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Sun Oil Company

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

By Neil McElwee, 2009

The Sun Oil Co. of Ohio was organized March 17, 1890 by Joseph N. Pew and Edward Octavius Emerson, two Pennsylvania oil and gas producers. In 1886, Pew and Emerson began the development of a number of oil wells in the emerging Lima Field of Northwestern Ohio and bordering Indiana. The firm prospered and purchased from the Diamond Oil Co. in 1894 an existing refinery in Toledo. A year later, 1895, the partners ran a pipeline from their Toledo refinery to the wells in the Lima Field. The producing property, the gathering lines, the refinery and a fleet of railroad tank cars were all part of the early Sun Oil Co. The firm maintained executive offices in Pittsburgh and marketed refined products throughout the upper Midwest and the East. In 1899, Emerson sold his oil and gas interests to Pew and retired.

After the Lucas Well came in early January 1901 at Spindletop in Texas, J. N. Pew quickly acquired leases for production and land for storage tanks around Spindletop. Concurrently, he acquired wharf space at Port Arthur and an 82-acre refinery site at Marcus Hook in Pennsylvania. Pew incorporated the company under the modified name, Sun Company, in New Jersey on May 1, 1901.

To transport what Texas crude Pew could acquire, Sun purchased in October 1901 a steam ship, the Paraguay, and converted it to an oil tanker. The Paraguay left Port Arthur, Texas on its first voyage to Marcus Hook on March 8, 1902. Throughout 1902, the Paraguay carried a total of 400,000 barrels of Gulf Coast crude to Pennsylvania at a very cheap transportation cost.

Originally, the Sun Co. Port Arthur terminal received its Gulf Coast crude by rail and by pipelines owned by others. Sun purchased a bankrupt Texas pipeline in 1904 and extended it to Sour Lake and then the Humble Field in 1905. Sun commenced shipping 7,000 barrels a day by pipeline from the Humble Field to Port Arthur in July 1905. The firm continued to receive crude by rail from the Gulf Coast until that Field’s decline and then from the Mid Continent Field to the north in Oklahoma and Kansas.

From 1902 to 1904, the Marcus Hook Sun Refinery partially processed the Gulf Coast crude to produce gas oil and stored the residium. In 1904, the Marcus Hook plant successfully produced its first lube oils. Sun built a network of bulk distribution terminals in the Northeast and distributed refined products through a fleet of street tank wagons.

During this early period, the Pew family sold their interests in the large Peoples Natural Gas Co. in Pittsburgh to Standard Oil’s National Transit Co. in 1903. The family left their Pittsburgh home and moved to Philadelphia where Sun established its new executive offices. Joseph N. Pew died in 1912. He was succeeded as President by his son, J. Howard Pew. Joseph N. Pew, Jr. assumed the position of Vice President.

Under the guidance of the Pew brothers, the Sun Co. became a giant in Philadelphia with massive investments not only in refining, but shipbuilding. The Sun Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co. was established in 1916. The U.S.S. Joseph Seep was built for the Navy in Sun’s shipyards.

The firm began marketing gasoline in the Philadelphia area and in Toledo in 1920. The Sun Co. changed its name registered in New Jersey to the Sun Oil Company in 1922 and went public several years later when it first was traded on the New York Stock Exchange, November 1925. Sun Oil under the familiar icon, Sunoco, became one of the largest marketers of gasoline in the country. Sunoco’s service station network ran from Maine to Chicago and south from Pennsylvania to Virginia by the 1930’s. Sun Oil completed a 15,000 barrel a day pipeline, the Susquehanna, to pump gasoline west from Marcus Hook to Cleveland with a branch to Syracuse in 1931. Sun’s gasoline pipeline from the Atlantic Coast refineries to the interior was second only to Standard of New Jersey’s Tuscarora gasoline pipeline completed in 1930.

Sun Oil merged with Sunray D-X of Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1968 under the Sun Oil Co. name. The Sunoco and Sunray D-X brands were used for twenty more years in their traditional markets. The company moved its headquarters out of downtown Philadelphia to St. Davids, Pa. in 1971 and to Radnor, Pa. in 1975. The company’s name was again changed and simplified to the Sun Company, Inc. in 1976.

In 1988, Sun began replacing the D-X branded stations in the Midwest with the Sunoco brand. Also in 1988, Sun purchased the Atlantic Petroleum Corp. that operated the remaining Atlantic branded service stations in the Northeast. Sun rebranded them as Sunoco stations. This purchase also included Atlantic’s remaining pipelines and the original Atlantic refinery in Philadelphia. In 1994, Sun purchased Chevron’s Philadelphia refinery adjacent to the Atlantic. The two refineries were consolidated and operate as one. Sunoco continues to operate its Marcus Hook Refinery, twelve miles south of Philadelphia. The Marcus Hook refinery is directly linked to the Philadelphia refinery, and the plants operate in concert with each other. The original Sun Oil Co. refinery in Toledo continues to operate.

Sun returned in 1990-91 to downtown Philadelphia, reestablishing its historic corporate headquarters there. Finally getting it right, the Sun Company renamed itself Sunoco, Inc. in 1998. In January 2004, the company acquired from the El Paso Corporation the 150,000-barrel a day Eagle Point Refinery on the Delaware at Westville, New Jersey. This purchase increased Sunoco’s refining capacity to more than 800,000 barrels a day.

Sunoco acquired in 2001 Pittsburgh-based Aristech Chemical Corporation with its five chemical plants and advanced Pittsburgh research center. This doubled the size of Sunoco’s chemical business and made it a significant chemical player in the world.

Today, all is well in Philadelphia. All is well in Pennsylvania. You can now get a great cup of coffee at your local Sunoco station as well as a tank of gas.