TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: From our Archives: History of Standard Oil and Bell System

From our Archives: History of Standard Oil and Bell System

TELECOM Digest Editor (
Sat, 04 Jun 2005 09:06:52 -0700

Mark Cuccia prepared an interesting history of Standard Oil and some
very relevant comparisons to the history of the 'Bell System'. I hope
you will find this as interesting as I did. This first appeared in
the Digest about nine years ago, the summer of 1996.


Date: Wed, 17 Jul 1996 15:58:18 -0700
From: Mark J. Cuccia <>
Subject: Some History of Standard Oil (and Bell)

The following is some of the history of the Standard Oil Trust and the
continued history of the separated Standard Oil companies (plural), after
the Trust was dissolved by the US Supreme Court in 1911. In many ways
Standard and Bell have similar histories, so I have prepared the following,
and compare some of Standard Oil and its later divested companies with that
of The Bell System, and AT&T and the divested Bell companies.


Recently, (in 1996) Pat mentioned some of the different marketing
names of service stations used in various areas, as these different
names were used to differentiate marketing territory of the different
Standard Oil companies, in "Re: What does A/B Carrier Mean?",
regarding cellular service.

Many years back, the oil company service stations used to give out
*FREE* road maps with their logos and other advertisement on them, as
a marketing tool and a courtesy to the motoring public. These maps
usually werent printed by the oil companies themselves, but by Rand
McNally, Gousha, Donnelly, and others, using ad-copy provided by the
oil companies or service station companies. Back in the 1960's and
70's, I used to collect these free road maps, and I always wondered
why many service station chains used different marketing names in
various states, or why the name "Standard" was used in some states by
one service station chain and by a different group of service stations
in other states. When folded closed, the back of many of these maps
would mention something like to look for these other names/logos/signs
of service stations when travelling in other states, to gas-up or to
purchase other products for your car. And sometimes, a credit card
issued by one oil company would be honored by the service stations of
another oil company, but not necessarily in every state of the
card-honoring oil company. All of these inconsistancies date back to
the days of the dissolution of the old Standard Oil Trust and the
subsequent relationships of the different separated Standard Oil

There are also many similarities between the corporate histories and
legal structures of the Standard Oil companies, and that of the Bell
System -- AT&T and the local Bell telephone companies. What follows is
not intended to be a complete history of Standard Oil, but rather to
give some historical highlights, and show some similarities with the
telephone industry.

In 1870, John D. Rockafeller and others incorporated the Standard Oil
Company, in Cleveland Ohio.

(In 1869, Gray and Barton started what became Western Electric in
Cleveland, although it was moved to Chicago shortly after the
partnership began.)

In 1882, the New Jersey branch of Standard Oil was started. A trust
was formed as Standard Oil began to buy out or took control of other
smaller "independent" oil companies. A reorganization of the trust in
1889 made Standard Oil of New Jersey the holding or parent company of
the entire Standard Oil organization.

(For decades, Bell Labs has had several locations in New Jersey. Most
of AT&T's main offices have been in that state since the 1980's. Bellcore
also maintains most of their offices in New Jersey.)

Throughout the late 19th Century and early 20th Century, Standard was
constantly involved in legal and regulatory matters, both state and
federal, regarding monopolization of the oil industry. Also, the
public mood was against monopolies. While Standard may have owned or
controlled other oil companies, these "afflilate" companies frequently
retained their original names. Sometimes the name "Standard Oil (of a
particular state)" was used, usually by affiliates *created* by
Standard of New Jersey. Some of these companies were made actual
divisions of Standard of New Jersey, others were wholly-owned
subsidiaries, while others were majority owned, even if "Jersey
Standard" owned only 50% plus one share.

The legal matters which had been occurring over the years culminated
in the U.S. Supreme Court decision of 15 May 1911, which dissolved the
old Standard Oil Trust. Thirty-three subsidiaries of "Jersey Standard"
were now legally separated from their parent company. The now
separated "Jersey Standard" still was by far larger than the other
thirty-three companies, and it continued to hold many subsidiaries and
divisions, including Standard Oil of Louisiana.

(Two years later, in 1913, AT&T vice-president Nathan Kingsbury signed
the agreement known as the Kingsbury Commitment, regarding a change in
AT&T's relationship with the independent telcos, and which included
the sale of AT&T's stock in the Western Union Telegraph Company. There
had been increasing governmental pressure on AT&T in the years prior
to "Kingsbury". In early 1982, when AT&T agreed to the divestiture to
take effect in 1984, to end the ten year old DOJ suit filed against
them in 1974, news reports frequently mentioned that the "breakup of
Bell" was the largest "trust-bust" in America since the 1911 Supreme
Court decision dissolving the old Standard Oil Trust. Even after AT&T
and the BOC's were then legally separated companies, AT&T still held
on to Western Electric and Bell Labs.)

The private motorcar or automobile was becoming quite popular after
the first World War, in the late "teens" and into the 1920's. Many
paved highways suitable for automobile travel were being constructed
during this period. Also during this time, the various oil companies
were starting to market their gasoline and other products for the
motoring public, including through service stations using their brand
names. However, some of the various separated Standard Oil companies
were using the brand name "Standard" or a derivative of the word
Standard, in their respective marketing territories. In the early
1920's, this didn't seem to matter much, as none of the different
Standard companies were yet nationwide in scope when it came to
marketing their brands and products via service stations. It would be
a problem later on.

The pre-1911 Standard Oil Trust was both a vertically and horizontally
integrated operation, similar to the former Bell System. Through its
subsidiaries, the old Standard Oil Trust was involved in almost every
aspect of the oil and petroleum industry, such as exploration,
drilling, research and development, refining, transportation and
pipelines, commercial marketing, etc. When the Standard Trust was
dissolved in 1911, each of the thirty-three former subsidiary
companies were still involved in various aspects of the industry, but
none as a complete single unit. These now separated companies still
maintained relationships with each other, but now as individual
distinct corporate entities.

(Since 1984, the Bell companies have relations with each other, AT&T,
and now other carriers, but not as part of a single "Bell system".)

In addition to Standard of New Jersey, the following nine companies of
the thirty-three separated former subsidiaries entered into marketing
their products to the motoring public through service stations:

Atlantic Refining Company Standard Oil of California
Continental Oil Company Standard Oil of Indiana
Ohio Oil Company Standard Oil of Kentucky
Vacuum Oil Company Standard Oil of New York
Standard Oil of Ohio

Since 1911, some of these former Standard Oil subsidiaries have bought
out other independent oil companies or have merged with each
other. Many of the former Standard Trust subsidiaries have entered
into joint venture arrangements with each other and with other
independent oil companies for exploration and drilling in overseas and
international locations. The Justice Department frequently reviewed
such mergers, take-overs, and joint-ventures. There were times when
the DOJ turned down such proposals or requests.

(Judge Greene, the DOJ, and the FCC have frequently reviewed such
mergers, take-overs, and joint-ventures between the Bells and AT&T and
other carriers, and have approved or denied them on a case-by-case

In 1931, Standard of New York and the Vacuum Oil Company
merged. Standard of New York had Socony service stations in the
northeast, while Vacuum Oil had their Vacuum Service stations with a
winged flying red Pegasus horse logo in the midwest. This logo was
adopted by the new merged Socony-Vacuum Oil Company, which in 1955
became Socony-Mobil (Mobilgas service stations), and in 1966 the
Socony name was dropped altogather to simply become Mobil. Socony was
formed in 1882 as a part of the old Standard Trust; Vacuum Oil began
in 1866 (probably before just about any other oil company in existence
today or which can trace its history back to the 1800's), and became a
part of the Standard Trust in 1879.

Standard Oil of New Jersey introduced the "Esso" brand name in the
early 1920's. "Esso" is a pronunciation of the letters "S.O." for
Standard Oil. Initially, the Esso name was confined only to "Jersey
Standard's" stations in their merketing territory, which included the
Jersey-held Standard of Louisiana. In the late 1930's, Jersey Standard
attempted to market using the Esso brand in parts of the
midwest. However, this was the traditional marketing territory of now
separated Indiana Standard, who jealously guarded their "exclusive"
use of the "Standard" name in their marketing territory. Indiana
Standard sued Jersey Standard over the use of Esso, and they
won. Standard Oil of New York (SOCONY) didn't want Jersey Standard
using the Esso name in New York state or in the northeast, neither.

In the 1930's, as radio broadcasting became a popular advertising and
marketing tool, both locally and nationally through a network hook-up,
the oil companies wanted to expand and market nationwide, and
advertise through network radio. However there were difficulties in
advertising a "Standard" name or derivative on nationwide network
radio. The same thing happened after WW-II as people became even more
mobile than in the depression years of the 1930's, and television
became a new marketing medium. The different Standard Oil companies
had difficulties in sponsoring a nationwide radio or TV program. A
popular live network news broadcast on both radio and TV in the 1950's
was called "Your Esso Reporter". However, it couldn't be aired in the
midwest nor out on the west coast, as Indiana Standard and Standard of
California objected to the Esso name being used "on their turf". It
really woudn't have mattered anyway, as Jersey Standard had no Esso
stations in those states anyhow; but also Jersey wouldn't want to be
buying advertising airtime for markets they didn't serve anyway.

Where Jersey Standard couldn't use the Esso brand, they used other
names in different parts of the country, such as Humble (Jersey bought
the majority of Humble Oil in Texas around 1920), Carter, Pate,
Oklahoma, and Penola. In 1959, Jersey Standard still wasn't completely
national, even using different names, but they wanted to become
national *and* reduce the number of various brands used. Also around
1960, Jersey bought the remaining outstanding shares of Humble Oil. A
new brand name was introduced by Jersey/Humble, namely Enco, which
stood for "The Energy Company". Some Jersey officials agreed to
changing most of the various service station names to Enco, while
others wanted to retain Esso and even attempt to force its use
nationwide. The Humble Oil name was also adopted as an alternative
brand to be used nationally. In some states (Ohio and Texas), Humble
was used as the "exclusive" name of the service stations, and
continued to remain so in Ohio. Service stations in Texas continued to
use the Humble alternative name, but the actual name of the stations
was changed to Enco. And throughout the 1960's, Enco was introduced
in new states where Esso hadn't been used.

In 1961, Standard of California bought Standard of Kentucky, which had
Kyso service stations in five southeastern states. Jersey Standard,
through its subsidiary Louisiana Standard, supplied commercial
products to Kentucky Standard prior to 1961. Jersey/Humble and its
other subsidiaries agreed not to market directly to the motoring
public in the five southeastern Kyso states. With California
Standard's purchase of Kyso, Jersey Standard lost its supply contract
with Kyso to California Standard. So Jersey/Humble decided to open
Esso stations in those five southeastern states. California Standard
and Kyso sued Jersey/Humble for infringement on its exclusive use of
the "Standard" name or derivative in the old Kyso territory, and they
won. So by the mid to late 1960's, all of the recently opened Esso
stations in the five southeastern states were renamed Enco.

All of these various brand names and frequent changes of names was a
major marketing and advertising headache for Jersey Standard and the
other former subsidiaries which continued to have the name
"Standard". Around 1970, Jersey/Humble had closed-door meetings on
choosing a single brand name to be used. There were various memory and
sound tests done, and by the Spring of 1972, they announced that all
Esso, Enco and Humble stations nationwide would *all* be changing to
Exxon. Even the corporate name of Standard Oil of New Jersey would
officially change to Exxon. The new Exxon name was even introduced
overseas to some Esso stations in Europe, however the Esso name wasn't
really a problem internationally, as the *other* Standard Oil
companies didn't use the name Standard or a derivative for marketing
purposes outside of the US. In Canada, Esso continues to be used as a
brand name today, through Exxon's Canadian subsidiary, Imperial
Oil. And I think that Enco has been used in some other foreign
countries (Mexico?), but I don't know if Enco continues to be used
outside of the US today, or if it has been changed to Exxon or maybe
even Esso. Some of the reasons that Jersey/Humble didn't change the
Esso (and Enco) name to Exxon everywhere outside of the US was that
they didn't always own the majority of their international holdings,
and that they would have had to go through legal trademark name
changes in *every* country where the name Exxon would be used in place
of Esso (and Enco).

Standard Oil of California was founded in 1879 as the Pacific Coast
Oil Company. It was acquired by the Standard Oil Trust in 1900, and
became known as Standard of California. It became a separate company
in 1911 as being separated from the Jersey Standard Trust. The
separated Standard of California began to market its products through
service stations on the west coast in the 1920's and 30's known as
"SoCal", "Standard" and later "Chevron". For the most part, California
Standard didn't begin to market or open up stations in other
Standard's regions. There was an incident in the 1950's where they
tried to open up SoCal stations in Texas, but Jersey Standard and
Humble objected. California Standard also bought the Signal Oil
Company's (of California) service stations in 1947, and later sold
them to Jersey/Humble in 1967. In the 1960's, California Standard
began to expand its marketing territory under the Chevron name, which
eventually became the name used nationwide, as well as its corporate
name in 1984. Also in 1984, Chevron purchased the Gulf Oil Company
and most of its Gulf stations, but not all of them. Gulf was founded
in 1901 by the Mellon family. Gulf had its own complex marketing
situation of brand names. I think that most of this was
cross-marketing, supply contracts, and credit card honoring among
other independent oil companies and service stations, such as Union 76
of California, Skelly, Wilshire and others.

Standard Oil of Indiana was organized in 1889 by Standard Oil of New
Jersey. Indiana Standard became separated from Jersey Standard in the
"trust bust" of 1911. They marketed their products using the Standard
name in a fifteen state territory in the midwest. Through mergers with
other companies, they were able to market under the names Pan-Am,
American and Amoco by the early 1920's. In 1956, Indiana Standard
bought Utah Oil and began marketing out west under the name Utoco,
using the same red-white-blue shield with torch and flame. By 1960 or
so, they changed all Pan-Am and Utoco stations to either American or
Amoco. By the early 1970's, all American stations were changed to
Amoco. They didn't drop the use of Standard as a name at that time. I
don't know if the red-white-blue oval shield with torch and flame logo
still carries the name "Standard" in the mid-west. (Pat?)

Standard Oil of Ohio was the original Standard, incorporated by
Rockafeller, in Cleveland in 1870. It too became separated from Jersey
Standard in 1911. The Sohio brand name was used on its stations in
Ohio and other states where there were no other "Standard"
conflicts. Where there could be a conflict with other "Standard" brand
names, the name Boron was used. I had also seen the name Fleet-Wing
associated with Sohio and Boron stations. In 1987, BP (British
Petroleum) purchased Ohio Standard.

The Ohio Oil Company was founded in 1887 and was taken over by the
Standard Trust in 1889. It was separated from the Trust in 1911. In
1962, Ohio Oil acquired Plymouth Oil and changed its name to Marathon,
which it had been using for marketing purposes since the late 1930's.

The Atlantic Refining Company was founded in 1866 in Pennsylvania as
the Atlantic Petroleum Storage Company. In 1870 it was renamed
Atlantic Refining. It became an affiliate of the Standard Oil Trust in
1874, and was separated from the Trust in 1911. In 1966, Atlantic
purchased the independent Richfield Oil Company (California), founded
as the Rio Grande Oil Company in 1905. After Atlantic's purchase of
Richfield, many stations of both companies were renamed Arco, over
several years. In 1969, Atlantic-Richfield purchased Sinclair Oil,
founded in 1916 by Henry F. Sinclair. I don't think that every
Sinclair station became an Arco station, as I've seen the Sinclair
dinosaur logo throughout the 1970's and 80's.

The Continental Oil Company marketed in the mountain states area out
west. It was founded as the Continental Oil and Transportation
Company of California in 1877. It became a Standard Oil "affiliate" in
1884, and was separated with the 1911 dissolution of the
Trust. Conoco's logo was a minuteman soldier. In 1929, Continental
merged with Marland Oil, which had the red triangle logo, and the new
merged company used the Conoco name and the Marland triangle logo.

As I mentioned earlier in this report, there had been complex
arrangements through the 1970's regarding one oil company or service
station chain honoring the credit cards issued by another service
station chain. Some of the mutual card-honoring agreements between
different former Standard companies were only in certain states, but
not others. Most every oil company issued their own credit cards in
the 1920's and even through the 1970's. Today, "generic"
non-industry-specific credit cards such as Visa, MasterCard, American
Express, Discover, etc. have become more popular than the need for
multiple oil company cards. But the complex arrangement of
card-issuance and card-honoring, and non-acceptance or cancellation of
mutual arrangements is happening today, in the *telephone* industry's
calling cards, between AT&T and the various LEC's, and the confusion
when calling from a payphone or motel system and billing to a
particular card.

Over the past twenty or thirty years, the "Standard" name or a
derivative seems to have disappeared from most service station chains
of the former Standard Oil Trust subsidiaries. And only BellSouth, SBC
(Southwestern Bell) and Bell Atlantic have continued to retain the old
Bell name as well as logo. I think that NYNEX still uses the bell logo
when it comes to the local operating company providing POTS, even
though they don't have the Bell name as part of their corporate
name. I'm not sure if US West or Ameritech has the Bell logo with
their corporate name, as a local service provider. Pacific Telesis
uses the touchtone star ('*') as its corporate logo.

Prior to divestiture, the California operating company was called
Pacific Telephone (and Telegraph), but used the Bell logo. After
divestiture, it was renamed Pacific Bell, but took its parent's new
corporate logo of the touchtone star. Nevada's operating company has
always been known as Nevada Bell (or Bell of Nevada), and kept the
Bell name at divestiture, but dropped the logo in favor of its
parent's new corporate touchtone star logo as well. So maybe the
"Bell" name is going the way of the "Standard Oil" name, just a
footnote in history. And even though AT&T chose the name "Lucent"
(?!?) for WECO, they *did* keep the name *BELL* Labs which will be a
part of Lucent.

WORK: |4710 Wright Road| (+1-504-241-2497)
Tel:UNiversity 5-5954(+1-504-865-5954)|New Orleans 28 |fwds on no-answr to
Fax:UNiversity 5-5917(+1-504-865-5917)|Louisiana(70128)|cellular/voicemail

[TELECOM Digest Editor's 1996 Note: Thanks very much for your
well-researched and very interesting report. This file will have a
permanent home in the Telecom Archives 'history' collection. Remember
please, that your subscrtiptions and sponsorships of the Digest and
Archives help me continue to present the special reports I have sent
out to you over this weekend. Your letters and gifts are very
important to me and I encourage all of you to stay in touch. PAT]

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: Sinclair Oil Company (and its more
recent name Arco) always played a large and important role here in
Independence, and Standard Oil (under its recent name Amoco) played a
large role in the town of Neodesha (pronounced Nee-Odah-Shay), Kansas
although Amoco and Arco have been gone from this area now for many
years. Harry Sinclair lived in the large, very glamorous and (still)
well-maintained house at 5th Street and Maple. Two of his neighbors
in those long ago times were Vivian Vance ('Ethel' of 'I Love Lucy')
and Bill Kurtis (of 'A&E Network' on cable television as well as CBS.)
One of the Rockefeller clan (I do not know which one by name) lived
here but superintended the Standard Oil Refinery at Neodesha, which
is about ten miles north of Independence. We also had prominent
writers/playrights living here in our town including William Inge.

Their presence is still felt here: The Independence Community College
has a large theatre given to them several years ago by the family of
William Inge (also they do a series of plays each year via his
endowement), Bill Kurtis owns our radio station (KIND and KIND-FM as
well as endowing the broadcasting department at the college) and of
course there is the Arco Building, downtown at 9th and Laurel Streets.
When Arco moved what remained of their corporate offices to Texas
several years ago, they said to the City of Independence, "Harry
(Sinclair) said you should have it" and they left the _entire_
building to our city, and thus the 'Arco Corporate Offices' became
the 'Independence Corporate Offices' and although City Hall did not
move there, they mostly rent out the space to various state agencies
such as SRS (Social and Rehabilitative Services, i.e. 'Welfare') and
the Driver's License Bureau and the local Parole/Probation offices.
Terra World is located there, plus (gasp!) some large telemarketing
operation.) People around town just refer to it as 'the Arco Building'.
Kurtis and Vivian Vance both do a lot for Independence High School
also, and our Memorial Hall (municipal auditorium downtown) was given
by a consortium of business men years ago including Harry Sinclair and
the Rockefeller-person who superintended the Refinery at Neodesha.

So oil was _big business_ around here many years ago. Both my father
(who died in 1991) and my maternal grandfather (died in 1961) were in
the oil industry. Dad retired in 1978 and decided to 'come back home'
to here in Independence, and I decided to do the same, albiet my
retirement was a bit premature and earlier than I expected due to the
brain aneurysm. And I do love living here on the southeast side of
town ('original Independence') in my mother's old house and just
three or four blocks away from the mansions which were once occupied
by Harry Sinclair and Vivian Vance (1930's) and Bill Kurtis (1950's).

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