Thursday, July 5, 2012

Standard Oil Substations

A recent comment on my oil refinery article in the August MR was complimentary but wished there was information on the typical 1890s oil distribution facilities. Here is some information I put together on Standard Oil's facilities in California.

Standard Oil Substations,
An Analysis by Don Ball

Click above for larger image.
When Standard Oil Company established itself in California, it, in the person of Iowa Standard, set up oil distribution substations. According to Standard Oil Company of California, Formative Years in the Far West,

Stations varied considerably in size and equipment. The two largest, located in San Francisco and Los Angeles, by 1896 represented investments of about $53,000 each. The smallest, at San Diego, was valued at about $5,500. Each station had one or more plain brick warehouses containing an office and storage for cased goods, and several tanks ranging up to 7,000 barrels [42 gallons per barrel] in size for bulk storage. They were also equipped with a pump house, barreling plant and a stable. They kept on hand a thirty- to sixty-day supply. . . .

Iowa Standard supplemented its main stations with depots or substations. The storage depot established in 1883 at Oakland was a forerunner. By 1890 the company was operating eleven substations and twelve main stations. A decade later, when there were fifteen main statons, the number of substations had grown to fifty-eight. Some were sizable, like the $4,200 plant at Bakersfield, consisting of a warehouse and tanks; others were just a small tank and perhaps a warehouse located on a spur track near some hamlet . . . They were usually staffed by no more than one or two men who were paid a commission. . . .

The Iowa company turned to the tank wagon in the more populous areas as the most economical means of distributing oil except for a large delivery direct from a tank car. For the merchant, too, there were advantages. He could retail bulk oil more easily from a tank filled regularly by tank wagon than from an unwieldy barrel, and he was no longer troubled by possible damage from leakage to good stored near his oil. . . .

Standard’s first wagons first appeared on the streets of San Francisco in 1883; by 1890 they had been adopted at all the main stations except Marysville. In that year, the Iowa company delivered about one-seventh of its kerosene by tank wagon. Soon the practice also became common at the substations. By 1900 the tank wagons were handling about one-third of the kerosene sales.

The attached sheet contains Sanborn insurance map depictions of several distribution substations which were located in California. Undoubtedly, a similar pattern was repeated nationwide.

1 comment:

  1. Don,
    The California site look just like the ones in Colorado. Thanks