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Road Trip!


This year marks the 125th anniversary of the oldest continuously operating oil refinery in the United States, originally the Kendall Refinery in Bradford, Pa. Now owned by American Refining Group, the Bradford refinery was founded in 1881 in what was then the village of Kendall Creek. Others quickly followed.

These earliest refineries processed crude to obtain kerosene, used for heating and lighting. With the coming of the automobile, production shifted to gasoline -and to the lubrication products required for engines and transmissions.

Most people of a certain age are familiar with oil company road maps. These were handed out free by oil companies at their service stations from about 1920 to 1980. Intended primarily as advertising for gasoline, many also advertised lubrication products, primarily motor oil. These road map covers reveal a lot about how oil companies positioned lubricants and their brands.

Gulf Oil gains credit for giving out the first free road maps, as advertising for the new-fangled gasoline 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 Spindle top oil field in Texas. They came late to the business; Pennsylvanians such as Kendall had been marketing oil for years.

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 awhile, 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.

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