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The Union Oil Co. - the People

Learn about the Union Oil Company and the people who worked at the oil terminal.

History of Union Oil

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The Union Oil Company was formed in 1890 in Santa Paula, California, by the merger of Hardison & Stewart Oil Company, the Sespe Oil Company, and the Torrey Canyon Oil Company. One year later, Union Oil constructed the first petroleum research laboratory in the west at its Santa Paula refinery. By 1900, the firm had moved its headquarters to Los Angeles where it quickly became a major oil producer and refiner in the burgeoning Southern California oil market.

In 1909, headed by Union Oil, 150 independent producers joined to form the Independent Oil Producers Agency. This joint effort was an attempt to keep oil prices profitable and competitive with Standard Oil and Associated Oil, the two other major oil purchasers in the valley at the time. To gain a further edge against these two oil giants, Union Oil embarked on a colossal project, constructing an 8-inch pipeline from its oil wells in Orange County to San Pedro. Designed to move more than 30,000 barrels a day, the pipeline enabled Union Oil to send oil without incurring costly rail transportation fees, thereby allowing it to market oil at a competitive rate. Galvanized by the efficiency of the new pipeline and the need for new port facilities to handle its increasing oil supplies, Union Oil assisted in the funding and developing of the Port of Los Angeles at San Pedro.

Over the years, Union Oil made several significant oil discoveries and became a pioneer in the oil industry. These activities laid the foundation for the company's future as one of California's oil giants. Included in these groundbreaking efforts was the company's role in pioneering the use of oil rather than coal or wood as fuel for ships, railroads, and other industries. In addition, the company constructed the world's first oil tanker (a wooden-hulled steamer with auxiliary sails that could carry 6,500 barrels of oil in steel tanks to the San Francisco market). It also built the first pipeline for tidewater (underwater) transportation of oil, became the first to move oil in bulk by tankers, and made major improvements in the design of towers and stills (reservoirs). Union Oil designed absorption towers that allowed for the better absorption of gaseous pollutants produced by oil products. It also constructed stills and tanks with concrete wells or hidden wells that helped decrease oil leakage.

As it continued to flourish, Union Oil constructed pipelines, increased refinery capacity, and opened new markets throughout the world, including Europe, South America, and Asia. In 1983, after reorganization, the company adopted its present name, Unocal Corporation. It continues to be involved in worldwide exploration and production of crude oil and natural gas.