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The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

BP AMERICA - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

BP AMERICA, formerly the Standard Oil Co. (Ohio), which was the original Standard Oil Co. founded by JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER† in 1870 along with his brother, William, HENRY M. FLAGLER†, SAMUEL ANDREWS†, and STEPHEN V. HARKNESS†. Rockefeller entered the oil business full time in 1864 when he bought Andrews & Clarke Co., a firm which sold kerosene distilled from crude oil. Andrews remained associated with the company as it acquired the additional partners who would eventually charter Standard Oil Co. When organized in 1870, the company owned 2 refineries in Cleveland and had offices in the Cushing Block on PUBLIC SQUARE.


Standard Oil Co.'s No. 1 Refinery in Cleveland when the city was the center of the world petroleum industry, 1889. WRHS.

Rockefeller and his associates successfully stabilized the chaotic new oil industry by combining refineries and centralizing management. Standard Oil controlled 21 of Cleveland's 26 refineries by 1872, as well as major refineries in New York, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh. Ten years later the company controlled 90% of the nation's refining capacity. In order to circumvent the company's Ohio charter, which prohibited company activity outside the state, a Standard Oil trust agreement was drawn up in Jan. 1882 giving 9 trustees all the stock of its 40 companies, including Ohio Standard. A successful lawsuit by the State of Ohio in 1892 forced dissolution of the trust in Ohio and prompted the 1899 reorganization of Standard Oil (New Jersey) as a holding company to receive the stocks previously held by the trustees. In 1911 the U.S. Supreme Court declared the holding company a monopoly in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act and ordered it disbanded. As a result, Standard Oil of Ohio became an independent company which controlled marketing operations in Ohio and owned an outmoded Cleveland refinery, but had no crude oil reserves and no pipelines. By that time, Ohio Standard had moved its offices from the Standard Block to a new building on E. 55th St.


Standard Oil Co. founder John D. Rockefeller (with cane) escorts sister-in-law Lucy Spelman through Coit Rd. Station in East Cleveland, en route to Rockefeller's Forest Hill summer home, 1912. WRHS.

Before dissolution, the growing use of automobiles had put Ohio Standard in a position to capitalize on the demand for gasoline. When its gasoline sales surpassed those of kerosene for the first time in 1911, the company controlled 85% of the gasoline business in the state. Standard Oil of Ohio, formed as a result of the antitrust suit, the state's first million-dollar corporation, with assets of $6.6 million in 1911. The company introduced the "Sohio" sobriquet in 1928 and the Midland Bldg. became its headquarters in 1930. When Sohio built its own crude-oil pipelines in 1934 and extended them into Texas in 1949, refinery production increased dramatically and sales reached $140 million in 1943. During the 1950s and 1960s the company opened a $24 million Warrensville Research Center; expanded its marketing operation into other states; and diversified its interests. By 1970 the company had 21 subsidiaries in the transportation, marketing, chemicals and plastics, and food and lodging industries. In 1979 Sohio's assets had grown to $8.3 billion, and its sales of $11.6 billion in 1983 ranked it 25th among American companies in sales and 10th by net income ($1.5 billion).

In 1969 Sohio acquired the BP Oil Corp., U.S. subsidiary of the British Petroleum Co., Ltd., of London in exchange for stock, giving Sohio oil leases on the rich North Slope of Alaska. However, by 1984 BP's stock holdings in Sohio had grown to 55%. In 1987 it purchased the remaining 45% of Sohio and merged its North American holdings to form BP America, Inc., headquartered in the new BP building on Cleveland's Public Square.

After the acquisition in 1987, the company's presence in Cleveland gradually began to recede as it reduced its corporate staff and moved key positions, including the CEO, to more prominent financial centers like New York and London. In addition, the company made clear its intentions to sell the recently constructed BP America building, stipulating that it would remain as a tenant and the name of the building would remain unchanged. After British Petroleum purchased Chicago-based Amoco in 1998, however, the company announced that it would be moving its headquarters from Cleveland to Chicago. In May 2000, the city council in WARRENSVILLE HEIGHTS awarded a property tax abatement to SHERWIN WILLIAMS CO. in order to aid in the company's move to and renovation of the former BP America Research Campus.

Hidy, Ralph W. and Hidy, Muriel E. Pioneering in Big Business 1882-1911 (1955).

Izant, Grace Goulder. John D. Rockefeller (1972).

Standard Oil Co. (Ohio). Sohioan (Jan. 1970).

Last Modified: 26 Sep 2003 03:30:56 PM

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