History of the Ohio Oil Company in Crawford County, Illinois

Typed by Rita Millis from a history originally done about 1955 - 14 August 2000
(Written 6-25-56)

The Ohio Oil Company has played a leading part in the economic and social history of Crawford County and Illinois oil areas since 1905. As early as 1865, the first oil company was formed in Illinois to tap the reported deposits of oil and natural gas. Little, however, came of the first ventures in the area, initially in Clark County. The main effect was to arouse interest in Crawford County. The first Crawford well was drilled on the McLain farm in Oblong Township, but was abandoned because of lack of funds. The township later became the center of one of the richest pools in the state, and the McLain farm was used by Ohio Oil as a tank farm.

In 1884 William and Joseph Creswell purchased a drilling rig to drill for water. A well drilled on their farm, 6-1/2 miles southeast of Robinson, struck gas. It was used only to provide them with heat and light.

The later discovery of oil at Terre Haute, Indiana renewed the interest in southeastern Illinois, particularly at Robinson. Here a company known as the Crawford County Oil, Gas & Coal Company was founded and drilled two wells in 1901. One was a small producer of gas and the other two showed some oil.

The true opening of the Illinois field was in 1904 in Westfield, near Casey. The area soon became a typical oil "boom" town. Bridgeport grew from a few hundred to over 4,000 almost overnight.

The oil found markets, principally in Whiting, Indiana. The Buckeye Pipe Line Company took charge of gathering the oil and a small pipe line system connected the field with railheads for shipments to Whiting. Transportation of the crude had its hazards, since the old C. H. & D. Railroad laid its track without ballast. The rails often spread under the load of the oil- bearing trains and the Illinois crude often reached no further than a black puddle and a pile of barrel staves beside the right-of-way where the train had careened off the askew rails.

In the meantime, the oil fever spread again to the Robinson area. Many Robinson citizens, feeling that experienced oil men were needed to organize the field, contacted John Archbold, president of Ohio Oil in New York. He responded by sending J. C. Donnell, from Findlay, Ohio, vice president and general manager, and later president of Ohio Oil, to the area to investigate the value of the new field. Arthur M. Meeks was also sent to lease territory. Mr. Donnell, an experienced oil man in the Ohio and Indiana fields, said that the best policy at first in Crawford county and surrounding area was to buy oil from the producers already in the field. This policy soon was expanded into an aggressive production program. Offices were established, first at Casey and later at Robinson, Marshall, and Bridgeport. With ample capital and an outstanding cadre of trained oil men, Ohio Oil almost immediately became the leading producer in the state as well as the largest purchaser of crude oil.

F. H. Hillman, an Ohio Oil director who had wide experience in the oil fields of Pennsylvania and Ohio, was made superintendent of the Illinois field and later general manager of the gathering pipe line. In 1907, James K. Kerr was sent from Ohio as general superintendent in charge of production and A. E. Dorsey was named division superintendent, assisted by W. W. McDonald, Frank Gariepy and Walter E. MacLaughlin. Other departments were placed under men who had a wide knowledge of the industry gleaned in the early days in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana. Noted one Crawford County author of the time, "A better, brighter and busier set of men would have been hard to find. The amount of work accomplished by the company in the two years that they have been operating in this field, and the amount of money expended, is almost incredible. Their work has been of a permanent character, done quietly, and accomplished in a manner entirely satisfactory to other operators and to the citizens of the county." 1

Written in 1908, this turned out to be by way of a prophesy when referring to work of a "permanent character" judging from the sprawling and growing refinery and modern office building Robinson in 1956.

Ohio Oil had also become leader in pipelining throughout the area. Markets for crude oil are largely dependent on transportation facilities to centers of population and refining. Within three years of the entry into the Illinois field, the company had a large system of gathering and trunk pipe lines in and around Crawford County. It purchased existing lines of value to the operation and laid several new lines, which formed the nucleus of the system to later be known as The Illinois Pipe Line Company. In 1906, construction began on a line to Martinsville, where a tank farm of 223 tanks was located. A pumping station was constructed at Stoy. This gathering and trunk line system was shortly extended to provide outlets for the excellent Illinois crude to points throughout the Nation's east.

In a few short years Ohio Oil had become the largest producer, purchaser and transporter of crude in Illinois, as it had done in Ohio and Indiana.

In 1911 the Supreme Court handed down its famous decision--dissolve the parent Standard Oil Company's holding within six months. Ohio Oil, which had been the producing arm of the Standard organization for 22 years, became an independent December 9, 1911. J. C. Donnell was elected president, replacing John Archbold, who resigned after the dissolution.

With its new status as an independent came a new decision: whether to remain solely in the supremely risky producing end of the business and continue pipelining, or to enter the equally hazardous marketing phase and start refining.

In 1924 the decision was to expand. Ohio Oil purchased the Lincoln Oil Refining Company, operators of a small 750 barrel a day refinery in Robinson and marketers of oil products in a few filling stations in the area. The company immediately began a program of refinery expansion and modernization which has continued to the time of the writing, when a modern refinery laboratory it now under construction and a new office building is planned for the near future.

After acquisition Ohio Oil converted the old "batch" operation of the shell stills to the more efficient continuous flow distillation, increasing the capacity to 1,200 barrels a day. In 1926 the company completely rebuilt the facility and within a year a crude oil distillation unit was in operation with a 5,000 barrel a day capacity. In 1927 with new thermal crackers, Ohio Oil's refinery was among the most modern of its time.

The company continued to carry on a continuous program of modification and building. In 1940 Ohio Oil put in operation another important facility--a then completely new departure--a light ends recovery unit with a polymerization plant. This installation made for a higher yield of useable liquids from crude oil and helped produce an improved motor fuel.

Early in 1943, Ohio Oil's committee for post-war planning began a detailed study of the refinery growth and invested months of engineering research pointed at a continuance of the expansion program. After preparing the site in 1946, construction of several new units began in the spring of 1947. By mid-summer, 1949, the refinery was still one of the most modern in the nation and was refining more than 27,500 barrels of crude oil daily.

Three new units were built in this period. The crude oil distillation unit was replaced with a new and vastly improved one. A giant fluid catalytic cracking unit was added. This unit, which towers 15 stories over the refinery ground, makes possible the recovery of a greater percentage of gasoline per barrel of crude oil and produces a superior anti-knock motor fuel. The light ends facilities were entirely replaced with new gas concentration equipment and an up-to-the-minute polymerization unit. This plant builds bigger heavier molecules out of the lighter ones to change gas to gas liquids such as butane used to blend with gasoline to give it quicker starting characteristics and more power.

After the initial post-war building and modernization program ending in 1949, the 25th anniversary of Ohio Oil's operation of the refinery, more units were added and others were improved to insure continued high quality of products flowing from the Robinson plant.

This program, 1951-53, increased the capacity to 40,000 barrels a day. Three new facilities highlighted the expansion which lead to the vastly increased output: the catalytic reformer, a massive unit which puts more power and better performance in gasoline; the coker, a tall structure that eliminates lower valued and difficult to transport heavy fuel oils and asphalts, increases the yield of gasoline from crude oil, and produces coke which finds a market in processing aluminum; and the alkylation unit, built under the defense program sponsored by the United States Government to increase the nation's productive capacity of aviation gasoline.

By 1956, Ohio Oil's Robinson refinery was converting crude oil with every major process in refinery science into a variety of useful, salable products.

In 1956, the manager of Ohio Oil's refinery was H. E. Handy and D. L. Winsett was refinery superintendent. Both were long-time residents of Crawford County.

The marketing organization started with the purchase of Lincoln Oil has since undergone several major changes. With the refinery, Ohio Oil also got the trademark, "Linco". For several years the company expanded the Linco outlets and in 1930 Ohio purchased the Transcontinental Oil Company, marketers of "Marathon" products throughout the midwest and southwest. In 1939 the company consolidated its marketing area under one trademark in the population-rich Great Lakes region of Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Kentucky. By 1956 the Marathon trademark was familiar through 2,600 outlets in the five-state area.

Headquarters of the extensive Illinois Marketing District remained in Robinson in the two-story Ohio Oil building in the downtown area. Constructed in 1923 as a garage and warehouse, Ohio Oil occupied it in 1943 and completely remodeled it, 1952-53. The Robinson Production District and the Robinson office of the Refined Products Supply Department share the modern building.

At the writing J. P. Hughes headed the Illinois marketing organization which coordinated zone offices in Evansville and Terre Haute, Indiana and Urbana, Robinson, Salem and Springfield, Illinois. The District covers retail marketing in Illinois, southwestern Indiana and western Kentucky.

Crawford County continued to play an important part in Ohio Oil's production throughout the years. The Robinson Production District, a part of the Terre Haute Production Division, at the writing was headed by District Superintendent E. D. Evans. The district was producing over one million barrels of oil yearly from more than 1,900 wells. Of this total, Crawford County contributed 945,000 barrels from 1,700 wells. The district was also concerned with three secondary recovery projects, the Wilkins Flood, north of Oblong, and the Hughes and Brubaker-Prier Floods north of Hardinville. By injecting treated water into the oil-bearing formation, an outside force replaces the natural pressure that once pushed the oil to the well, thus recovering thousands of barrels of oil once thought lost to the wheels of industry and for the consuming public.

Since its founding in 1887, the Ohio Oil Company has traced its history through many colorful chapters in Robinson, throughout the United States and in several foreign countries.

The company was founded against heavy odds when 14 small producers in the Trenton Limestone fields of northwestern Ohio banded together on August 1, 1887. On the heels of the gas boom in Findlay, Ohio, oil had been discovered in nearby Lima. The quality of the oil was poor in that era of kerosene lamps. Lima crude contained sulphur and the kerosene it yielded made lamps smoke. Three years of feverish drilling had developed production which far exceeded the limited demand. Lima crude dropped to 15 cents a barrel and operators were going broke. The 14 decided by pooling resources they could survive despite the distressing conditions.

Operating on a cash basis and trading stock for properties and equipment they not only managed to stay out of debt--no small feat in those days--but expanded production to 4,000 barrels daily within two years.

The success of the new independent attracted notice of the Standard Oil Company. In 1889 Standard acquired Ohio Oil as its producing company. The second chapter of Ohio Oil lasted 22 years--until the Standard organization was dissolved and Ohio Oil was made an independent to start the third and longest canto which not only saw the company grow as an independent in the United States but expand into foreign fields.

For fiscal 1955 the following statistics were included in The Ohio Oil Company's 68th Annual Report: Total assets, $347,479,547; shareholders, 39,000; common stock outstanding, 13,126,753; maximum shares held by one individual, 2 percent; net sales and other income, 260 million dollars; payroll, 38 million dollars; average net crude oil produced a day, 98,404 barrels; crude oil refined, 42,421 barrels a day; refined products sold, 40,817 barrels a day; wells completed for year, 644; oil and gas lands held in United States, 4.3 million acres; number of employees, 6,616.

In 1955 Ohio Oil was qualified to do business in 35 states, three provinces of Canada, in Guatemala and Venezuela in the Hemisphere and in Somalia, Libya, British Somililand and Egypt in North Africa.

Ohio Oil was 14th in the nation in crude oil production and 17th in total assets. Throughout its history it has produced more than a billion barrels of crude oil and at the writing was producing more than 100,000 barrels a day from 7,000 oil and gas wells in 15 states and Canada. A fully integrated company--producers, transporters, refiners and marketers--Ohio Oil transported crude oil and refined products through its trunk pipe lines at the rate of 24 billion barrel-miles annually and operated 3,200 miles of pipe lines in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Louisiana and Texas. The Robinson Refinery refined 15,500,000 barrels of crude oil annually.

Several officers in The Ohio Oil Company's 1956 top management have spent part of their careers in Crawford County. Charles Z. Hardwick, executive vice president and director, was transferred to Robinson in 1928,m where he was in charge of the company's refining and marketing accounting offices. Raymond E. Luton, vice president of refining, a long-time Robinson resident, joined Lincoln Oil Refining Company in 1923, a year before it was purchased by Ohio Oil. He was a chemist, assistant superintendent, vice president and superintendent of the refinery and general superintendent of refineries. Fred E. Smith, vice president and manager of production, was a part of the original oil boom when he joined the company in 1914. He was active in the area for many years in oil and gas production. Nelson T. Stover, vice president of marketing, joined Lincoln Oil in 1919. When Ohio Oil took over Lincoln, Mr. Stover was cashier. He remained in Robinson until 1935, when Lincoln Oil was dissolved as a refining and marketing subsidiary, and moved to Findlay as wholesale sales manager. Frank S. Slick, controller, became assistant cashier at the Robinson Refinery office in 1927. He became cashier in 1934 and returned to Findlay, Ohio in 1935. Charles A. Jackson, treasurer, joined Ohio Oil at the Lincoln refinery in Robinson in 1933 in the accounting department. He lived there until 1935.

Other Ohio Oil officers are: J. C. Donnell II, president and director; H. C. King, vice president of finance and director; P. L. Henderson, vice president of production and director; John R. Donnell, vice president of supply and transportation and director; H. H. West, vice president of administrative services and director; H. W. Stewart, general council and director; F. L. Fox, vice president; R. E. Rhea, secretary; and R. M. Churchwell, assistant to the president.

Headquarters of the company have been in Findlay, Ohio, since 1905. Production Division offices are in Terre Haute, Indiana, Tulsa, Oklahoma, Shreveport, Louisiana, Los Angeles, California, Houston, Texas, Casper, Wyoming, and Findlay. Pipe Line Division headquarters are located in Martinsville and Bridgeport, Illinois, Casper and Houston. Marketing District offices are in Robinson, Indianapolis, Indiana and Findlay.

1. William Jones. Oil Industries of Illinois, Crawford County, 1908, p. 9


This page last updated on February 05, 2015.