Dato Onn Jaafar was born in 1895 at Bukit Gambir, Johor Bahru. His father Dato Jaafar Haji Muhammad [1838? 1919] was the first Menteri Besar of Johor while his mother, Hanim Rogayah was from Scarcia, Turkey.
He was sent to England to study by Sultan Ibrahim of Johor and was the best student in English and French. Upon his return from England, he was sent by his father to study Bahasa Melayu in the Malay College Kuala Kangsar.
He held many jobs and among them being the editor of Warta Ahad, which indirectly led him to be involved in politics and the struggle for Malays.
When he was a member of the Majlis Mesyuarat Negeri Johor, he made two important political contributions to the people of Johor, that is, the setting up of the Sultan Ibrahim Scholarship and issuance of free airfares to perform the pilgrimage in Mecca for Islamic officers serving the Johor government.
The establishment of the Malayan Union in 1946 by the British was greatly opposed by the Malays as it took away the ruling powers of the Sultan and the special rights of the Malays. Dato Onn then held an All - Malaya Malay Congress [Kongres Melayu Sa-Malaya] to unite the Malays in order to oppose the Malayan Union.
The Congress was held from the 1st till the 3rd of March 1946 and it was attended by 41 Malay Associations. Among the decisions taken by the Congress were to boycott the Malayan Union, to mourn for seven days and to wear a white banner on their songkok [headgear].
Dato Onn then initiated the setting up of UMNO [United Malays National Organization] on 4th March 1946 to unite the Malays in order to oppose the Malayan Union.
He was appointed the President of UMNO and suggested that UMNO be opened to other races in Malaya in order to resolve the racial issue in politics. However, his suggestion was greatly opposed by the Malays. Dato Onn resigned as President in 1951.
Besides being the founder of UMNO, he was also responsible for the social economic welfare of the Malays by setting up Rural Industrial Development Authority [RIDA].
Although he failed to win in the General Election in 1955 to become the first Prime Minister of Malaya, he had played an important role in paving the way for Malaya to achieve independence on 31st August 1957. He died in 1962 at the age of 67.