What Is The History Of Leonard Oil Company?

12/6/2019
John Pizzo
Hello everyone and welcome to another fantastic issue of Classic Car Round-Up. This month I'm going to write about an oil company that started here in Michigan named Leonard gas.
 
There are very few images of Leonard stations that I could find and their memorabilia is very rare and hard to come across.
 
Enjoy the article and thank you for reading.
 
The automobile fundamentally restructured the refining business, taking the unpopular and largely unsellable stove naphtha and making it a commonly sold petroleum product.
 
By 1933 more than 170,000 gasoline stations were selling fuel to power automobiles. The market was vast and profitable.
 
 
The discovery of oil in Michigan soon led businessmen in this state to enter into it. In 1928 mid-Michigan's Mt. Pleasant oil field was opened and began to produce substantial quantities of crude oil.
 
Two subsequent oil discoveries in the area, in Porter Township in 1933 and the Crystal Field in Montcalm County in 1935, made it clear that large amounts of crude oil lay underneath mid-Michigan's ground. Several refineries were constructed to process the oil.
 
J. Walter Leonard was a young man whose father was a Pennsylvania oil man who was active in oil discoveries and development across the nation.
 
The sudden death of one of his father’s partners in a Michigan project jeopardized the family interests and J. Walter was asked to come to the state to ensure the success of the investment. When he arrived, Leonard sensed an opportunity. He bought the drilling rigs his father had sent to Michigan and drilled the wells himself. In 1935, one well drilled by J. Walter Leonard, The Durban #1 in Montcalm County, opened the very successful Crystal Field.
 
At a time when production in the state amounted to about 37,000 barrels of oil a day, Leonard’s Durban #1 discovery well daily produced an astounding daily figure of 3,594 barrels of oil. J. Walter Leonard suddenly had more oil than he could sell.
 
He needed a refinery to process it.
  
In 1936, J. Walter Leonard formed a publicly held company which purchased a refinery that was being constructed in Alma, Michigan.
 
The refinery Leonard purchased was small and had very limited technical capability. It could process only 2,500 barrels of crude oil a day and produce gasoline rated from 40 to 50 octane, which was despairingly called “Michigan gas.”
 
Competitors could refine gas rated at 75 to 80 octane. In 1937 the Leonard refinery began a series of improvements designed to both increase capacity and create higher quality products. Leonard Refineries became known for technical innovation.
 
In 1938 the firm developed a “midget” polymerization unit. Polymerization was first used by large refineries.
  
In 1955 Leonard expanded dramatically when it obtained control of two other nearby refineries, Alma’s Mid-West Refinery and Mt. Pleasant’s Roosevelt Refinery. Because each of the three refineries specialized in different products, the merger was quite successful.
 
However, finding sufficient crude to meet the company’s expanded refining capacity proved challenging. In 1956 Leonard, which had originally relied on crude oil found in Michigan and increasingly on supplies brought in by pipeline from the south, began to purchase Canadian crude oil.
 
To lower construction costs, the pipeline traveled through Michigan rather than around it and ended in Sarnia, Ontario, where existing pipe could carry the crude further east into Canada.
 
That's all I have for the history of Leonard Oil Company, I hope you enjoyed it, stay tuned for next month’s article about a specific type of advertising that's still around today.

 
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