Humble Oil

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Industry Oil and Gas
Founded 1911
Key people Ross S. Sterling, Walter Fondren, Sr., Robert L. Blaffer, Harry Carothers Wiess
Products Fuels, Lubricants, Petrochemicals

Humble Oil and Refining Co. was founded in 1911. The company later consolidated with Standard Oil of New Jersey to become Exxon Company, USA.

Early history[edit]

Exxon Company, USA traces its roots from the Humble Oil Company, in the town of Humble, Texas, which was chartered in Texas in February 1911 with a capital of $150,000 (raised to $300,000 in 1912). To develop a refinery adjacent to the Goose Creek Oil Field at Baytown, Texas, on which Humble was the primary operator, the company was reorganized in 1917 and incorporated on June 21 as the Humble Oil and Refining Company, with a capitalization of $1 million based on 40,000 shares at $100 par value. The original company resulted from the collaboration of Ross S. Sterling and Walter Fondren, Sr. with Robert L. Blaffer, James Cooke Wilson, William Stamps Farish II, Harry Carothers Wiess, and others. Into the new organization were merged the Paraffine Oil Company, Blaffer and Farish, Schulz Oil Company, Ardmore Oil Company, and Globe Refining Company.

In February 1919, Humble doubled the number of shares authorized and sold 50% of its stock to Standard Oil Company of New Jersey. This initiated Humble's long-term connection with the company that eventually absorbed it as Exxon Company, U.S.A. Standard Oil of New Jersey was identified as the particular target of antitrust enforcers in Texas in the early decades of the 20th century, and the corporation found it much easier to do business in the state through Humble, its partially owned but autonomously directed affiliate. In 1948, Humble had issued a total of 18 million shares with a total capitalization of $475 million; Standard Oil Company of New Jersey owned 72% of the stock.

In 1917, Humble had 217 wells and a daily crude oil production of about 9,000 barrels. The company's production was expanded steadily. It made large additions to its reserves in the 1930s and increased production during World War II to meet war needs. Humble became the largest domestic producer of crude oil during the war and continued in that position into the 1950s. In 1949, the company had a net production of 275,900 barrels (43,860 m3) daily of crude oil and 15,900 barrels (2,530 m3) daily of natural-gas liquids. At the end of 1949, the company was operating 9,928 wells.

Consolidation with Standard Oil of New Jersey[edit]

In the 1950s, Standard Oil of New Jersey began to reconsider its relationship with Humble Oil. Though Standard owned almost 88% of Humble's stock in 1954, Humble continued to maintain its autonomy for the rest of the decade. In 1958, Standard increased its holdings to some 98% of Humble's stock, and the following year Humble and Standard Oil of New Jersey consolidated domestic operations. In September 1959, Humble received a new charter from the state of Delaware. By the end of the year, Esso Standard and the Carter Oil Company, other affiliates of Standard of New Jersey, were incorporated into Humble, and in 1960, they were joined by other affiliates, including Enjay Chemical, Pate Oil, Globe Fuel Products, and Oklahoma Oil. The restructuring allowed the new Humble company to reduce duplication and costs and to coordinate all of its domestic activities more effectively. The Humble workforce dropped by a quarter in the first five years after the merger, while its profits doubled.

National expansion, introduction of Enco brand[edit]

Humble's restructuring allowed both companies to sell and market gasoline nationwide under the Esso, Enco and Humble brands. The Enco brand was introduced by Humble in the summer of 1960 at stations in Ohio, but was soon blackballed after Standard Oil of Ohio (Sohio) protested that Enco (Humble's acronym for "ENergy COmpany") sounded and looked too much like Esso as it shared the same oval logo with blue border and red letters with the two middle letters the only difference. At that point, the stations in Ohio would be rebranded Humble (but the gasoline, motor oil, and lubricant products kept the name Enco) until the name change to Exxon in 1972.

Though the Enco brand was discontinued in Ohio, it was rolled out in other non-Esso states, including service stations in the Midwestern U.S. operated by Jersey affiliate Pate Oil and in the Pacific Northwest by affiliate Carter Oil. The Humble brand was used at Texas stations for decades as those operations were under the direction of Jersey Standard affiliate, Humble Oil, and in the mid-to-late 1950s Humble expanded to other Southwestern states including New Mexico, Arizona, and Oklahoma. In the spring of 1961, Humble stations in Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona were rebranded as Enco, and the Enco brand appeared on gasoline and lubricant products at Humble stations in Texas that same year, although service stations in the Lone Star State were not changed to Enco in 1962. During that time, Humble would also expand the Enco brand to new marketing areas it entered for the first time, including the West Coast.

In 1963, Humble was approached by Tidewater Oil Company, a major gasoline marketer along the eastern and western seaboards, to purchase Tidewater's refining and marketing operations on the west coast, a move that would have given Humble a large number of existing stations and a refinery in California, which was then the fastest-growing gasoline market. However, the U.S. Justice Department objected to Humble's plan and Tidewater's west coast operations were sold to Phillips Petroleum in 1966. Meanwhile, Humble gradually built up new and rebranded service stations in California and other western states under the Enco brand and purchased a large number of stations from Signal Oil Company in 1967, followed by the opening of a new refinery in Benicia, California in 1969.

In 1966, the Justice Department ordered Humble to "cease and desist" from using the Esso brand at stations in several Southeastern states following protests from Standard Oil of Kentucky (a Standard Oil of California subsidiary by that time and in the process of rebranding the Kyso stations as Chevron). By 1967, stations in each of those states were rebranded as Enco.

In the 1960s, Humble had more than 21,000 square miles (54,000 km2) of land under lease in the United States. The company operated 24,000 producing wells in 21 states with a daily production of 600,000 barrels (95,000 m3) of crude oil. Humble-operated wells also produced 2.6 billion cubic feet (74,000,000 m3) of natural gas daily. Six Humble refineries and plants processed about 800,000 barrels (130,000 m3) of crude oil daily and produced from that volume a great variety of products.

Discontinuation of the Humble, Enco brands in favor of Exxon[edit]

Despite the success of the "Put A Tiger In Your Tank" advertising campaign introduced by Humble in 1959 to promote its Enco/Esso Extra gasolines, the similar oval logotypes, the Happy Motoring! tagline used in advertisements that also appeared overhead of service bays at each station, use of the Humble name in all Esso/Enco ads and the uniformity in design and products of Humble stations nationwide, the company still had difficulties promoting itself as a nationwide gasoline marketer competing against truly national brands such as Texaco — then a 50-state marketer and the only company selling products under one brand name in each state. Humble officials realized by the late 1960s the time had come to swallow its pride by developing a new brand name that could be used nationwide throughout the U.S. At first, consideration was given to simply rebranding all stations as "Enco", but that was shelved when it was learned that "Enco" is a Japanese abbreviation of "engine failure". (エンジン故障 enjinkoshō?)

To create a unified brand, the company rebranded all its U.S. service stations, along with its gasoline and other petroleum products, from Esso and Enco (Humble in Ohio) to Exxon nationwide during the summer and fall of 1972 following the successful test marketing of the Exxon brand and logo in late 1971 and early 1972 at rebranded Enco/Esso stations in certain U.S. cities. The name change, one of the most expensive in the history of the U.S. oil industry, not only involved advertisements and identifying street signs at service stations, but also gasoline pumps, product packaging, tankers, transport and delivery trucks, hundreds of smaller signs at more than 25,000 service stations, and millions of credit cards sent to account holders to replace their previous Esso/Enco cards.

The corporate name change from Standard Oil of New Jersey to Exxon Corporation took effect January 1, 1973, along with the name change of domestic refining/marketing division Humble Oil and Refining Co. to Exxon USA, and the mergers of Esso Chemicals and Enjay Chemicals into Exxon Chemicals.

Further reading[edit]

  • Larson, Henrietta M.; Porter, Kenneth Wiggins (1959). History of Humble Oil and Refining Company. A study in industrial growth. New York: Harper. 
  • Olien, Diana Davids; Olien, Roger M. (2002). Oil in Texas: The Gusher Age, 1895-1945. Austin: Univ. of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-76056-6. 

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