He was educated at home, and as a teenager traveled to various places before settling in Arkansas, where he was running a cotton plantation by 1912. He had a reputation as a gambler. He ended up making his fortune in the oil business. In 1957 Fortune estimated that he had a fortune of between US $400 million and US $700 million, and was one of the eight richest people in the United States.
Hunt married twice, and had fourteen children. His first wife was Lyda Bunker (died 1955), whom he married in Arkansas on November 26, 1914. They had six children, the best-known of whom are Bunker, Lamar and Herbert Hunt. Starting in 1925, he had an affair with Frania Tye (whom he may or may not have married), and they had four children, including Hugh Hunt, before splitting up in 1942. Hunt then had four more children with his mistress, a Hunt Oil Company secretary named Ruth Ray, whom he married in 1957.