Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

Registered UK Charity (No. 115342)

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 163,128 pages of information and 245,598 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.


From Graces Guide
Advertising sign.
White May and Royal Standard. Advertising sign.
Advertising Sign.
1907. Information board at the site of D'Arcy and Renolds' first oil well in Persia (Iran).
1907. Equipment at the site of the first oil well in Iran.
1907. Equipment at the site of the first oil well in Iran.
1907. Marshall, Sons and Co engine at the site of the first oil well in Iran.
1912. Shell Motor Spirit.
May 1921.
February 1922.
March 1922.
October 1922.
June 1923.
August 1923
August 1923.
June 1924.
May 1925.
September 1925.
September 1925.
August 1926.
November 1926.
June 1928.
September 1930.
June 1932.
June 1933. BP Plus.
April 1933. BP Plus.
December 1933.
May 1934.
December 1934.
February 1935.
May 1935.
August 1935.
October 1936.


October 1936.
February 1937.
September 1937.
December 1937.
April 1939.
April 1950.
September 1950.
February 1952.
November 1952.


April 1952.
November 1952.


March 1953.
1954 BP Super
June 1953.
February 1955.
May 1955.
A section of the British Petroleum Company's Kent Oil Refinery with (left to right, background) power station, vacuum distillation units and distillation unit with propane de-asphalting storage in right foreground.
Sept 1956
1956. The oil harbour at Aden built to serve the British Petroleum Company's refinery.
October 1957.
April 1959.
May 1961.
April 1962.
May 1962.
September 1962.
1965. Marine lubricants.

British Petroleum Company, of London

as the Anglo-Persian Oil Co (1909-1935)

later became the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co of Britannic House, Finsbury Circus, London, EC2. (1935-1954)

By 1907, Englishman, William D’Arcy, had gambled his considerable fortune on finding oil in Persia, and was about to lose everything. It seemed that the geologists and experts had been wrong.

Having never set foot in Persia himself, D’Arcy had sent explorer George Reynolds to do the drilling. Reynolds started digging on 23rd January 1907. Reynolds received a telegraph: drill to 1,600 feet and give up. Giving up was not part of George Reynolds’s character and now, after seven years, he instructed the men to keep drilling.

1908 By the early morning of 26 May, the smell of natural gas was unmistakable. The vapours rose and stank of rotten eggs. At 4am the drill reached 1,179 feet and a fountain of oil spewed skyward. From remote Persia, telegrams were slow. Mr D’Arcy got the news 5 days later.

The first oil well in Iran (Persia) produced 36,000 litres or 8000 Gallons per day. [1]

1909 Within a year, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, which would one day become BP, was in business. The press talked of the vastness of the new company’s potential and on the day Anglo-Persian stock opened for trading in London and Glasgow people stood five deep in front of the cashiers. D’Arcy, who had nearly lost everything, was rich.

Life was harsh in Persia; disease and illness commonplace. Getting adequate exploration equipment to the site had taken months and a pipeline had to be built across the winding, mountainous route. Lengths of pipe arrived in bulk from the US, and crews took them as far as they could upriver by barge. Mules dragged them the rest of the way, with labourers taking over where the land was too steep for animals to pass. The work was slow and painstaking. It took two years. On completion, Abadan refinery was the world’s largest, supported by a diverse workforce: fitters, riveters, masons and clerks from India, carpenters from China and semi-skilled workers from the surrounding Arab countries.

By 1914 the Anglo-Persian project was nearly bankrupt for the second time in its short history. The company had plenty of oil but no customers. Cars were too expensive for most, and more established companies in Europe and the New World had the market in industrial oils cornered. Standard Oil of Indiana (later called Amoco), had already been in business for over 25 years. Refining could not remove the Persian oil’s strong, sulphurous stench; nor could it be sold as kerosene for home heating.

Winston Churchill, who had taken a new role in British politics as First Lord of the Admiralty, thought Britain needed a dedicated oil supply, and he argued the case in Parliament. Britain was proud of her navy, and oil-powered vessels were the latest innovation. But while Anglo-Persian executives had courted the Royal Navy for years as a prospective customer for its oil, the old guard at Whitehall had been hesitant to endorse a rival to coal. In 1914, the resolution passed, and the UK government became a major shareholder in the company. Churchill had ended Anglo-Persian’s cash crisis.

WWI. Despite its name, the British Petroleum brand was originally created by a German firm as a way of marketing its products in Britain. During the war, the British government seized the company’s assets, and the Public Trustee sold them to Anglo-Persian in 1917. With that, Anglo-Persian had an instant distribution network in the UK, including 520 depots, 535 railway tank wagons, 1,102 road vehicles, four barges and 650 horses. 1917 The company also acquired 2 other companies from the Public Trustee that had been owned by the same German concern, Homelight Oil Co and the Petroleum SteamShip Co[2].

1917 When the war was in its final throes, the Royal Navy complained that the oil from Anglo-Persian was causing engine problems in colder climates. Anglo-Persian bought an 18th-century mansion at Sunbury-on-Thames, near London, and set up a research laboratory in the basement to address such scientific challenges.

Over the next decade, gas and electricity would largely replace kerosene for home heating, petrol-fuelled delivery vehicles would challenge the railways for freight, and the age of the automobile would truly begin. These social changes would open a door that Anglo-Persian would step adeptly through, expanding its sales both in Britain and in mainland Europe.

Cars flooded onto the streets of Europe and the United States in the 1920s and 30s.

1921 Opened a refinery at Llandarcy, South Wales[3] which was operated by the National Oil Refineries Ltd subsidiary.

1922 Anglo-Persian Oil Co began marketing motor spirits through British Petroleum, having previously done so through another company. BP-labelled petrol pumps appeared around Britain. There were 69 pumps in 1921, over 6,000 by 1925. On roadsides in mainland Europe, the letters BP became a familiar sight as Anglo-Persian, which produced BP petrol, entered these markets.

1924 Refinery at Grangemouth, Scotland, was opened.[4].

1927 AGM of Anglo-Persian Oil Co told that its UK refineries were supplying the petrol requirements of National Benzole Co[5].

1931 Formation of joint marketing company to market and sell the petrol and oil products of Shell and BP in UK. Shell owned 60% and BP owned 40%[6].

1935 Persia changed its name to Iran, and to stay current the company followed suit, renaming itself Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. But the good times were short-lived.

1937 Manufacturers and suppliers in Great Britain. Producers and refiners of petroleum products. [7]

1938 Eric Fawcett, co-inventor of polyethylene, joined the company and was associated with the invention and development of a butane isomerisation process to produce isobutane, an intermediate required in the alkylation process for aviation gasoline[8].

1938 the principal suppliers of petrol in the UK, namely Anglo-American Oil Co, National Benzole Co, Shell-Mex and B. P. and Trinidad Leaseholds, joined together with Government approval to form the Petroleum Board to consider the problems of petroleum distribution in the event of war.

1939 On 3rd September, the Board's became an executive body under Government direction. All products were sold under a Pool description, the selling price of each product being subject to Government control.

1939 Petrol suddenly became rationed. BP’s growth on the continent abruptly stopped. Winston Churchill again called on Anglo-Iranian to support a war effort.

WWII. Air power took on a new significance. The Royal Air Force turned to Anglo-Iranian, with its newly-improved aviation fuel’s efficiency. The quantity of fuel needed could only be made with a major refit at the Abadan refinery in Iran, but 3 ships carrying those supplies were sunk. The open seas were dangerous. During the war, 44 of the company’s tankers sank, killing 657 crew, with 260 others taken prisoner of war.

The British government asked Anglo-Iranian to find more oil on UK soil. The company increased production at a field in Nottingham. Quantities were still small, but were large enough to help. It was one of the best-kept secrets of World War II.

In Iran, the war years were equally fraught. Japan’s entry into the war made the refinery at Abadan a prime target. When Allied troops moved in to secure the facility, 3 employees died in friendly fire. A severe wheat shortage made life miserable for the 200,000 people living at Abadan and for the 80,000 more spread out in remote camps and villages at the oil fields. Anglo-Iranian sent a representative from London to help with the crisis. Tankers brought food rations from India and Australia. Second-hand clothes arrived from England. Smallpox and typhus swirled through the nearby countryside.

Post-WWII. As Europe rebuilt, so did Anglo-Iranian, investing in refineries in France, Germany and Italy plus new marketing efforts in Switzerland, Greece, Scandinavia and the Netherlands. BP petrol went on sale for the first time in New Zealand.

1948 The Petroleum Board was dissolved in June.

1948 Anglo-Iranian started marketing Energol lubricating oil in various parts of Europe, followed by the UK the next year.

1949 Expansion of Grangemouth Refinery

Nationalists throughout the Middle East questioned Western companies’ rights to profit from Middle Eastern resources. With Britain’s imperial hold on the region rapidly unraveling, Anti-British sentiment escalated.

1951 Price's developed the first multigrade oil, Energol, at its Battersea works.

1951 Iran’s prime minister convinced his Parliament to nationalize oil operations within the country’s borders. Women and children were evacuated and the refinery was shut.

Governments around the world boycotted Iranian oil. Within 18 months, the Iranian economy was in ruins. Eventually a new arrangement was made, allowing a consortium of companies, including Standard Oil of Indiana (Amoco) and others, to run the oil operations in Iran. Anglo-Iranian’s stake was 40%.

1953 Opened Kent refinery on the Isle of Grain and another refinery in Belfast[9].

1954, the board changed the company’s name to the British Petroleum Company.

1954 Increasing demand for multigrade oil led BP, part owners of Price's, to remove the lubricating oil business to the refinery at Grangemouth and re-brand it as their own product.

1955 Introduction of Visco-Static multigrade lubricating oil[10].

1957 BP welcomed the purchase of National Benzole Co by Shell-Mex and B. P. which would consolidate the long standing arrangement for supplying product to National Benzole[11].

By the 1960s the technology of oil exploration had improved considerably. The company had looked for oil in the UK for nearly 50 years without a single large discovery.

1963 BP was involved in a joint venture, Border Chemicals, with Distillers Co and ICI[12].

1964 The United Nations extended countries’ rights over territorial waters.

1964 Opened refinery on the Isle of Grain in Kent[13].

1965 BP found natural gas in the English Channel, enough to power a medium-sized city.

1967 A new subsidiary company, BP Chemicals, was established to hold all of BP's chemical and plastics interests and the chemicals businesses acquired from Distillers Co[14].

1968 A massive find awaited in Alaska - after a decade of drilling dry wells along the North Slope, BP was on the verge of abandoning its search when the discovery was made.

1969 BP acquired Duckhams[15].

1970 Offshore exploration had moved into the North Sea. In October, crews found the Forties field, which could produce 400,000 barrels of crude oil a day.

1971 Gaddafi announced that Libya would be taking a higher cut on all oil that left the country. Soon after, the British military withdrew from Iran. Then Iran seized some small Arab Islands near the Strait of Hormuz, and Gaddafi punished BP by nationalising BP's share of an oil production operation in Libya. Then, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Qatar stated their intention to nationalise, and the effect on BP was profound.

1974 Wildcatting in an area to the south west of the Brent Field, in partnership with Ranger Oil of Canada, discovered some substantially thick oil-bearing sands.[16]

Between 1975 and 1983, Middle Eastern oil would go from 80% of BP's supply down to 10%. Fortunately, BP had discovered major oil fields in other parts of the world, those in including Alaska and the North Sea.

At 1,200 kilometres long, the Trans-Alaska pipeline system was the largest civil engineering project ever attempted in North America, and included long above ground stretches so that the warm oil passing through would not melt the permafrost. Raised areas at caribou crossings ensured that migration habits remained undisturbed. When the oil started to flow from Alaska, BP's stake in Standard Oil of Ohio (Sohio) grew over the years.

1980 Acquired Selection Trust

1980 Formed a joint venture with Lucas Energy Systems to develop and exploit solar-electricity technology - Lucas BP Solar Systems.

1982 BP were developing the Magnus project in the North Sea's most northerly and deepest oilfield. It project cost approximately £1.37 billion. The John Brown- Earl and Wright designed steel jacket weighed 40 400 tonnes and 36 piles each up to 110 metres long secured it to a seabed in 620ft of water.[17]

1982 April: The Magnus was the North Sea's newest and largest oil platform. It was floated out from Hifab's yard in Nigg Bay, Scotland on 27th March. Four days later the 40,400 tonne steel jacket arrived over the field 125 miles north-east of Shetland. John Brown Offshore was the main contractor. There were a few teething problems arranging the structure in place during the float-out.[18]

1983 BP Minerals absorbed Selection Trust

1987 BP bought Sohio outright, incorporating it into a new national business, BP America.

1987 The British government sold the last of the shares it held in BP.

1988 Acquired British National Oil Corporation

Late 1990s, with stiff competition in the energy industry setting off a string of prominent mergers, BP and Amoco joined to form BP Amoco. Then ARCO (previously Atlantic Richfield), BP's old rival on the North Slope of Alaska, was added to the portfolio.

2000 acquired Burmah-Castrol. Castrol branded lubricants continue to be sold around the world.

Aral's distinctive European operation were also brought into the group.

2000 BP unveiled a new, unified global brand.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Information board, see images.
  2. The Times, 7 June 1917
  3. The Times, 19 November 1973
  4. The Times, 19 November 1973
  5. The Times, 3 November 1927
  6. The Times, 14 November 1931
  7. 1937 The Aeroplane Directory of the Aviation and Allied Industries
  8. RSC [1]
  9. The Times, 19 November 1973
  10. The Times, 28 September 1955
  11. The Times, 8 May 1957
  12. The Times, 21 August 1963
  13. The Times, 19 November 1973
  14. The Times, 1 April 1967
  15. The Times, 18 December 1969
  16. The Engineer 1974/01/31 p 7.
  17. The Engineer 1982/02/25
  18. The Engineer 1982/04/08 and 1982/04/15
  • [2] History of BP
  • Competition Commission [3]