Another typical example of social mobility within the 20th century is the one of the Greek multibillion ($2.3 billion) entrepreneur Aristoteles Socrates Onassis (1906 – 1975). In this case the movement across the social pyramid is frequent, since Onassis had begun as a member of the middle-class who then moved downwards almost to the bottom and eventually achieved to enter to the very high of the global elite class and become a worldwide famous entrepreneur and ship owner.
Aristoteles Onassis had been the son of a well-known middle-class family whose father had been a tobacco merchant.
This allowed the family to meet both the financial and social criteria to resident in the wealthy and cosmopolitical suburb of Smyrna located in Turkey and live with other middle- or high-class Greeks, Americans, British, and French. Throughout his residence in Smyrna, Aristoteles Onassis, had an impressive educational background, since he attended and graduated from the Evangelical School, which has been one of the best and with high reputation Greek schools of his time and simultaneously, he could speak four different languages, including Greek, English, Spanish, and Turkish.
However, shortly after Aristoteles Onassiss school graduation took place, during the Greco-Turkish war (19191922) the Asia Minor Catastrophe in 1922 occurred which forced the entire family, as well as with other Greeks refugees, within a night to flee to Greece and leave everything behind.() The Onasium family live in Athens for approximately a year () with having experienced a rapid and significant downfall within the class pyramid. Finally, the upcoming year (1923) the family decided to immigrate to the Latin America and specifically to Argentina ().
Onassis in the early 20s decided to start his entrepreneurial activity in Argentina by entering into the tobacco industry while he had been working as at the British United River Plate Telephone Company. He had noticed that the East Mediterranean cigarettes had a softer flavour compared to the Cuban ones that had been imported so he started to trade them and after some years he owned his two cigarette brands, called Primeros and Osman. The different cigarette taste, the cigarette trade deal between Onassis and the Greek government, and the fact that Onassis targeted the women smokers as well as with the male ones are three main factors that offered him in the middle of his 20s his first $1 million. However, the economic crisis that followed because of the Great Depression (1929 – 1939) gave Onassis the great opportunity to enter to the ship industry and purchase in 1932 six freight ships, which as it is illustrated in figure 1 was the best time for one to buy ships because of their extremely low price.
Source: The Onassis Global Shipping Business 1920s1950s, Gelina Harlaftis (2014), Business History Review
Aristoteles Onassis realised that in order to survive and success in the ship industry he needed to be in constant contact and develop a close relationship with others ship owners around the globe and so he did. The business success that followed was huge with his international ship range to be consisted of 42 tankers, 19 Liberties, 16 whale catchers, 9 Victories, and 1 T2 by the end of 1957 while in 1976 his group of shipping companies were among the top 10 largest independent tanker companies. The friendships he developed offered him not only the essential knowledge to improve himself as a ship owner but also to interact with well-known elite ship owners such as Costas Gratsos and Lars Christensen and gradually establish his position in the high elite class and at the same time increase further his global reputation. Alongside with shipping, Onassis noticed that he could expand his business by entering to the airlines industry and as a result he purchased the TAE Greek National Airlines in 1951 from the Greek state but this didnt last long since the airlines were nationalised again in 1975.
When it comes to , being Onassis in the upper high class contributed to his marriage in 1946 with Athina Livanos the daughter of the richest ship magnate Stavros Livanos , to the conduction of a long run relationship the worldwide known female soprano Maria Callas after his divorce in 1960 with Athina, and eventually to his last marriage in 1968 at his private island called Scorpios, with the widow of the American President John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. Thus, it seems that Onassis despite his original forced by the war social and financial downward, he achieved to not just to return in a relatively short period of time to the middle-class but to create an international multibillion business empire, to interact and keep close contact with ship magnates, entrepreneurs, and politicians such as Eleftherios Venizelos, and maintain his high status up to the end of his life.