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Lubrication Ads on Old Road Maps
by Harold Cramer
(Copyright 2006 Lubes'n'Greases magazine. Reprinted with permission from the November 2006 issue.)
The year 2006 is the 125th anniversary of the oldest continuously operating oil refinery in the United States, the (originally) Kendall Refinery in Bradford, Pennsylvania, founded in 1881 in what was then the village of Kendall Creek. The earliest refineries processed crude to obtain kerosene, used for heating and lighting. With the coming of the automobile, production shifted to gasoline and the lubrication products required for engines and transmissions. Most people, of a certain age, are familiar with oil company road maps handed out free by oil companies from about 1920 to 1980 and intended primarily as advertising for gasoline. Many also advertised lubrication products, primarily motor oil, and this article illustrates how oil companies advertised lubrication products on their road maps. The emphasis here is on road map covers and not the map inside.
Gulf Oil gave out the first free road maps as advertising for the new-fangled gas stations they started building in 1913. Their station on Baum Boulevard in Pittsburgh (no longer there) is considered the first purpose built drive-in gas station in the country. Gulf was formed in 1901 to exploit the Spindletop oil field in Texas. They came late to the business; Pennsylvania oil field companies, such as Kendall, had been marketing oil for years. Since Gulf's product came from the south, they were rather desperate to show that it was every bit as good as that from Pennsylvania. Thus, one of their early road maps (Figure 1 left) from 1915 has the endorsement, from a Naval Officer no less: "Oils made from Southern-asphalt-based crudes have shown themselves to be better adapted to motor cylinders, as far as their carbon-forming proclivities are concerned than are the paraffin based Pennsylvania oils." And the ad goes on, and was used for a couple years.
At least one Pennsylvania company retaliated. The Atlantic Refining Company issued a map (Figure 2 right) in 1916 emphasizing their lubrication products came from Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Franklin, all in Pennsylvania. On the inside of the map, they went even further; saying: "The best roads are made of Atlantic Asphalts;" the implication being that asphalt was suitable only for highways. It certainly seems as if Gulf's first road map lubrication ad was a misstep if the word "asphalt" had the same connotation then as it does now.
Early road maps had more lubrication advertising than later maps, and the reason is obvious. Early engines using early motor oils needed frequent oil changes, and the more frequent the better for sales. A 1918 map (Figure 3 left) from Gulf shows the prominence given "Supreme Auto Oil" on the cover continued, with a recommended change every 1500 miles. The "asphalt" ad is gone; instead Gulf's motor oil "Flows Freely at Zero" unlike that nasty paraffin-based stuff, and we all know where that comes from. Later Gulf suggested an oil change every 1000 miles, and by 1923 every 500 to 1000 miles, and this recommendation continued on Gulf maps up to 1930, as did the "car racing up a hill" cover touting Supreme Auto Oil.
Companies with product from the region promoted Pennsylvania oil as best for lubrication. The most obvious example is Pennzoil, incorporating the whole idea into the name of the company; a 1923 map (Figure 4 below right), emphasizes "Supreme Pennsylvania Quality Motor Lubricants." Another ad on the inside cover (Figure 4a below center) pushes the point home.
A circa 1924 map (Figure 5 below left) from Kendall is unusual in not mentioning gasoline at all, only "Kenco Lubricating Oils...Made from 100% Pennsylvania Crude Petroleum." By the way, the Bradford Refinery is pictured in the middle of this cover. On the inside is a "Lubricating Guide" (Figure 5a below center) for over a hundred cars and tractors along with the recommended grade of oil. Many of the autos mentioned are long gone. By 1929 Kendall was the first company to advertise a (gasp!) 2000 mile motor oil (Figure 6 below right) with an updated lubricating chart now listing SAE grade oils.
Oil companies with product from Pennsylvania fields (which also covered New York and West Virginia) advertised motor oil more prominently than companies with product from other sources. A 1925 Pure Oil map (Figure 7 right) promotes "crudes from the famous Cabin Creek field in West Virginia." Whereas, a 1932 Shell map (Figure 8 below), very striking and included here for that reason, makes no mention of product or product source at all. But, Shell was a European company and perhaps more sophisticated, as maps with just a company logo, and no mention of product, became the norm in later years. Texaco, whose crude came from an obvious place, mentions their motor oil in a 1930 map (Figure 9 below), but seems more intent on promoting their nationwide service.
Probably the best-known motor oil came from Quaker State, based in Oil City, not far from Bradford. They took over the Sterling company and marketed gasoline under that name so other gas stations would continue to sell Quaker State motor oil, marketed nationwide and from which the bulk of their profits came. A 1949 map (Figure 10 right) has the front cover advertising Sterling gasoline while the back (Figure10a right) pictures Quaker's "100% Pennsylvania Grade Crude Oil." Pennzoil also continued to emphasize "100% Pure Pennsylvania" motor oil, as the back cover of a 1963 map (Figure11 right) shows. Quaker State and Pennzoil had a great rivalry selling Pennsylvania motor oil until the companies merged in the late 1990s.
A 1954 Calso map (Figure12 left) is one of the earliest seen that mentions blended 10-30 oil; though maps from later years tended to downplay motor oil advertising. A 1983 map from Phillips Petroleum has an oil can on the cover (Figure13 left). There is no price on this map; so it is one of the last free oil company road maps. Of course, many, many other road maps have lubrication advertising and the ones shown here are just a sampling. Most oil companies ended free road map distribution by 1980, although a few continued on for a while selling their maps instead of giving them away. By the 1990s oil company road maps were gone, and road map nostalgia (like this article) set in.