Sir Alfred Chester Beatty, mining engineer, philanthropist, art collector, and the first honorary citizen of Ireland (1957), is born in New York, New York, United States on February 7, 1875 on the site of what is now Rockefeller Center. He plays an important role in the development of copper deposits in Central Africa.
Beatty is the youngest of three sons born to Hetty and John Beatty, a banker and stockbroker. After studying engineering at the Columbia School of Mines and Princeton University, he helps to develop porphyry copper ores in the United States, first as a consulting engineer and later as a director on the boards of several copper-mining firms. In 1913 he relinquishes his mining interests in the United States and settles in Great Britain, becoming a naturalized British subject in 1933. In 1921 he forms a prospecting company that initiates the development of the Copperbelt region of Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). For this, he becomes known as the “King of Copper.”
An early family anecdote recalls that, as a young boy, Beatty catches the collection bug, bidding at auction for mining samples. In 1931 an announcement in London‘s The Times casts him as a great collector. Between 1939 and 1949 he acquires over 140 nineteenth-century paintings to display in the Picture Gallery of his London home. These are now part of the collection of the National Gallery of Ireland.
Beatty supports the war effort, contributing a large amount of raw materials to the Allies. He receives a belated knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II in the 1954 Birthday Honours list for his contribution to the wartime effort. By the late 1940s, however, he has become disillusioned with Britain. Political deviations from his free-market values, coupled with increased foreign exchange restrictions impacted both his personal and collecting interests in Britain.
In 1950, at the age of 75, Beattys over the reins of Selection Trust to his son Chester Jr. and relocates to Dublin. He purchases a large townhouse for himself on Ailesbury Road, in the Ballsbridge area of Dublin and a site on Shrewsbury Road for the construction of the Chester Beatty Library, which houses the collection, opening on August 8, 1953. The library is moved to its current location at Dublin Castle in 2000.
Beatty spends the remainder of his life between Dublin and the south of France. He is made a Freeman of the City of Dublin in 1954 and is the first person granted honorary citizenship of Ireland in 1957. He continues to collect in the 1950s and 1960s, acquiring important Ethiopian manuscripts and Japanese printed material during that period.
Beatty dies in Monte Carlo in Monaco on January 19, 1968. His Irish estate is valued at £7 million. He is accorded a state funeral by the Irish government, the first private citizen in Irish history to receive such an honour. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.