01 March 2011

British Petroliana?

The Anglo-American Oil Company Ltd was formed in 1888, a British affiliate of John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil Trust. This last was dissolved in 1911 following a ruling of the US Supreme Court, and over 30 independent companies resulted. One, Standard Oil, acquired AAOC - anti-trust legislation has never been that effective in the oil and petrol business!

AAOC employed numerous brands for its imported motor spirit - Pratts, Pratt's Perfection Spirit, Anglo's Taxibus Spirit (commercial vehicles), Anglo's Benzole (a petrol and coal-tar mix), Pratts Ethyl (a petrol and alcohol mix), and Pratts High Test. The possessive apostrophe came and went, but in 1934 Pratt's/Pratts disappeared as AAOC adopted the phonetic version of Standard Oil - Esso.

The Mexican Eagle Oil Company was formed in 1900 to exploit the Mexican oil fields - it had exclusive rights in several states of the country. In 1919 Mexican Eagle was bought jointly by the Royal Dutch Petroleum and the Shell companies (now combined as Royal Dutch Shell). "Shell-Mex" was a resultant brand. "Mex" signs are likely pre-1919. In 1938 Eagle was nationalised by the Mexican government and became PetrĂ³leos Mexicanos (PEMEX).

British Petroleum has a long and complex history. In 1901 one William Knox D'Arcy negotiated an exploration agreement with the Shah of Persia. D'Arcy sold the majority of his rights to the Glasgow-based Burmah Oil Company, which in 1909 formed the subsidiary Anglo-Persian Oil Company.

Winston Churchill, instrumental in moving the Navy over to oil, negotiated with APOC to secure supplies, and by 1913 the government took a controlling stake. Ironically, the British Petroleum brand was a German creation, an agency for the sale of Shell petrol in the UK. Its assets were seized on the outbreak of WWI, and in 1917 purchased from the trustees. It became a marketing subsidiary of APOC.

When Persia changed its name to Iran in 1935, APOC became the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. It was not until 1954 that the company became officially known as British Petroleum, although the brand had been in use for over 45 years. The BP shield was designed in 1920, when the "BP" letters acquired their rounded serifs. With its pointy serifs, and despite the Union flag, this sign is possibly from the 1910s and, hence, for the German agency.

Surely Dunlop was a British company? The Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Company Ltd was formed in Dublin, but in 1889, when all Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom. Divisions were established in Europe and the States in the early 1890s; and in 1896 Dunlop registered its trademark and created a subsidiary in England. Car tyre manufacture commenced in 1900, and in 1918 production moved to Fort Dunlop, Birmingham.


John Burke said...

Excellent article, Richard!

Frank's Trailer Works said...

Nice signs. Sorry to see the rust would you take $5 each?

Frank's Trailer Works said...

I am sure you know I jest...