break Plates?

Opa! Where did plate smashing in Greece come from? When did the tradition of breaking plates start? Where can I smash plates in Greece? Wedding ...
BlogRegional Guides

Chania, Crete Travel Guide

What makes Chania the perfect place for foreigners? What makes Chania different than anywhere else in Crete? Where are Chania’s best beaches and days trips? ...
BlogRegional Guides

Plakias, Crete Travel Guide

Why is Plakias one of the most underrated towns on the island of Crete? Why choose Plakias over the larger towns like Rethymno and Chania ...
Using App in Greece
BlogIn The News

mAiGreece: Greece’s New Safety App

Greece’s newest safety phone app will go live on June 10th and will be primary used by tourists. The app is called “mAiGreece” and it ...

What Can I Expect at Matala Beach Music Festival in 2024?

The Matala Beach Festival is one of Europe’s biggest free music festivals, and is a mix of entertainment and relaxation. The International Matala Beach Festival ...
Christy in Milos
BlogRegional Guides

Top Areas in Greece for Americans: Milos

Why should I buy a home in Milos if I’m American? How does it rank compared to other destinations in Greece for me? In this ...

Compare Listings

Receive the latest news

Stay informed on the latest market insights, updates, tips and more

We’ll send you our best articles, expert insights and newest listings.​