First let me start off by saying thanks to everyone for their kind thoughts through my continuing personal crisis’ and that this website and all of its members especially the active ones have become an online Family to me that I hold dear to my heart. I didn’t want my personal life to effect this Months Company of the Month and worked hard on researching the Union Oil Company of California as to not let the members down. There are some members that offered to help me with it since they worked for the Company for years and to them I said thanks, but I wanted to do it on my own. It took my mind off things, it was a lot of work but was fun for me at the same time. I encourage those members who offered to help to post memories, tidbits and pictures as they see fit. As always membership participation is greatly encouraged so everyone feel free to jump in anytime.. Most of the facts I have written about came from a book I own called “Sign of the 76” the Fabulous life and times of the Union Oil Company of California put out by the Company in 1976. I also drew stuff from old advertisements and articles written about the Company in old petro magazines. It is not my intent to plajorize and I tried to relay the info in my own words, but wanted to be thorough. I have written a detailed account of Historical information but I will also include a short sweet outline of major events in the Companies History for people who don’t want to read all the details and want a brief overview as to view the pictures of the collectibles sooner. As for said collectibles…MOST of the pictures I will post came from My Good friend Tom Stovers amazing Union collection. I want to thank him for the opportunity to photograph his collection and the permission to post it. Speaking of my posted pictures…the service I use for uploading them to Oldgas only hosts them for a couple of Months or so : so if anyone wants them to keep I suggest they download them to a folder because they wont be available in a couple of months. This is the only way I know how to post pictures, thanks for your patience. I truly hope you enjoy this Months Company of the Month : The Union Oil Company of California. I will start with the long version and will post an outline of major events later.
UNION OIL : EARLY DESPERATION TO SUCCESSFUL CORPORATION.
Jane irwin Stewart and William Reynolds Stewart had seven children. The second child born on July 22nd 1840 was named Lyman Stewart and would be later on in his life be recognized as one of the most successful oil men of his time.
As a teen in the late 1850’s Lymans job was to collect hides from local Farmers for his Fathers tannery in Northwestern Pa. Lyman loathed those stinky hides and to occupy his mind while doing this oderous menial task he would keep his eyes out for mysterious seeps which were commonly referred to as “Rock Oil”. The sticky black substance at the time was used in “medicines” that claimed to cure everything, not unlike the famous “snake oil” that grifters would peddle from town to town.Not really concerned with the gooey substance at the time, it was just a way to pass the time while collecting those dreaded hides for Dad. Lyman never realized at the time that this harmless pastime would make him the envy of seep geologists fro his uncanny “nose for oil”.
Lyman was a spiritual man and had plans to do much missionary work, he was much more concerned with this than “seneca oil” as it was locally labeled because of the Seneca Indians of that region used the substance as a bartering chip for the goods they needed. At first Lyman followed in his fathers footsteps at the Tannery which he detested greatly but continued to dream of Missionary work and spreading the Gospel.
Shortly after Edwin L. Drake, (Colonel Drake as he would become to be known after a buisiness partner tagged him with the nickname to give him more credibility) a retired railroad conductor struck oil for the first time using the drilling process in Titusville PA Aug 27th 1859, Lyman entertained the idea of the oil trade to fund his dream of becoming a missionary. After investing all the money Lyman had saved ($125.00) on Dec 5th 1859 on a piece of land on a local farm proved to be fruitless it wouldn’t be until 1861 before Lyman took another whack at oil. Ironically the same farm that let lyman down would (6 years later) go on to pump out 300 barrels a day. Thus proving his “nose for oil” didn’t fail him but perhaps his equipment did.
After 2 years of saving money, Lyman had enough for his second plunge. He had a handful of investors lease some land on another farm and this well proved to be a producer. Unfortunatly at the time many other wells were too thus flooding the market in effect driving prices down that eventually led to Lyman losing the lease on his well. After this successful second plunge Lyman caught “oil fever” and it never left him.
Although in 1862 a lot of oil was being produced..the combination of a saturated U.S. Market and the Civil War cutting off the export of PA crude to a promising European market made it a profitable time for oil. After his 3 year tour of Duty as a Private in the 16th Pa calvary during the Civil War, Lyman returned to Tittusville in 1865 He was bewildered at the changes that had taken place in the oil industry in his 3 year absence. Better equipment, ways of transporting the black gold as well as population mushroomed with oil seekers. Titusville went from having one Hotel to having 13 and the landscape of this little town was littered with derricks. The rush was onand the once sleepy town had now become a boomtown. A recent veteran with no Capitol to fund another plunge, Lyman was as determined as ever to make his mark in the oil industry and not fall back into his hated career as a tanner.
After a short stint at a Poughkeepsie N.Y. Business college, Lyman returned to Pa in 1866 and opened a tiny office near Tittusville to negotiate oil leases. With some of these wells “coming in” Lyman finally came into profits and by 1868 was considered a well established operator. After many deals that were good and many that were bad, Lyman fell on hard times again in 1869. It seemed every cent he made went to expenses and finally he lost his home and had to become a meager wage earner just to support his Family.
Luck cast its light upon him again in 1877, when a Brother of a friend came in from California to visit Tittusville . That man was named Wallace Hardison. Hardison proposed that they be partners and buy some oil properties. Lyman explaned his embarrassing financial situation and declined the proposal. Hardison didn’t accept this and explaned in so many words that he had the wallet and Lyman had the oil knowledge. With only a handshake sealing the deal, Lyman Stewart and Wally Hardison went on to be friends and buisiness partners for many years to come. After making some money with wells in Btradford Pa, Lyman and Hardison sold out and went their separate ways. Lyman then met up with an old aquaintance I, E. Blake who spoke of the Bounty of California oil underneath the Pacific Coast States crust. This intrigued Lyman and in 1883 Lyman took a train from PA to CA with not much more than a hand held Bible and a dream of more profitable oil investments.
Lyman Stewart landed I Los Angeles at the age of 43 and although he had made almost a million in oil had nearly lost it all on oil as well. Vowing never to go flat broke on a hole in the ground again, unless it was a sure thing. Lyman remained cautious. After thoroughly researching the are, Lyman picked a site on Christian hill in Pic Canyon to drill on. He immediately wired his friend Mr. Hardison and told him of the prospect. Mr Hardisons respect for Lymans knowledge of oil and faith in his judgement made it easy for him to invest $135,000 for their california oil drilling venture.
Shortly after operations began they found it much more difficult to drill for oil in California on account of the rocky soil. Four attempts for profitable wells with no results and to add insult to injury they were losing expensive drill bits on Californias harsh terrane. The partnership faced disasterafter hill #5 was drilled yielding nothing but dirt and rock. They only had funds for one more chance so it had to be a good one. They moved from Christian Hillto Tar Creek. Tar Creek should have been named “Tar Bleek” because it was dry as well. Undonted, these brave oil men use alltheir personal assets to acquire loans to fund more drilling. Well #7 unfruitful..the partners were now DESPERATE. They knew the oil was there it just had eluded them. FINALLY, extremely in debt, lady luck looked their way when #8 struck oil Producing 75 Barrels a day. This was God sent to the partnership because of the many dry wells had taking a toll on not only their wallets but their friendship/partnership as well. Although it was a producer they didn’t have the funds to develop the oil and “star #1 “ was sold to pay off debt and make a new start. Ironically after the sale of Star well #1 production fell to about half and it seems the partnership sold out at a most opportune moment.
With debt satisfied from the sale of star #1 …The partnership bought property in Ventura county. They didn’t have much money but the brazen oil men had charisma and dreams. The adams well in Ventura yeilded small profits but not what they expected so using the small profits from the Ventura wells they set uo in Puente, not far from LA. This is where Lyman Stewart would come up with an innovation that would revolutionize the oil industry. It was standard to use coal to heat the boilers that made steam for powering the drilling rig engine. This proved expensive. Lyman came up with the idea of using the crude to power the engines thus making the whole drilling system self sufficiant. This innovation proved to make Lyman Stewart an oil apostle of California, but his great ideas didn’t stop there he also came up with laying pipeline from wells to refinery which proved to be a giant leap forward for the industry. Although these inventions were spectacular, the partnership was both blessed with success and plagued with failure.
The Hardison Stewart Oil Company was incorporated on Dec 28th 1886. Lyman was pres and Hardison VP. And although the dynamic duo was pumped out 50,000 barrells of oil for that year (nearly 1/7th of all of Californias output) Debt, equipment upkeep bank rolling and rigging and well crews made them finacially starving. Due to constant expansion and debt..the Partnership never seemed to be financially flush. After 7 years of hunting for CA oil, the partnership was still broke. When an Eastern investor offered to buy 49% of the Companies stock boasting they he developed a new refining process that would double the amount of kerosene extracted from California crude…if sucsesful it would revolutionize the Wests oil business. Although they had no cash in hand because of loans and expenses their properties were appraised at $1,800,000 and part of this new deal was that the Hardison & Stewart Oil Co., the sespe Oil Co, and the torrey Canyon Oil Co, merge into one Corporation. This Merger officially happened on October 17th, 1890 and Thus The Union Oil Company of California was Born.
Here are some early pocket calanders to get us started.
Hubba the GAS GEEK , OIL FREAK of Shoreline WA