Humble Oil

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IndustryOil and Gas
Key people
Ross S. Sterling, Frank Sterling, Florence M. Sterling, Walter Fondren, Sr., Robert L. Blaffer, Harry Carothers Wiess
ProductsFuels, Lubricants, Petrochemicals

Humble Oil and Refining Co. was founded in 1911 in Humble, Texas. In 1919, a 50% interest in Humble was acquired by Standard Oil of New Jersey which acquired the rest of the company in September 1959[1] and merged with its parent to become Exxon Company, USA in 1973.[2]


The Humble Oil Company was founded by brothers Ross Sterling and Frank Sterling.[3] They were joined by their sister, Florence M. Sterling, who became assistant, and then later full secretary and treasurer of the company.[3] The three siblings were often referred to as the "Trio."[4] In the early 1978, Houston Oil invested heavily in permanent improvements and there was the possibility of opening another oil plant in the near future.[5]

National expansion, introduction of Enco brand[edit]

Humble-branded forecourt located in Gahanna, Ohio (early 1970's). The Enco brand was not used in Ohio because of trademark infringement claims made by Standard Oil Co. of Ohio (Sohio).

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. Humble Oil also had service/gas stations branded as "CARTER" in Colorado. They were changed to ENCO in the early 60's. 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.

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.

Early research into global warming[edit]

In 1957, scientists from Humble Oil published a study tracking “the enormous quantity of carbon dioxide” contributed to the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution “from the combustion of fossil fuels.” Exxon was aware of these findings and later researched the effect of its own company on global warming.[6]


  1. ^ Clark, James A.; Odintz, Mark (August 31, 2015) [June 12, 2010]. "Exxon Company, U.S.A.". Handbook of Texas (online ed.). Texas State Historical Association.
  2. ^ Humble Oil and Refining Co. filing with US Atomic Energy Commission (PDF) (Report). December 20, 1972.
  3. ^ a b McArthur, Judith N. (15 June 2010). "Sterling, Florence M.". Handbook of Texas (online ed.). Texas State Historical Association.
  4. ^ "From Anahuac to Millions". Petroleum Age. 7 (1): 61. January 1920. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  5. ^ Babbitt, L.W. (December 15, 1921). "Gulf Coast Is Optimistic". Petroleum Age. 8 (16): 65. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  6. ^ Nathaniel Rich (2018) Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change. The New York Times. AUG. 1, 2018. accessed 5.9.18

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