The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

central chamber

with 5 comments

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Recently, while out on the Newtown Creek on a Newtown Creek Alliance mission, the inestimable Executive Director of the group – Kate Zidar- gestured toward a certain structure on the Queens side and asked me what I knew about it. My mandate in the organization is to act as historian, as well as photographer, and the building in question is known to modernity as the “Lukoil Getty Terminal”. It’s waterfront is categorized by Dock Code 616, a 300 foot frontage, and it sits in plain view of the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge.

To me, it will always be referred to as Tidewater.

from wikipedia

Tidewater Oil Company (also rendered as Tide Water Oil Company) was a major petroleum refining and marketing concern in the United States for more than 80 years. Tidewater was best known for its Flying A–branded products and gas stations, and for Veedol motor oil, which was known throughout the world.
Tidewater was founded in New York City in 1887. The company entered the gasoline market just before World War I, and by 1920 was selling gasoline, oil and other products on the East Coast under its Tydol brand. In 1931, Tidewater expanded its reach into the midwestern U.S. by purchasing Northwestern Oil Company of Superior, Wisconsin.

Soon thereafter, Standard Oil Company of New Jersey (now ExxonMobil) gained control of Tidewater, and set up the subsidiary Mission Corporation to operate it. J. Paul Getty’s purchase of Mission in 1937 set the stage for the birth of Tidewater as a major national player in the oil industry.

In 1938, Getty merged Tidewater with Associated Oil Company, based in San Francisco with a market area limited to the Far West. Associated, founded in 1901, had created the prominent Flying A brand for its premium-grade gasoline in 1932.

With the merger and creation of Tidewater Associated Oil Company, Flying A became the primary brand name for the company, though the Tydol and Associated names were also retained in their respective marketing areas. Tydol During the 1950s, the Associated and Tydol brands gradually fell into disuse, and were dropped entirely in 1956. That same year, “Associated” was removed from the corporate name. The Veedol trademark was retained for motor oils and lubricants. BP acquired the Veedol brand when it bought Burmah-Castrol (who then owned the Veedol brand). In February 2011 announced that they wished to sell the Veedol Brand. Tidewater operated refineries on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, as well as a small fleet of West Coast-based tankers.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the early years of the American Oil industry, it seems, there were literally hundreds of small players who drilled or refined petroleum. A behemoth which emerged from the crowded field, that would dominate the sector in one way or another to this very day, was John D Rockefeller’s Standard Oil. Standard controlled the means of delivery, whether it be defacto control of the rail lines leading from oil rich regions (which were in Pennsylvania, back then) to refinery, or through ownership of the local pipelines which supplied their refined product to end use customers.

This allowed Standard to fix prices at a certain level, manipulate supply and demand in its own favor, or to keep competitors from getting their goods to market.

from 1919’s “Platts power, Volume 50“. courtesy google books

N.Y., Long Island City – The Tidewater Oil Co., 11 Broadway New York City, awarded the contract for the construction of a 2 story 30 x 140 ft warehouse on Greenpoint Ave and Newtown Creek, to H.D. Best, 949 Broadway, New York City. A steam heating system will be installed in same

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Unfair and underhanded, the Standard Trust went out of its way to destroy or stifle its competition and before long it controlled 90-95% of the oil business in the United States. Competitors came along as the years passed, most of which fell before the attentions of the Rockefellers. Some, like Charles Pratt, sold their operations to Standard and joined with it. Others were driven into bankruptcy. Technological advances and invention offered an opportunity to bypass the rail system dominated by the trust, and the dream of a pipeline which would feed oil to the independent refineries on the Atlantic coast of the United States became feasible.

The company that crystallized this challenge to Standard was the Tidewater Oil Company.

from 1889’s “Stoddart’s Encyclopaedia Americana: a dictionary of arts, sciences, and general literature“, courtesy google books

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For many years, Rockefeller and his Standard men (with their armies of bought and paid for politicians and local officials) ridiculed and fought against the pipeline company, but when his independent competitors banded together under the Tidewater brand in the 1870’s – he knew that Standard must innovate. In one of the first business moves of its kind, Standard began purchasing common stock in Tidewater, and by 1883 controlled a majority share in it.

Rather than using the well honed “breaking” techniques of industrial monopoly on the rival company, Rockefeller simply purchased his competition.

from “Harper’s magazine, Volume 72“, courtesy google books

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As an aside, it should be noted that the path Greenpoint Avenue takes, in modernity, as it crosses the Newtown Creek is slightly eastward of its ancient footprint. The modern bridge, which replaced an older swing bridge that carried LIRR and light rail tracks as well as vehicles, actually pulls traffic away from the ancestral road. In the early 20th century LUNA image linked to below, which is the inverse of my recent shot above, notice that only the bridge and rail tracks are still in place.

The Tidewater building would be to the left in the historic shot below.



– photo by Mitch Waxman

A recommended primer for anyone interested in the story of the early American Oil industry is “The History of the Standard Oil Company, By Ida Minerva Tarbell“, an admittedly biased and muckraking account told by the daughter of an oil pioneer whose business was wiped out by the Standard Trust. Tarbell disliked the term muckraker, and considering that she was a pioneering female journalist and investigative reporter in an age not exactly known for either- let’s just respect her wishes.

from “The History of the Standard Oil Company, Volume 2 By Ida Minerva Tarbell” courtesy google books

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Like most who opposed Rockefeller, who would die as the richest man in human history (in fact, adjusting for inflation- Rockefeller died richer than Augustus of Rome, and all the Pharoahs of Egypt, and all the kings of England- put together) Tidewater ended up a footnote, and being used as an instrument by which Standard could further dominate the competition.

Standard was broken up by the actions of the federal government in the early 20th century, shattered into several smaller corporations. Standard Oil Company of NY (SOCONY) was one of these, and it would become Mobil. Standard Oil Company of NJ (SOCONJ) would become Exxon.

Rockefeller’s bank account would one day attain sentience and become Chase Manhattan bank.

from wikipedia

In 1904, Standard controlled 91% of production and 85% of final sales. Most of its output was kerosene, of which 55% was exported around the world. After 1900 it did not try to force competitors out of business by underpricing them. The federal Commissioner of Corporations studied Standard’s operations from the period of 1904 to 1906 and concluded that “beyond question… the dominant position of the Standard Oil Company in the refining industry was due to unfair practices—to abuse of the control of pipe-lines, to railroad discriminations, and to unfair methods of competition in the sale of the refined petroleum products”.

5 Responses

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  1. […] September 2012- central chamber […]

  2. […] former Tidewater property, which has also been discussed in a prior posting “central chamber,” and… wait a second… something has changed. Something odd and atavist has been […]

  3. […] performs some refinery operations in the modern day. On the Queens side, you’ll notice the Tidewater building. Tidewater was a pipeline company that challenged Standard Oil’s monopoly on shipping […]

  4. I have found an antique bell which is 15″ wide. The attached yoke is stamped Castal Oil. The base of which it is attached is stamped Tide Water Associated Oil Company Canada Ltd. I am looking for any information on this item.


    March 1, 2016 at 12:15 pm

    • I’ll look around for you. Tidewater was a pipeline company eventually part of Standard. Photos?

      Mitch Waxman

      March 1, 2016 at 1:05 pm

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