Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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Universal Oil Products Inc

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1909 Jesse Adams Dubbs developed a way of demulsifying crude oil. The by-product was lots and lots of gasoline – a 30-percent yield, four times greater than conventional refining methods. When Dubbs's son brought this to the attention of the Chicago meat packer J. Ogden Armour, the invention was reviewed by Armour’s patent attorney Frank Belknap.

Belknap reasoned that, if the 1909 Dubbs process could be patented, it would take precedence over a 1912 patent for a similar process granted to William Merrion Burton of the Standard Oil Company of Indiana. With this patent, Armour could demand payments from Standard Oil – and gain retribution against his rival John D. Rockefeller, that company’s principal shareholder.

After acquiring the rights to Dubbs’ invention, Armour created the National Hydrocarbon Company on July 17, 1914 to commercialize 12 inventions held by Dubbs.

1914 Jesse Dubbs retired; his son Carbon remained with the company to prove the efficacy of his father’s invention at a time when demand for gasoline was rising sharply due to the growing use of the internal combustion engine.

Belknap resubmitted Dubbs's patent application, which was granted on January 5, 1915. The company immediately began preparing legal complaints, and the first of these was filed on August 7, 1916.

1919 The company changed its name to Universal Oil Products. Carbon Dubbs revealed he had been secretly working on developing a refining technique that improved on his father’s invention by circulating a quantity of refined gasoline back into the feedstock. This led to a profound change in the company’s business which now had a new and improved method for refining oil.

Because UOP lacked the capital to become a refining company itself, UOP licensed the new process to any refiner in exchange for a royalty fee, based on production. For its part, UOP would engineer its customers’ refineries and guarantee performance. This would continue to be UOP’s business model for the next century.

1921 UOP established its Riverside research and development laboratory in Illinois, as a focal point where the best and brightest scientists could create new products and provide scientific support for the oil refining industry.

UOP signed dozens of customers, initially in the United States, followed by Japan, China, India, Romania, the UK and The Philippines. The steadily rising income from these licensees helped to fund UOP’s legal actions to protect its patents.

1931 Faced with a legal judgment in favor of UOP, a consortium of oil companies banded together to purchase UOP for $25 million. This consortium, the United Gasoline Corporation, was jointly controlled by the Shell Oil Company and Standard Oil Company of California, and later included the Standard Oil Company of Indiana, Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, The Texas Company, the Atlantic Refining Company and Gulf Oil.

To allay concerns over antitrust, UOP was obliged to continue its work with independent refiners, in effect, becoming the centre of research for the entire industry. But for the major oil companies, the acquisition of UOP brought peace after 15 years of litigation.

1931 UOP recruited Vladimir Ipatieff, one of the world’s foremost chemical scientists, as head of research. Ipatieff tested his theories at the Riverside laboratory, constructing miniature refineries. He attracted many scientists from around the world to work with him.

Some of Ipatieff's developments included a catalyst (to improve gasoline yield), hydrofluoric alkylation, polymerization and isomerization, which led to the development of high-octane fuels that could be produced on a large scale, as well as for the production of synthetic rubber. These development became critically important during World War II.

Legal battles took place over the original judgements in UOP's favour. To avoid becoming ensnared in UOP’s legal problems, the oil companies that owned it placed it in a trust to support the American Chemical Society.

1947 A new method of catalysis using platinum greatly multiplied the yields of high-octane gasoline from crude oil while producing hydrogen for purifying refinery feedstocks. This invention became the world’s leading process for making gasoline and it gave UOP a new and highly profitable process to replenish its licensing income.

1959 UOP was generating so much income that it threatened the American Chemical Society’s non-profit status so ACS sold UOP to shareholders in a public offering.

By 1966, UOP had adopted a diversification strategy and had acquired more than 20 businesses.

By 1975 UOP had 5 Divisions: Process, Construction, Water, Air Correction and Chemicals but was growing only slowly. The Signal Companies acquired a 50.1 percent of the company.

1979 Signal acquired the stock it did not already own.

1983 Signal closed or sold every business not related to oil and gas, returning UOP to its core business.

1985 Signal merged with Allied Chemical Corporation. UOP became part of AlliedSignal’s Engineered Materials division.

1988 UOP merged with its longtime rival and collaborator, the Catalyst, Adsorbents and Process Systems division of Union Carbide. The new company was named UOP LLC

1990 UOP introduced an improved process to manufacture gasoline components and building blocks of plastic from propane and isobutene.

1995 UOP acquired the Process Technology Licensing business of Unocal.

1999 AlliedSignal acquired Honeywell; the new company adopted the Honeywell name.

2001 Dow Chemical Company acquired Union Carbide.

2005 Honeywell acquired Dow’s stake in UOP and started new technical developments.

2012 UOP acquired 70 percent of the Thomas Russell Company, a leader in modular plants for the natural gas industry, to form UOP Russell.




See Also

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Sources of Information

  • [1] UOP history