History of Pure Oil Company

John Pizzo
History of Pure Oil Company
Three companies operating in the United States have used the Pure Oil name. The first began as a group of independent oil refiners, producers, and pipeline operators, in Fall 1895 in Butler, PA, with headquarters in Pittsburgh, although it was incorporated in New Jersey. Pure was organized by independent interests to counter to the dominance of Standard Oil Company in the Pennsylvania oil fields, and was the second vertically integrated oil company (after Standard) in the region.
Operations were based in Oil City, PA. David Kirk was elected the first president. He was succeeded in 1896 by James W. Lee. Pure Oil sold illuminating oil in Philadelphia and New York City. Standard Oil was the major competitor. The company also built bulk terminals in Amsterdam and Hamburg and competed in Europe with Standard Oil, the Nobel and Rothschild families and Deutsche Bank.

In 1900, Pure Oil became the holding company for three independent pipeline companies. Pure Oil Producing Co. was incorporated in 1902. In 1904 a refinery was built on the Delaware River which received 600 barrels per day from the United States Pipe Line. This increased to 1,800 barrels per day by 1906. The Pennoil tanker delivered oil to Europe. By 1917, operations in Europe ended. Also, Beman Gates Dawes and his brothers, whose Columbus-based Ohio Cities Gas Company had begun in 1914, made an offer of $24.50 a share for the company. Dawes was building an Oklahoma refinery, and Pure Oil had production capabilities there which would benefit his company. The Pennsylvania company accepted the offer and made $22 million in profit on the sale.

In 1920, Ohio Cities Gas Company's name changed to Pure Oil. In 1926, the headquarters moved to Chicago. Refineries were located in Ohio, West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Texas. A Pure Oil Gas Station, built in 1933 and located at Saratoga Springs, New York, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. By the 1960s, sales were $700 million a year and Pure Oil ranked as one of the country's 100 largest industrial companies. Over 1,000 worked in the Chicago area. The headquarters at that time were in the northwestern suburb, Schaumburg, in a building which is now a campus of Roosevelt University. The company motto was "Be sure with Pure."

Union Oil Company of California purchased Pure Oil in 1965. Shortly after acquisition by Union Oil, Pure Oil's Refining & Marketing operations became the Pure Oil Division of Union Oil Company of California with the Pure Oil name continuing in full force. By 1970, the Pure Oil brand was phased out, and remaining service stations and auto/truck stops were rebranded as Union 76. The Pure Oil Division was merged with Union Oil's west coast Refining & Marketing division to become the Union 76 division.

After 1970, the Pure Oil name was retained as a registered trademark, while the Firebird brand name was retained and used primarily for motor oils and lubricants that were not extensively marketed toward consumers. In 1992, Unocal announced plans to end Southeast operations. The 76 brand is currently owned by Phillips 66 while Unocal was later bought by Chevron Corporation. Pure, and later Union 76, was "The official fuel of NASCAR," a relationship that lasted over 50 years, ending in 2003. Sunoco has since replaced 76 as the official fuel of NASCAR.

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