This article is dedicated to the pursuit of the Power-Lube tiger. Not a rare animal, but very desirable and highly sought after by collectors. The great graphics on their signs and cans started at 11 original company owned stations that were later distributed to over 450 stations, from the Rocky Mountain region and to the west coast. Today the old stuff is hard to find and usually expensive when you find it. Here is the tale of the tiger…Happy Hunting!
It was founded as “The Denver Powerine Company” on February 7, 1913, in Denver, Co. The original incorporators were J.R.Ross, W.S.Dawson, and Arther Ponsford. The charter gives the purposes, as to “buy, sell, and deal in, job and distribute gasoline, naphtha, kerosene and other petroleum products. The authorized capital stock was 50,000 shares, at a par value of $1.00. Fred Cramer a miner who had made his fortune in Breckenridge Colorado during the gold rush took over Powerine after only 6 months of operation. The “Power-Lube” brand name was introduced almost immediately, and that was joined by “Autocrat” in 1917. In 1918 the change to the final form, “AutOKrat”, was re-registered. The final form of Power-Lube was registered in 1925 (Tiger, lettering style, colors, etc.). Powerine was just as creative when it came to marketing their gasoline by using a Bearcat that represented the high test gasoline. Low end gasoline went by the name Crystal while mid grade was called "72" as in 72 octane. They added a fourth grade when an Ethyl blended product by the name of Bearcat Ethyl. They advertised this new product with some very popular but hard to find matchbooks showing the Bearcat and Ethyl getting married.
By March 1919, the par value of the stock had been raised to $5.00. The Cramer family also incorporated “The Powerine Company of California”, in the 1920’s, which was to engage in exploration, development, refining, transportation, and marketing in Arizona, California, and Nevada, and investment in real estate. They also incorporated the “Powerine Marketers, Inc.” to take over marketing in the states of Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming.
The company realized the advantages, at the time, of marketing Pennsylvania motor oil and they were fairly early member of the Pennsylvania Grade Crude Oil Association. Their signs and cans bore the organization’s “football-shaped” symbol with the permit #127.
On April 8, 1927 the company name was officially changed to “The Powerine Company”.
The end was in sight in 1945, when The Powerine Company, The Powerine Company of California, and Powerine Marketers, Inc. were completely bought out by a Jersey Standard subsidery-Penola. Penola immediately registered the Oval E trademark and started rebranding the 450+ Powerine stations and redesigning all the product containers. The end of Powerine came in with the beginning of 1946, with the acquisition of all it’s assets by the Carter Oil Company. The Carter Oval E signage disappeared around 1959, as it evolved into the Enco brand. Only five employees were offered severance packages because they were greater the 50 years of age. The compensation packages were less then $5,000 for each person depending on how many years they had worked at Powerine.
The Powerine stations, that operated in the Los Angeles area since that time, have nothing to do with the Cramer family or Jersey Standard/Exxon. They were operated by what had been the Rothchild Oil Company. Rothchild simply changed their name and re-registered the Powerine name when it was abandoned by Exxon in 1972. Definitely not to be confused with the Rocky Mountain Powerine. The artwork on their colorful cans has electrons orbiting around a large atom, with their name in the nucleus. The porcelain pump plates were a simple white background with red lettering.
The PowerLube porcelain signs are out there in number, and are very popular and sought after by collectors. The rare thing to find is a PowerLube or Powerine sign in excellent or better condition. There is the story of an irrigation ditch discovered outside of Pueblo, CO that was lined with Power-Lube signs. The owner sold them to a scrap metal dealer, and they were probably destined to be melted down at the big C.F.&I. steel refinery in Pueblo. A sign collector found them in the scrap yard, and was literally buying Power-Lube signs by the pound! He hauled them out to Iowa Gas, and resold them all to other sign collectors. I think that is why so many signs you see have that “white haze” damage, which will almost never buff out. They were once one of the many ditch signs, submerged underwater years ago, and oxidized with age. Another PowerLube sign discovery has surfaced recently on Ebay. The seller is putting about one sign a week up for auction, and has been selling them for quite a few weeks, maybe months. Soon we will here the story behind this great find!
The common porcelain signs were made by at least 2 different manufacturers, the Wolverine Porcelain Company (with white-outlined letters) and the ENESCO Company (without the white-outlining). The common size is the 24”x28” two-sided sign. They also made a reflector-ized tin sign, in that same size, which was used as a curb sign. An original curb sign in it's wrought iron frame was discovered at the annual Big-3 Swap Meet in San Diego, at the Charger Stadium. It is held every February. There was also a small embossed, one-sided tin sign from the Cork & Badge Company, St.Louis, MO, however, to date only one sign known to exist. An interesting Ebay find!
Beware of the tin and porcelain signs from the AAA-Sign Company!!! They are all Reproductions, no matter how beat up they are! For that matter, never buy a sign from the Desperate Sign Company either! All Repros!
The most beautiful would probably be the big 3ft by 5ft 2-sided porcelain dealership sign. It is hard to find in excellent condition or better, but What a Sign! There are several versions of the larger sign; however there are only a very limited number of big signs known to exist. It is not known who the maker was, however it looks like the work of the Wolverine Co. There is a double-sided version with white outline and one without outlined letters, as well as a single sided version without the white outline. There were also differences in that some have grommet or holes for hanging and some where hung in a bracket without any holes at all. There was a discovery of several of these 3x5 signs that were used to line the floor of a root cellar in Colorado that was being remodeled. Lucky find!
Powerine had several different globes; however none are as plentiful as the red & white Powerine gas globes, that in comparison to the other products were very plain. There as an exciting Bearcat Fuel gas globe that is extremely rare, and very graphic. There is a super rare Crystal gas globe and Bearcat Ethyl globe, which were discovered recently in old station photos that were previously not known to exist. There is also a photo of a smaller PowerLube one-piece globe that topped their oil bottle towers, out by the gas pumps! The sad part is that none of these globes may have survived. For that matter, has anyone ever seen a PowerLube oil bottle? Tough stuff!
The oil cans are very special, as is the case with the signs, they are in high demand when good shape. Several sizes from quarts to 5 gallons exist, and in several varieties, from motor oil to greases. The style of these cans stayed pretty much the same for the life of the company with some minor changes to the colors and logo’s used. The most important difference was the color change of the tiger. The early cans were yellow & blue, like the porcelain signs. For some reason, around the early 1930's, the can colors were changed to orange & blue. There are no known signs done in the orange & blue colors. Maybe the color change was an unpopular one, a marketing flop?
Powerine was a marketing machine. Fred Cramer was president of the independent oil mans association and believed in marketing to ensure the company could compete with the ‘cut rate’ suppliers, as well as the better known national brands. The used door-to-door letter drops to introduce stations in the immediate area. Powerine used give-a-ways and Powerine stamp collecting to earn oil products, or other household products, such as dishes (without the Powerine logo). They also used other advertising media such as traveling billboards, ads in atlases, children’s' Speedtest board games, radio shows, midget racing sponsorship, pin the tail on the Bearcat promotion and many other gas station promotions. One of my favorite quotes from a the "Powerine Prompter" made note of the large number of old service station gas pumps that they had collected (and destroyed!) for the war effort in WWII.
Little known tiger trivia…
Legend has it that the early Power-Lube Tiger was copied in Great Britain, as the more familiar Esso Tiger. When the famous Esso / Exxon Tiger was imported to the U.S. from Great Britain, for the 1960’s “Put a Tiger in your Tank” ad campaign, it was actually the Power-Lube Tiger brought back, after being exported to Great Britain in the first place!
This article was written by Craig Palmer and Scott Wright. We have researched the company and facts with the information that was available. If you can add anything to it please do so!
Wanted Powerine, Bearcat and Powerlube Items- Lots to trade!