George Allan Hancock was born on 26 July 1875, the heir to the Hancock family's extensive Los Angeles land holdings, including Rancho La Brea. Hancock expanded the family fortunes through oil exploration on the Rancho beginning in 1901, and continued to increase those fortunes for the next two decades. In 1920, he founded the California Bank. By the middle of the 1920's he also had significant holdings in railroads and communications.
In addition to his business skills, Hancock was an accomplished cellist and an avid sailor. He formed the Hancock Ensemble, later associated with the Foundation, and captained many of the Foundation's early scientific expeditions, including those to the Galapagos Islands. In 1934, as a result of an early Foundation expedition, he became involved in a tabloid sensation concerning Germans living in a "Garden of Eden" nudist colony on Galapagos. There were several mysterious murders in the colony, and Hancock was said to have "rescued" the companion of one of the victims.
Hancock also served on the University of Southern California's Board of Regents, and in 1937 was granted an honorary doctoral degree in Business Administration by the University. Very soon thereafter Hancock initiated plans to establish a Foundation for Oceanography at USC. The Allan Hancock Foundation continued the work begun by USC's Venice Marine Station and Professor Albert Ulrey. In turn, it was ultimately superceded in the 1990's by the Catalina Station.
In 1939 Hancock funded the construction of a new building for the Foundation. The building was dedicated in 1941 and included, in addition to an auditorium and laboratories, a museum and a library. The Hancock Museum became a showplace for Hancock's and USC's collection of fine artifacts, especially furnishings from the Hancock residence in Hancock Park (demolished), some of the rooms of which are recreated in the museum. The Library gained its first large collection in the 1943 when it purchased much of the nineteenth century serials collection of the Boston Society of Natural History. Subsequent purchases continued to expand the Library's collections. The collection has now been subsumed by the USC Libraries.
With the dedication of the new Foundation building, Hancock also donated his yacht, the Velero III, to USC for oceanographic studies. The Velero III had been in service for oceanographic studies since the early 1930s with the first Hancock Pacific Expeditions. In 1948 a new ship, the Velero IV, was commissioned exclusively for the use of the Foundation; it remained in service until the mid-1980's.
Hancock died on 1 June 1965. The Foundation, Museum, and Library he established continued to function in their original forms for three more decades until they were absorbed into other USC operations.