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Pennsylvania Refining Co.

Feb 23, 2009 | Posted in Essays, Pennsylvania Oil Companies

By Neil McElwee, 2009

The Pennsylvania Refining Co. was organized in Butler, Pa. in 1878 by John and George Beck. The Beck brothers purchased that year an existing one still refinery, the Producers Refining Co. plant, located in Karns City. The Karns City refinery remains in operation today. For a good part of the twentieth century, the company produced gasoline and lubricants under the “Penn Drake” brand.

The Penn Drake trade name came to the Pennsylvania Refining Co. by way of the American Oil Works of Titusville. The American Oil Works was built in Titusville on South Brown St. about 1885. Wilhelm Teege, Theodore Westgate and William E. Teege were prominent leaders of this Titusville enterprise in the nineteenth century. The firm prospered. However, after a disastrous fire in October 1923 and subsequent financial management problems, the American Oil Works went into bankruptcy in 1924. The assets of the American Oil Works were sold to Pennsylvania Refining on December 15, 1925. Pennsylvania Refining absorbed the American Oil Works in a merger of operations on January 1, 1930. Pennsylvania Refining improved the Titusville plant substantially in the 1930’s. However, due to the crude oil shortage in the Pennsylvania Oil Field just after World War II, Pennsylvania Refining was compelled to close its Titusville plant in 1948.

In the ensuing years, Pennsylvania Refining improved the Karns City plant and maintained bulk distribution plants in Cleveland, Ohio and Edgewater, New Jersey. Pennsylvania Refining was acquired by Pennzoil in 1973. The firm’s name was changed to the shorter, modern sounding one, Penreco. The Penreco operation at Karns City focused on producing specialty items like ink solvents, white oil, petrolatum and food grade wax. Very recently, the Penreco refinery was purchased from Shell – Pennzoil by Calumet.