Collector's Guide to Vintage Gasoline Additives

by Wayne Henderson, Petroleum Collectibles Monthly
The story behind collectible petroleum additive advertising, cans, signs and globes.

Globe: Col-Tex Ethyl gasoline
It would not be unusual for an ad in Petroleum Collectibles Monthly to read "Wanted - Purol Pep single lens for 15" metal; Complete globes - Deep Rock Kant-Nock and Mid-West (Michigan), both on 13.5" glass. Call BR-549."

Both Purol Pep and Deep Rock Kant-Nock were well known gasoline brandnames, and Mid-Marketed only slightly less so since they only marked in Michigan. But occaisionaly you will see reference to "Solvenized Purol Pep," "Deep Rock Kant-Nock with Ethyl," or Mid-West Lubrigas." What are these products? How did it come about that virtually every company marketed a premium grade of gasoline tagged "with Ethyl?" And why do Pure, Jenny, United, Woco-Pep and others refer to their gasoline as "Solvenized?" Are those companies related? Lets take a look...
Globe: Mid-West Lubri-Gas gasoline

Advances in automotive engine design saw major steps forward during the decade of 1910-1920. Early two-cylinder and four-cylinder designs gradually gave way to six-cylinder in-line engines. As early as 1915 Cadillac offered a V-8 engine in certain models. Engines development, however, was hampered by the lack of availability of high octane fuels necessary in developing higher compression ratios. The petroleum industry experimented with a number of blends and additives to gasoline in an attempt to create a fuel of higher anti-knock capability. Of the early additives, a blend of benzene and gasoline, marketed as "Benzol" offered the most promise. In 1915 a small Baltimore refiner-marketer, critically short of crude supplies, developed a high octane benzol fuel they named "Amoco-Gas," taking an acronym of the corporate name, American Oil Company. Availability of the fuel was somewhat hampered by the company's limited resources and crude oil supplies, and it would be nearly ten years before Amoco-Gas was available outside of a very limited area. The first effort by a major gasoline marketer to introduce a high octane gasoline came in 1922 when Standard of Indiana introduced "Solite," a gasoline with a higher specific gravity (the method for determining octane rating was not established until 1929) than Standard's "Red Crown." In early 1923, the General Motors Research Labs at Dayton, Ohio began testing the addition of tetraethyl lead to gasoline. Marketing experimentation began when GM teamed with Dayton Independent Refiners Oil Company to introduce an "ethylized" gas, blending tetraethyl lead with gasoline at the pump. The experiment was quite successful and in September 1923, GM teamed up with Standard of Indiana to introduce Ethyl gasoline on a large scale. The following August, GM and Standard Oil of New Jersey formed the Ethyl Gasoline Corporation to franchise the Ethyl additive to gasoline marketers worldwide. The ink had hardly dried on this agreement when lead poisoning deaths in the Ethyl plants brought about a moratorium of the sale of "ethylized" gasoline until further study of potential harmful effects could be determined. After over a year of study by the U.S. Surgeon General, Ethyl Gasoline was reintroduced, with some restrictions on handling of the tetraethyl lead additive. With the reintroduction of Ethyl, every refiner meeting the Ethyl franchise requirements quickly signed on. Those who were deemed ineligible, for one reason or another, quickly introduced their own premium grade products in order to compete with Ethyl. Thus, in a period of about two years, virtually every marketer began offering at least two grades of gasoline. Those marketers that had, prior to the introduction of Ethyl offered a premium grade product, possibly a benzol blend or an "aviation" grade (Aviation being a common trade name for these non-ethyl premiums in the 1920s) often continued to market this product alongside their new "Ethyl." No tetraethyl lead could be added to any regular grade product until terms of the Ethyl franchise agreement were modified in 1933. Among major oil companies of this era, Standard Oil remained a single grade marketer, introducing "Blue Sunoco" in 1928 as a non-ethyl premium fuel sold at regular grade prices. Even Amoco, pioneer in high octane non-leaded fuels, offered regular grade products, originally "American Strate" and "Orange American Gas."

Dirty Dan the Carbon Man

As our introduction pointed out, though, the chemical additive trademarked "Ethyl" was not the only additive available to enhance the quality of gasoline. Competitive processes were developed, the most successful of which was Lubrizol Corporation's "Solvenized" additive package. Taking its name from the root word "solvent," this chemical additive was designed to dissolve carbon that builds up on automotive engine internal components. The additive was introduced in 1935, and the original marketer of "Solenized" gasoline was Cleveland, Ohio based Pocahontas Oil Company, that marketed under the "Blue Flash" brandname. Blue Flash Gasoline became "Solvenized Blue Flash," and a cartoon character, "Dirty Dan the Carbon Man" accompanied advertising of the new product, combined with the slogan Chases Carbon." Pocahontas Oil had sold out to Hickock Oil Company (Hi-Speed) by 1938, and although Hickock did not actively advertise it's gasolines as "Solvenized" (they preferred "Ex-Carbon), the Pure Oil Company, majority owner of Hickock Oil did adopt the "Solvenized" process. As a result, Purol Pep and companion product Woco-Pep (in the Southeast) were advertised as "Solvenized" although globes denoting this additive are very rare.

Before Pure had become a Lubrizol franchisee, another regional marketer, Boston based Jenny Manufacturing, had licensed the process. Not only were Jenny Hy-Power Gasolines "SOlvenized," but their lubricants were solvent treated as well. Jenny offered their "Solvenoil" lubricants until they merged with Citgo in 1965. Another "Solvenized" marketer was Erie, Pennsylvania based United Oil Marketing, Inc. United was only a small regional operation, but incorporated the "chases Carbon" slogan and character into their signage and advertising.

Can: LubriGas additive

Taking another route entirely, Lubri-Gas International Inc. of Chicago Illinois, introduced a lubricant additive to blend in gasoline. While the additive was offered in the aftermarket, one marketer, Mt. Pleasant, Michigan based Mid-West Refining offered a gasoline-Lubri-Gas blend. Symbolized by a camel, Lubri-Gas was sold by other midwestern marketers as a sideline product in the 1930s and 1940s.

Different still were the gasoline brands that promoted their refining method. One of these refining processes was known as "Dubbs Cracking," and companies including Grizzly, Leonard and Bay advertised their gasolines as being "Dubbs Cracked."

After World War II, franchised gasoline additives gave way to individual refiners chemical compounds. Both Shell and Conoco enhanced their product with an additive known as "TCP." The element boron was added to gasoline offered by Sohio, DX and Richfield of California and nickel was added to Sinclair fuels. While these later additives do not often have a direct interest to collectors of petroleum memorabilia, they are referenced in print ads and on signs and globes. Sohio went so far, of course, as to introduce Boron as a secondary brand.

Gasoline marketers continue to promote their additives even today. Chevron gasolines are enhanced with "Techroline" and indeed the Techroline additive is available in aftermarket form to add to your favorite brand of gasoline. Texaco advertises their "System 3" products and Exxon advertises "Phase 4" fuels. None of these modern-day products or processes will generate significant collectibles for future collectors in the same way that the extensive assortment of Ethyl signs or globes, each representing their individual brandnames does for us today.

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Copyright 1996 Petroleum Collectibles Monthly, used with permission.

Online 6/1/97 by Jim Potts