Hey friend! Welcome back to another post! Today, we’re talking about the Conoco Museum in Ponca City, Oklahoma. This will be a continuation of the oil history in the area. Please see the posts about Marland’s Grand Home and the Marland Mansion for more of the history of oil in Ponca City. Let’s go see how a regional kerosene distributer became a global energy giant!
TRAVEL TIP: You MUST watch the video at the beginning of the museum! There is so much information and it explains most of the exhibits in the museum. It was very well done and interesting – not boring at all! So, make sure to watch it! It’s around 10 minutes long.
The Continental Oil and Transportation Company was founded in November 1875 by Isaac Elder Blake in Ogden, Utah. The former Pennsylvania oil field worker would remain president of Continental until 1893. Continental would be the first marketer of kerosene in the West. By 1878, the company was marketing goods like candles, lamp oil, and wax to overseas markets (Canada, Hawaii, Mexico, and Japan).
Continental became affiliated with Standard Oil Company in 1885. John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company was a known oil monopoly in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. In 1913, the Supreme Court ruled that Standard Oil had to dissolve some of their holdings – this was anti-monopoly legislation. So, Continental Oil Company of Colorado was let go by Standard Oil and they became an independent oil company once again. They were the premier oil company in the Rocky Mountain region.
Continental realized that they had a viable market in the American West and built their first filling station in 1909. Over the next two decades they would build several hundred more. By 1917, Continental was made the exclusive gasoline supplier of Yellowstone National Park.
Continental acquired United Oil Company in 1916 allowing themselves to produce and refine for the first time in company history. In 1924, Continental merged with Mutual Oil Company.
In 1929, Continental Oil merged with Marland Oil in an historic deal. The official name of the merged companies was the “Continental Oil Company,” which was more commonly known as CONOCO. The company was headquartered in Ponca City, Oklahoma. (For more information on E.W. Marland and Marland Oil see the following posts: Marland’s Grand Home and Marland Mansion.)
CONOCO had an excellent branding and marketing team which helped sell their products and image! It all started with Marland’s marketing team in the 1920s which utilized western images. After the merger in 1929, CONOCO continued to market to their target audience through radio, tv, magazines, billboards, trade publications, and branded merchandise.
As previously mentioned, Continental was the premier gasoline supplier for Yellowstone National Park. This was the only brand of gasoline sold in the park for nearly 90 years! 90 years, y’all!
Drivers of the era loved Continental because of the free maps and travel aids at the CONOCO Travel Bureau which opened in 1929. By 1936, the “Touraide” was the largest free trip-planning service in the United States.
The 1930s ad campaign, “Gentlemen Prefer Bronze,” won awards. The 1950s and 1960s campaign claimed that CONOCO gasoline was the “Hottest Brand Going.” The 1999 campaign employed Domino the cat. He was a nimble cat who would get past the competition. The ad line was, “Think Big – Move Fast.”
CONOCO Oil had a great reputation. It was the first off-the-shelf brand of oil used in race cars for the Indianapolis 500.
The CONOCO marketing team focused on consumer needs and pursued all of the new ad avenues. It also helped that CONOCO had a quality product that a lot of people wanted. This was match made in advertising heaven.
Beginning in the 1930s, Continental emphasized research and exploration through their activities.
Like many companies during World War II (WWII), CONOCO helped provide oil for increased industry. Women also worked in the factories while the men were fighting in Europe. CONOCO also continued research efforts on oil and gas for aviation use. The original research lab was built by E.W. Marland in 1910 and was located in Ponca City. A second research lab was built in 1950 and a third lab was built in the early 1980s.
“Research was carried out in many areas, including exploration science, deepwater drilling technology, offshore platform design, refining processes, oilfield production, and a brand new method for dispensing gasoline.”“Technology,” Conoco Brochure.
CONOCO eventually moved their headquarters to Houston, Texas in 1950, but Ponca City continued to be an important regional center. The company continued acquiring other firms like Coastal Oil, Western Oil, F.P. Kendall Oil, and Douglas Oil of California. By 1950, CONOCO was the eighth largest producer in the United States.
Scientists at CONOCO pioneered the cutting-edge technology of Vibroseis in 1953 (patented in 1956). This was a new method of seismic exploration that didn’t use explosives, but rather used low-frequency vibrations. This method is still used today in the oil industry.
CONOCO acquired Consolidation Coal in 1966 – this was the largest coal company in the United States. Coal complimented their oil and gas production capabilities.
The executive office of CONOCO moved to Stamford, Connecticut in 1972. CONOCO continued focusing on exploration throughout the 1970s because of the fear of running out of petroleum.
In 1984, a tension-leg platform (TLP) was produced for the first time. This would revolutionize deepwater production. They could find oil in water deeper than ever imagined before. CONOCO also began operating on Alaska’s North Slope in 1985 – only the third company to do so at the time.
CONOCO has always had a reputation for being environmentally aware. CONOCO established a wildlife refuge in 1937 in South Texas for whooping cranes. This is a nesting site for the birds. The company wanted to demonstrate how business and the environment could coincide. CONOCO has funded several other sites as well.
The company adopted a formal environmental policy in 1968. It read, “Doing what is environmentally right.” CONOCO was awarded the Outstanding Industry Conservation Award from the National Institute for Urban Wildlife in 1983. This is just a single example of the many accolades the company has been awarded for its environmental and community contributions.
CONOCO continues to upgrade their technology and policies today to make sure that this is still true. They received many honors and recognitions for their environmental policies in the eighties and nineties.
CONOCO & DuPont
DuPont acquired CONOCO in 1981 in a “friendly” deal that was beneficial to both parties involved. DuPont was a well-known chemical company. CONOCO was a subsidiary of DuPont for around 17 years. In 1983, CONOCO executives moved their offices to Wilmington, Delaware. This was where DuPont’s headquarters were located. The offices in Houston and Ponca City were both still operating with thousands of employees.
In 1998, CONOCO became an independent oil company again and was re-listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
Did you know that a single 42-gallon barrel of oil only produces 19.4 gallons of fuel? The other 22.6 gallons are used to make things we use everyday!
CONOCO was one of the 50 largest companies in the United States in 2002. CONOCO and Phillips Petroleum Company merged in 2002, creating the third largest integrated energy company in the United States. Phillips Petroleum Company had been founded in 1917 and had an international reputation by the time of the merger. (The Phillips Petroleum Company Museum and Frank Phillips historic home is Bartlesville, Oklahoma – so, I need to make a trip to both of these places!)
Did you know that CONOCO didn’t become the official company name until 1979?
The CONOCO logo has changed a few times throughout the companies tenure. The first logo was a Continental Soldier on a yellow background with the words “CONOCO Gasoline” around him. By the 1920s, this logo was on display at 250 stations across the West.
The Marland Oil triangle was modeled after the YMCA logo. Marland received permission to use it. He liked the triangle because the three points represented quality, service, and courtesy. The triangle was surrounded by a green border. By the mid-1920s, there were over 600 Marland stations across the Midwest.
When CONOCO and Marland Oils merged in 1929 – so did their logo. The Marland triangle was kept and the word “CONOCO” was added. This was symbolic because customers would recognize the merging of the logo. The green border was dropped from the triangle in 1950. The logo was simply red and white. (Pictured Below – Right) The CONOCO logo we all recognize today was solidified in 1970. The capsule logo with the word CONOCO represents the brand today. (Pictured Below – Left)
The Conoco Museum opened in Ponca City, Oklahoma in 2007 and displays the history of the company from 1875 to the present. The refinery across the street from the museum dates back to 1918! It is one of the oldest operating oil refineries in the United States.
Some of the Exhibits in the Museum
A Proud Heritage – This exhibit contains a replica of Marland’s boardroom.
Ponca City Proud – The Ponca City Refinery began in 1918. It’s one of the oldest in the US.
Getting to the Future First – Talks about some of the technology that Conoco helped pioneer.
Setting the Pace – Doodlebugger worksite outside. TLP was the most advanced oil production platform in history.
Marketing Conoco – See Conoco’s marketing campaign. 1930s Touraide Office interactive area. Replica of early service station.
This museum was pretty interesting to visit! I didn’t know anything about the history of CONOCO before walking through the museum. I plan on including the history of oil in Ponca City and Conoco in my future classes. I want to give a shoutout to Carla at the Conoco Museum for being so kind and helpful. She told me a lot of cool stuff about Ponca City and gave me a bunch of good travel tips for the area.
I hope you’ll stop by this museum and go see it! Seriously, it was so cool!
Happy Traveling! I’ll talk to ya soon! 🙂
501 S. South Avenue
Ponca City, Oklahoma 74601
Conoco Museum Paper Packet – I was given a packet at the front desk that contained a lot of cool information about the museum, oil history in the area, Marland, and CONOCO. I have listed the documents below:
- “Conoco Historical Highlights” – Timeline
- “Products from Petroleum”
- “A Brief Informal History of CONOCO” – Originally published in The Landman (January/Febraury 1991)
- “CONOCO Returns to NYSE,” The Ponocoan (Ponca City, OK), October 23, 1998.
- “Oil Mansions & Museums,” The American Oil & Gas Historical Society, The Petroleum Age, Volume 4, No. 3 (September 2007).
- “Oklahoma Oilmen” – Brochure
- “CONOCO” – Brochure