HOW ABOUT THOSE CROWNS? By Wayne Henderson - PCM June 2001 Issue
How about those Crowns? Red ones and white ones and blue ones and California ones and Nebraska ones and Ohio ones and an odd Crown from Baltimore. What is a collector to do? How do we tell them apart? Here are some pointers.
Prior to the breakup of Standard Oil in 1911, all of the various Standard “divisions” then in existence sold gasoline under the brandname “Red Crown”. At that time was only one of numerous picturesque trademarks then in use by the company. In fact, most consumer trademarks from that era were graphically intricate. Some that come to mind are the various tobacco trademarks with oriental or Indian themes, the Morton Salt girl, the Bon Ami chick, and many others. In reality what does a crown, defined as headgear that is used by and symbolizes royalty, have to do with gasoline? With no relationship whatsoever to the product, it was simply one of the many image-trademarks of the era. That usage would be simple enough had Standard remained intact. That was not to be, for in 1911 the Supreme Court declared that Standard would be broken into 33 component companies. A number of them, alone or in combination, leading eventually to nine major brands, would eventually market gasoline. The breakup of Standard would thus coincide with the development of the retail gasoline station and the related marketing efforts that would introduce gasoline brands to worldwide motorists. At first, virtually all of the marketing divisions continued use of the brandname Red Crown gasoline. Since the marketing did not overlap, this proved to be no problem in identification to motorists of the era. Within a year or two, however, Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, Atlantic Refining Company, Continental Oil, and Standard Oil Company of New York would move on to adopt their own trademarks and images, Jersey (Exxon) with their “Standard Motor Gasoline”, Atlantic with their “Atlantic Polarine Gasoline”, Continental with their “Conoco Gasoline” and New York (Mobil) with Socony Gasoline. Atlantic’s “Polarine” was quickly changed to simply Atlantic Gasoline since “Polarine” was another of the shared Standard trademarks, used by the other divisions for their motor oils.
Other Standard siblings, Standard Oil Company of Ohio, of California, of Indiana, and of Kentucky, and their subsidiary companies, opted to retain the historic image displaying a red crown to identify their gasoline. From the 1911 breakup, the red crown image would continue to be used for gasoline identification for over 50 more years. Here is the story of each company’s use of the trademark and the guidelines to tell each image apart.
Standard Oil of Kentucky, commonly called Kyso, marketed gasoline in the states of Kentucky, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. They had no independent production or refining capacity and purchased virtually all of their products from Standard of New Jersey. At the time of the Standard breakup they moved to change their brand from “Red Crown” to simply “Crown Gasoline”. Kyso retainied images of a crown in conjunction with their gasoline marketing until after World War II, and used the brandname “Crown” until the company was purchased by Standard of California in 1961.
Standard Oil of Ohio, considered the “grandfather” of the Standard companies, retained use of the Red Crown image and trademark at the time of the breakup. They began their independent marketing efforts under their Red Crown trademark in 1912. Use of the trademark continued until 1930. In 1928, in an effort to create a unique new brand image, they introduced the trademark “Sohio”. The first use of the Sohio trademark came when Red Crown Ethyl was renamed Sohio Ethyl in 1928. In 1930 Red Crown Gasoline was renamed Sohio X-70 and with that move the company permanently abandoned use of the Red Crown image. One vestige of their Standard heritage remained, however, as the company continued to use the motor oil trademark, “Polarine”, originally introduced before the breakup of Standard, until the early 1960s. Containers from the 1960s look very outdated for that era, and are often confused with those from the 1930s and 40s.
Standard Oil of California was the first of the Standard companies to market gasoline on a retail level. The Standard agent in Seattle set up an impromptu gas station at the company bulk plant in 1907. Motorists lined up at the plant to fill their car with Red Crown gasoline. The company began construction of their vast West Coast network of retail service stations in 1915, the same year they registered a logo for “Red Crown Gasoline” displaying, of course, a red crown. The Red Crown brand name continued in use until the early 1930s, when Red Crown and Red Crown Ethyl became simply Standard Gasoline and Standard Ethyl Gasoline. The Standard gasoline emblem continued to use a small red crown as the dominant image on the logo. In an effort to expand, and to establish a brand that could be used in their native “Standard” territory and their expansion “Calso” territory in the Rocky Mountains, Standard renamed their gasolines Chevron and Chevron Supreme. This rebranding took place at the end of World War II, and spelled the end of the use of the red crown motif in any Standard of California image.
The Red Crown name and image was probably most closely associated with Standard Oil Company of Indiana. From their earliest independent effort to market gasoline their premier product was Red Crown. Beginning about 1917 Indiana Standard topped their gas pumps with cast glass crown globes, initially red, of course, but during the 1930s Indiana crowns would appear in not only red, but white (for Red Crown Ethyl, later White Crown), blue (for Solite, later Blue Crown), along with green, gray, and orange for other fuel products. From 1947 their products were Red Crown (regular) and White Crown (premium). In 1956 the company replaced White Crown with Gold Crown, a super-premium product, one of several made popular in those high-compression days. The crowns would last until 1961, when Standard marketing was combined with the corporate wide marketing effort under subsidiary “American Oil Company” survivor of the one-time Baltimore based independent that Standard had acquired, in pieces, from 1933 until 1954. Another holdover from the early days, Standard (IN) Polarine Motor Oil was also discontinued in 1961.
Two side notes of interest to the Standard of Indiana story. The first is that in 1939 they acquired complete control of Standard Oil Company of Nebraska, a marketing operation that had emerged from the Standard breakup under partial ownership of Standard of Indiana. Although Standard Nebraska was supplied by Indiana, and their trademarks and images were similar, they were distinctly different as can be seen in the photos that accompany this article. Consolidation of Nebraska Standard into Indiana was not completed until the end of World War II, but by the early postwar years those items used in Nebraska bearing the Red Crown image were the same as used throughout Indiana’s marketing territory.
The second, purely coincidental, is that in 1930 Baltimore’s Blaustein family, owners of American Oil, then partially owned by Standard Indiana, purchased a Houston, Texas based independent refiner, Crown Central Petroleum. In that year Crown began marketing gasoline under the Crown brand through a group of about 30 stations in the Houston area. With the purchase by the Blausteins, Crown Central headquarters were shifted to Baltimore, in the American Oil building. By the early 1940s Crown Central had stations displaying the brandname Crown from New York south to the Carolinas, where they supplied up to a total of about 2,000 stations by the 1960s. Other than the coincidental ownership by the Blaustein family, the Baltimore based Crown brand had no ties whatsoever to the various Standard Red Crown and Crown brands. Another independent, later owned by Tenneco-Bay, used the Crown name at a small number of stations in Connecticut in the 1950s and early 1960s. This operation did not have any relation to any Standard operation or to Crown Central. Following the 1961 purchase of Standard of Kentucky by Standard of California, Kyso stations in the south abandoned use of the Crown brand. Following that abandonment, Crown Central purchased the rights to the name Crown in Georgia and Alabama and eventually expanded their marketing into those areas.
Accompanying this article is a large assortment of various Red Crown images and logos. Study them to be able to identify the various crowns and assign them to their proper companies.
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