History of Esso in the UK

Esso began life as the Anglo American Oil Company in 1888. It was the first foreign affiliate of John D Rockefeller's US company the Standard Oil Trust. It had a head office at Bishopsgate, London, and a depot at Purfleet in Essex. The depot stored paraffin being shipped from New York for use in lamps throughout England.


History of Esso in the UK
Photo — The stables at Ailsa Wharf, one of the first four distribution depots established in 1888 by Anglo-American Oil (as Esso then was). Distribution was carried out by horse drawn tank car until after WW1.

Just one year later the company began bulk distribution of refined petroleum products in the UK. Two steam tanker vessels, 'Bayonne' and 'Manhattan' were commissioned to import oils from America.

In 1890, Anglo-American leased a three acre site at Broad Pill, Avonmouth for the construction of oil storage tanks, and two years later the company began to supply gas oil for the manufacture of town gas.

By 1896 the company had issued its first UK advertisement for 'Pratt's Petroleum', which was named after Charles Pratt, one of the founders of Standard Oil.

By 1900, and after only 12 years in the UK, the company had created a national operating network - including 1,000 horses working for the company.

Photo — In 1910 a horse drawn van used by the Anglo-American Oil Co. for the delivery of 2-gallon cans of petroleum spirit on the Isle of Wight.

In 1905, King Edward VII granted a Royal Warrant to the company for the supply of 'Pratt's Perfection Motor Spirit', and there were some 3,500 sales agents around the country offering the company's wares.

By the start of the First World War in 1914 the company was importing 14 million gallons of fuel per year to the UK, though sales of lamp oil would continue to exceed those of motor fuel until two years later.

Following the war, Anglo-American became the first in the UK to install a kerbside petrol pump - at Hale in Cheshire.

In 1925 Anglo-American acquired control of the British-Mexican Petroleum Co. Ltd, which included 10 storage and bunkering plants, a large fleet of motor lorries and eight 10,000 gallon distribution tankers. 

The following year, the Esso brand was launched in the United States, but it would not be introduced in the UK until 1934. However, all the company's fuel brand names were changed to Esso within a year - the Pratt's brand name remained in use for lubricant products until the 1950s.

In 1938, Anglo-American began production at the UK's first oil well in Dalgeith, Scotland, which produces 10-20 barrels a day.

At the start of the Second World War, the company's tanker fleet was requisitioned by the UK Government to maintain fuel supplies to the UK. More than 350 employees died at sea during the war and by the war's conclusion only 15 Esso vessels remained. The company's Purfleet terminal on the east coast of England suffered considerable bombing damage during hostilities, but was never out of action for more than two weeks at time. Operation PLUTO ('Pipeline Under The Ocean') supplied petroleum from the Anglo-American refinery at Fawley for the D-Day landings.

In 1949 major construction work began at Fawley to create the UK's largest refinery. Two years later, on 14 September 1951, Prime Minister Clement Atlee officially opened the new Fawley Refinery, which was processing 124,000 barrels of crude oil per day within a year. A petrochemicals plant was constructed alongside the refinery and began operations in 1958.

Photo — 1957-This truck (equipped with a metering device and ticket printer) was used to deliver Esso Blue kerosene to householders in London.

In 1962 Esso began delivering supplies of ethylene from Fawley to the ICI works at Severnside by pipeline, the first Esso distribution pipeline in the UK. Two further pipelines, this time to a fuel terminal in Staines, were opened the following year.

Photo — 1963 - A workman applies a concrete coating to one of the pipes from Fawley to London to protect them from any damage which may occur on the river bed.

Also in 1963, Anglo-American opened an office in London to oversee a series of seismic surveys in the North Sea. Shell and Esso established a joint operation the following year, which succeeded in obtaining 75 blocks in the UK's first Licensing Round in 1965, with Shell Expro as the operator for the joint venture. That same year, the first North Sea exploration well was spudded by the joint venture, and within a year the operation had discovered the Leman Bank and Indefatigable gas fields.

Photo — 1962- Card punching and checking equipment installed at Esso’s New Head Office. It was one of the finest installations of this kind in the UK.

In 1969 Esso opened its first self-service petrol station and a year later launched its first World Cup Coins football promotion.

Photo — 1969 - Every detail of Stoneham Service Station was designed to meet the needs of the do it yourself motorist.

The Leman gas field came on stream in 1968, supplying gas to the Bacton Terminal on the UK's east coast by pipeline. The Indefatigable field came on stream in 1971 and the world famous Brent field was found to be commercial in 1972. Development of the Brent field continues apace, and by 1976, a 36 inch (1m) oil pipe was installed to bring crude oil from Brent to Sullom Voe.

Esso's parent company, Standard Oil Company (New Jersey) changed its name to Exxon Corporation in 1972.

By 1977, more than four million tons of crude oil from the North Sea had been refined at Fawley Refinery. That same year a semi-submersible barge is used to lay the Far North Liquids & Associated Gas System (FLAGS) pipeline to recover gas from the Brent field.

Esso shops were introduced at service stations in 1980, aimed at providing 'corner shop' convenience to motorists when they refuel, and Esso opened new fuel pipelines to Gatwick Airport in 1983, and to Birmingham and the north west of England in 1985.

Exxon Corporation merged with the Mobil Oil Company in 1999, creating Exxon Mobil Corporation.

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