CORINTH INFORMATION DATABASE VERSION 1.3
(c) 1995 Milton Sandy, Jr.
THE GILMORE OIL COMPANY
One of 2,496
A basic history of a very enthusiastic company
by Alan Darr
REMEMBER SLOGANS like "Blu-Green Gas," "Roar With Gilmore,"
"Gilmore The Record Breaker?" Remember the "Gilmore Fun Circus" radio
show and "That Funny Red Lion Gas Song?" In the 1920s and '30s these were
the sounds of the Gilmore Oil Company of Los Angeles, California. Up
and down the West Coast, almost every kid wanted his mom and dad lo
"fill-'er-up" at the cream and red service stations with the large
impressive lion sign on top the building. The kids were in for a real
treat, and as far as they were concerned, it was all free. Gilmore comic
books, "Gilmore Cub" news-papers with interesting facts, last week's gas
song winners, all the latest racing news, candy suckers in the shape of a
lion and other promotional goodies always were available. If they were
very lucky, they might see some live lions, clowns, and a special bodied
speedster, known today as the "Gilmore Mystery' Car." All this was the
genius of Earl B. Gilmore, President of the Company.
The Gilmore Oil Company's inception was about 1900, when the A.
F. Gilmore Company was organized as a producing company. In 1923, the
Gilmore Oil Company was incorporated under the laws of California as an
amalgamation of the business and properties of A. F. Gilmore Company and
Gilmore Petroleum Company, a refining and marketing company. The Gilmore
Oil Company, Limited refined and marketed oil products in California,
Oregon, and Washington and asphalt in Arizona. Later, asphalt operations
were expanded to other western states as well. Overseas, they marketed
oil products in China and New Zealand. Capital stock was 1,000,000
shares. By 1929, the company held approximately 2,345 acres of land in
fee or under lease and had purchased the former property of Dominion Oil
Company, consisting of 920 acres in Santa Maria Field. The company
operated four refineries and had interests in three others. They had ten
bulk plants distributing through approximately 875 independent dealers,
most of which were in California plus a few in Oregon and Washington.
Trade names were "Gilmore Blu-Green," "Gilcoat," "Road-amite,"
"Lionhead," and "Gilmore Motor Oil." The head office was on East 28th
Street, Los Angeles, California. By 1931, the company really started to
expand its retail operations to include all of the West Coast. By the
mid 1930s, they owned developed property consisting of an additional 884
acres in Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, and Kern counties on which were
located sixteen wells. They also owned 50 bulk distributing plants lo-
cated in California, Oregon, and Washington, and by this time had 3500
independent dealers. Tradenames were: "Gilmore Red Lion," "Gilmore
Blu-Green," "Gilmore Fleet," "Gilcoat," "Roadamite," "Gilmore Motor Oil,"
"Gilmore Lion Head Motor Oil," "Eastoil," "Weston," and "Smacko." Just
before World War II, another product was introduced with the trade name
"Golden Lion Motor Oil." In about 1934, they ceased marketing oil
products overseas and the word "Limited" was dropped from the company
name. In 1936, they sold 97,860,144 gallons of gasoline; 1,776,948
gallons of lubricating oil; 254,195 gallons of kerosene, which was five
times greater than their 1930 sales.
The 3500 independent Gilmore stations were among the cleanest and
most modern of any company. Each month company representatives toured the
stations and recommended ideas to make them better and to pass out the
latest company advertising, giveaways, etc. The stations were painted
cream and red on a regular basis. The buildings were decorated with
checkered flags and large porcelain signs. The company expected and
received top notch dealers, and in retum gave the dealer all the help he
needed to make his business a success. The Gilmore Oil Company also
absorbed any gasoline price war drop, even though no other oil company
did this. By the late 1930s, Gilmore dealers were selling "Gilmore
Batteries," "Norwalk Tires," and offered "Gilmore Credit Cards."
Through the years, Gilmore sold four grades of gasoline. First,
"Gilmore Blu-Green" was their non-leaded regular grade. Second, "Gil-
more Ethyl" was introduced in the late 1920s and was the premium grade
sold through Gilmore dealers under the quality control of the Ethyl
Gasoline Corporation. Third, "Gilmore Red Lion," introduced in 1933,
was a good quality regular grade blended with tetraethyl lead purchased
from the Ethyl Gasoline Corporation for regular grade use without the
trademark and the higher quality control requirements. Fourth, "Gilmore
Fleet," introduced by the mid 1930's, was a non-leaded very low octane
grade intended for commercial use in freight trucks. Gilmore used the
normal industry color dyeing procedures, so the "Ethyl" grade was bronze,
the leaded "Red Lion" was red, and the "Blu-Green" was blue-green. To
understand how all this came about, let's look into the background of
the Ethyl Gasoline Corporation.
The antiknock effectiveness of the pure compound tetraethyl lead
was discovered in 1921. The use patent was assigned to the General
Motors Research Corporation. By 1924, Standard Oil of New Jersey had a
cheap process to produce tetraethyl lead. The Ethyl Gasoline Corporation
was formed August 18, 1924 to marry the use patent of G.M. and the
process patent of Standard Oil (N.J.). Sales of "Ethyl" had barely
started when they were suddenly halted in May, 1925. The immediate cause
was a report of 45 dases of lead poisoning with four fatalities, at
Jersey Standard's pilot plant for the ethyl chloride process at its
Bayway refinery. The subsequent publication of findings by the Bureau Of
Mines from extensive tests that no health hazard existed from the ex-
haust of leaded gasoline did not curb the panic. Investigations by a
committee appointed by the Surgeon General finally cleared the way to
resumption of sales a year later, after Ethyl Gasoline Corporation
agreed to make sure that all leaded gasoline was dyed to serve as a
warning against its use for cleaning purposes. With this out of the way,
the new corporation sold tetraethyl lead to oil refiners (Gilmore
included) under an agreement requiring each refiner to put enough
tetraethyl lead additive in his "Ethyl" grade of fuel to meet a given
antiknock quality, after 1930 expressed in octane numbers. No
additive was sold to those who were unwilling to maintain these specified
quality levels. The high quality fuels were displayed with the "Ethyl"
trade mark (a white/black/yellow triangle within a circle) integrated
into the oil company's own brand identification in a way spelled out in
the early sales contracts. A few years later, in 1933, premium fuel
quality had risen so far above regular grade that tethaethyl lead fluid
was made available for use in regular grade fuels as well, but with the
provision in sales agreements that the "Ethyl" trade mark not be asso-
ciated with the lower octane, and less-controlled fuels. These arrange-
ments ran from 1933 through the end of the patent coverage period, ap-
By 1940, Socony-Vacuum Oil Company, Inc. had acquired 75.56% of
the Gilmore Oil Company stock and Gilmore became a subsidiary of
Socony-Vacuum whose trade name was "Mobiloil." In 1945, the Gilmore Oil
Company was merged into General Petroleum Corporation which was a
solely-owned subsidiary of Socony-Vacuum since 1926.
From 1940 to 1942, Gilmore dealers operated just as they always
had in the past, selling Gilmore products even though the company was now
owned by Socony-Vacuum. In 1942, the company started the transition of
stations from Gilmore to Mobil, and by 1945 the task was completed. All
leased stations and all 50 bulk plants, 3777 acres of oil property, and
two remaining refineries became part of Socony-Vacuum Oil Company, Inc.,
which is now Mobil Oil Corporation. The 3500 Gilmore dealers were of-
tered Mobil dealerships. Most dealers that were in leased stations
stayed with Mobil as well as dealers that owned their stations and
property. Some went with another independent company such as Hancock,
Veltex, or Signal. It was the end of Gilmore and the magic that went
with the name.
Now let's back up and have a look at some of that magic. From
the late 1920s to World War II, Gilmore was very much involved in
promotion and advertising. They sponsored racing, land and water speed
records, toured the West Coast entertaining kids with live lions and
clowns, had a lion farm, radio show, and built Gilmore Stadium in West
Hollywood. The name Gilmore was literally in the daily news. Because of
this exposure, plus their clean stations and good service, their fine
products becam very popular with young and old Mom liked the clean rest
rooms and courteous attendants', Dad liked the products, service, latest
racing news, and those snazzy looking windshield decals and license plate
frames; The kids liked the lions and the giveaways. For the
competition, Gilmore Oil Company was hard to beat, but Socony-Vacuum
managed to do it by 1940 as mentioned before.
In the 1930s, Gilmore-sponsored cars, boats, motorcycles, and
airplanes broke over 500 racing records. In 1932, Gilmore raced
their first cars at the Indianapolis 500 Motor Speedway. They also
raced at Indy in 1933, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937, and 1941. Drivers such as
Howdy Wilcox, Stubby Stubblefield, Al Gordon, Mauri Rose, Kelly
Petillo, Wilbur Shaw, Rex Mays, Freddie Winnai, Doc MacKenzie, Cliff
Bergere, and George Robson all raced Gilmore cars at Indy. In 1935,
Kelly Petillo won the "Indy 500" driving the "Gilmore Speedway
Special," a Wetteroth-Offenhauser, averaging 106.240 mph. In 1937,
Wilbur Shaw won his first "Indy 500" race driving the "Shaw-Gilmore
Special," a Shaw-Offenhauser, averaging 113.580 mph. His previous
attempt in a Gilmore car was in 1934, but the car lost oil in the 15th
lap and was flagged. He also won the "Indy 500" in 1939 and 1940, but
not driving Gilmore cars.
In February, 1934, the Gilmore-sponsored "Gilmore Gold Cup Clas-
sic" stock car race was held at Mines Field, the present-day site of Los
Angeles International Airport. It was won by Stubby Stubblefield in a
close decision over Al Gordon. The first ten places went to Ford cars
with Chrysler, Chevrolet, Plymouth, and Rockne trailing. The hot little
Ford V-8s were hard to beat.
Also in 1934, Rex Mays won the Pacific Coast Championship at the
Legion Ascot Speedway driving the "Gilmore Special." The 1931-1932
Champion, Ernie Triplett, was killed in March of that year at a race at
El Centro, California. In May 1934, the currently built Gilmore Stadium
opened to the fastest growing auto sport in Califomia: midget auto rac-
ing. Gilmore Stadium was open from 1934 through 1950. Every major driv-
er in the 1930s, 1940s, and early 1950s raced at Gilmore. Drivers such
as Bill Betteridge, Bob Swanson, Curly Mills, Roy Russing, Sam Hanks,
Danny Bakes, Fred Friday, Karl Young, Bill Vukovich, and Roger Ward drove
there. Some drivers were not so lucky racing at Gilmore, those killed
over the years were Chet Mortemore, Speedy Lockwood, Frankie Lyons,
Swede Lindskog, and Ed Haddad. Midget racing was very popular and in the
sixteen years of Gilmore Stadium's existence, and nearly 5,000,000 fans
attended. In the 1930s, Gilmore Stadium drew crowds of over 18,000 each
race. By the late 1940s, attendance had dropped to less than half unless
it was a major race such as a Grand Prix. Faced with the attendance
drop, and the knowledge of how much the property had come to be worth in
the glamour capital of West Hollywood, the Gilmore management announced
the sale of the property to C.B.S. In 1951 the stadium was torn down.
Today on the property stand the facilities of Columbia Broadcasting
System's Television City.
Gilmore also sponsored the breaking of land speed records on
the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Drivers such as John Cobb, Tony
Goullatta, Sir Malcolm Campbell, and Ab Jenkins all broke records on
the Flats, but not always for Gilmore. One Gilmore record was
established in 1939 when John Cobb ran through the measured mile at 368.8
mph, driving the "Railton Red Lion." Throughout his career, John Cobb
broke many speed records and was known as "The Fastest Man On Earth." In
1952, he was killed on Loch Ness in Scotland when his jet-propelled
speedboat broke into pieces at a speed of 205 mph during an attempt to
break the world record on water.
By 1930, Gilmore began sponsoring a radio show every Friday
evening which aired for several years. It was called the "Gilmore
Circus Radio Program." Each week, several comedians were featured and
they advertised Gilmore Oil, Gilmore Blu-Green, and after 1933, Red
Lion gasoline. Each week verses were added to "Blu-Green The Longest Song
In The World" and "That Funny Red Lion Gas Song." The verses were sent in
by the radio listeners and the three winners selected each week were
given a five dollar coupon book redeemable in oil products through any
Gilmore dealer. They also gave one monthly grand prize of one hundred
dollars cash. The winning verses were sung during the Gilmore Fun Circus
program, and the names of the winners announced. A sample of a few of
the verses that were winners from "That Funny Red Lion Gas Song" are:
I drive a very ancient bus
Because of this depression
It's full of squeaks and knocks and such
Has really no compression
But since I first heard Gilmore roar
My bus developed class
It speeds along and climbs all hills
When filled with Red Lion Gas.
San Diego, Calif.
The Gilmore Song is quite an ad
I never knew before
That lions in your gasoline
Could make that mighty roar
Now since I'm in the Gilmore class
I'm almost in a trance
Because that famed "Red Lion Gas"
Just makes my old Ford prance.
Mrs. Leah Carroll
Now in the days when "Blu-Green Gas"
Had "Carbon" scared to death
Repair bills dropped for motorist
Garage men held their breath
But since "Red Lion" has appeared
The queen of motor fuels
Mechanics everywhere by gum
Have thrown away their tools.
Mt. Vernon, Wash.
Literally hundreds of verses such as the ones above were sent in
over the years. The listeners who sent verses that were not added to the
song were sent a postcard telling them their verse was very clever, but
not chosen as a winner, and to try again. On the back of the postcard
was a photo of a Gilmore lion sitting next to trainer Roy Kellogg.
Each year during the 30s, Gilmore sponsored the "Gilmore Grand
Canyon Mileage Run" and the "Gilmore Economy Run." Both started from
Gilmore Stadium. The Los Angeles area car dealers participated and used
the results in their own advertising. The "Gilmore Economy Run" which
ran to Yosemite National Park was the most publicized. The car dealers
had their cars painted with special Gilmore advertising and the winners
were flagged with Gilmore checkered flags for the cameramen.
Another Gilmore publicity idea was the use of an open cockpit
airplane, painted Gilmore colors (cream and red which flew the West Coast
advertising Gilmore products. It was piloted by Roscoe Turner, and he
often flew with a live lion cub. Although they were never needed, both
wore parachutes. The cub's parachute was requested by the Humane
Very popular during the 1930s was a special-built speedster and a
truck with lions in cages and a number of clowns which toured the 3500
independent Gilmore dealers in the three West Coast states. They left
Los Angeles early in the spring heading north, and returned late in the
fall. Every station couldn't be visited every year, but visits were
staggered so just about every station was visited every few years.
Each stop was highly advertised in the local newspapers in advance of
their arrival. Kids from all over were at the local Gilmore station to
greet them. While the clowns and lions performed, the kids were given
Red Lion candy suckers and Gilmore comic books. To kids growing up in
the depression, the Gilmore traveling circus was the greatest and not
much could compare.
At least two custom-built publicity speedsters were in use by
Gilmore. The first one in the early 1930s looked something like an
Auburn. The second one looked like a Cord but had a fin running down the
back. It reminds one of what "Flash Gordon" might have driven. The
cars were used on tour, in parades, etc. Both cars were painted cream and
trimmed in red with red leather upholstery which had to be replaced on
a regular basis because the lion cubs liked to claw and chew it apart.
A few years ago, the first speedster disappeared and has since been known
as the "Gilmore Mystery Car."
Today, all that remains of the Gilmore Oil Company is the
memorabilia of their existence and the memories of former dealers,
race car drivers, and the countless thousands who used their products.
There still exists plenty of interest among collectors, Gilmore
collectibles are constantly sought after. For former Gilmore Stadium
race car owners, drivers and mechanics, the annual "Gilmore Roars
Again" party is held at Schroeder's Ranch in the Hollywood Hills. Even
the general public can reminisce while visiting the new Air and Space
Museum at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. They have on
display in the main hall, next to one of Roscoe Turner's airplanes, a
stuffed lion with a red Gilmore robe over its back. The memory of
Gilmore does indeed Roar Again.
Reprinted from OLD CAR ILLUSTRATED
Last Update: September 27, 1995
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