Sun Company, Inc.

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Sun Company, Inc.

100 Matsonford Road
Radnor, Pennsylvania 19087
(215) 293-6000
Fax: (215) 977-6574

Public Company
1890 as Sun Oil Company
Employees: 20,900
Sales: $13.27 billion
Stock Exchanges: New York Philadelphia Alberta Basel Geneva Zürich Dusseldorf Frankfurt London

Sun Company is the largest independent company that explores, develops, produces, and markets crude oil and natural gas. While Sun traces its roots to the United States in the 1880s, most of its oil and gas exploration and production now occur outside of the United States, in the North Sea and in Canada. Sun also produces synthetic crude oil in western Canada, and refines and markets a wide variety of petroleum products throughout the world. In addition, Sun mines coal in the United States. Late-20th century diversification involved the company with equipment leasing and secured lending, as well as with real estate development.

Suns beginnings go back to 1881, when Joseph Newton Pew, known as Newton Pew, and Edward Octavius Emerson incorporated Keystone Gas Company. Emerson was president, and Pew was the treasurer. Emerson, a 42-year-old banker had the financial expertise and backing, while Pew, at 28, was just becoming known in the oil-and-gas real estate business, having traded in property and leases since the 1870s. Emerson and Pews new company succeeded so well that within a year they incorporated Penn Fuel Company, the first supplier of natural gas to a major city, Pittsburgh, for home use as well as for industrial use. In the words of Pews nephew J. Howard Pew, When Newton Pew arrived in 1882, few Pittsburghers realized they were in need of natural gas. The Penn Fuel Company immediately embarked upon correcting this oversight by building gas pipelines to the city.

By 1884, the two men had sold their interest in the Penn Fuel Company and started The Peoples Natural Gas Company. Not too long after that, the partners got wind of substantial oil discoveries in Ohio. Pew sent his nephew, Robert Cunningham Pew, to investigate the possibility of securing leases in northwestern Ohios oil fields. Under Pew and Emersons direction, Robert spent $4,500 on two leases in Ohios Findlay township. Robert Pew was left to manage the Ohio oil operations while Edward Emerson and Newton Pew focused their attention on the natural gas end of their business. By 1889, however, production in their Ohio oil fields grew so large that it could no longer be ignored. Pew and Emerson incorporated the Sun Oil Line Company in order to acquire the necessary pipelines, leases, storage tanks, and tank cars. The operation continued to grow to the point where, in 1890, Pew and Emerson thought it wise to consolidate their interests, and they incorporated Sun Oil Company in Ohio with the stated intention of producing petroleum, rock and carbon oil; transporting and storing same; refining, purifying, manufacturing such oil and its various products . . . , getting Sun Oil off to a running start.

In 1894 Sun Oil, in a joint venture with Merriam and Morgan Paraffine Company of Cleveland, incorporated the Diamond Oil Company for the purpose of purchasing a refinery just outside Toledo for $22,200 from economically troubled Crystal Oil Company. This plant refined the first oils that Sun Oil ever shipped. In 1895, Pew and Emerson bought out Merriam and Morgans interest, and the refinery became entirely Sun Oils. Not only did Sun Oil get its first refinery out of Diamond Oil; it adopted a diamond shape enclosing the words Sun Oil as the company trademark.

Both of Emerson and Pews businesses were developing at a rapid pace. While Sun Oil continued to grow, The Peoples Natural Gas Company also prospered under the control of Emerson and Pew. In 1899, Pew bought out Emersons stake in the Sun Oil Company and, by 1903, he had sold his own stake in The Peoples Natural Gas Company. In 1901 Pew rein-corporated Sun Oil Company in New Jersey as Sun Company. Between 1899 and 1903 Newton Pew worked hard to help Sun Oil stand firmly on its own feet.

In 1901 the Spindletop well in Beaumont, Texas, spurting 100,000 barrels of oil a day for ten days, was the biggest oil strike yet. Newton Pew lost no time sending Robert Pew there. At that time, Beaumont was suffering from something akin to gold fever, except that Beaumonts gold was black. Within a month, Robert Pew had returned to Toledo, and Newton Pew sent Roberts brother, James Edgar Pew, in his stead.

J. Edgar Pew would become one of the most famous and respected oil man in the production end of the business. In the words of a retired Sun executive, J. Edgar Pew . . . was shrewd enough to see that you could make more money by drilling and producing the oil than by going around and buying it.

Pew bought 42 acres of land on the Neches River and erected storage tanks. In 1902, at a public auction, he bid $100,000 for the assets of the bankrupt Lone Star and Crescent Oil Company. His was the only bid of the day and it won the assets. The auctions terms, however, demanded an immediate down payment of at least 25%. When Pew went to the two local banks hed been using, he found them closed for Decoration Day. As he kicked up dust on the streets of the town he saw his prize slipping away, until he spotted some men remodeling an old building to hold a new bank. Suns reputation was already so well known, that a man inside the building wrote J. Edgar a check for $25,000 on the spot.

Meanwhile, Robert Pew observed that the key to Suns success in its Texas endeavors lay in finding a way to move its Texas crude inexpensively to refineries, because the cost of transporting it over land was so high that it was out of the question. In October 1901, Newton Pew spent $45,000 for land on the Delaware River in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania, and started building a refinery there to process the Texas crude. United Gas Improvement Company, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was Suns partner, with 45% of the venture. Five months later, in March of 1902, the refinery received the first crude Sun sent out of Texas, delivered by Suns first tanker, the S.S. Paraguay. In 1905 Sun transformed the Thomas W. Lawson, the worlds largest schooner-rigged sailing ship, into an oil carrier.

During these rapidly moving events, J. Howard Pew, Newton Pews second son, began work at Sun. J. Howard Pew had finished both high school and college by the time he was 18. In 1901 the 19-year-old J. Howard began working in the Toledo, Ohio, refinery, experimenting with the heavy black residue from Suns Texas crude. In the new Marcus Hook refinery, the crude was developed into a lubricating oil, known as Sun Red Stock. By 1904 J. Howard Pew and his team of researchers had developed the first commercially successful petroleum asphalt. Sun had more than 100 trade-name products on the market by 1910.

In 1908, Josephs third son, Joseph Newton Pew Jr., joined the Sun staff. He recalled that, about three months after he started, he went to talk to his father about his job in Suns purchasing department to ask for a real job. According to Joseph, his fathers response was, Joe, you have been given your opportunity and it is up to you to make your job. Joe took those words to heart. He drove ox teams through the mud to get loads of pipe across West Virginia, laid mahogany roads in Venezuela, and spent five nights without sleep while bringing in a new well in Illinois.

By 1912 when Joseph Newton Pew Sr., Suns first president, died, his sons were already working together as a team. J. Howard became president at the age of 30; Joseph Newton Pew Jr. became vice president at 26.

J. Howard Pew took a business trip to Germany in 1915, a year after the beginning of World War I. He was shocked by Germanys air and naval strength and predicted with some accuracy the amount of damage Germany could inflict on Allied shipping, including oil tankers. When he returned to the United States, he authorized the beginning of Sun Ship, a shipbuilding facility on the Delaware River, south of Philadelphia. By 1917, when the United States became involved in the war, Sun Ship was able to slide its first freighter, the S.S. Chester Sun, into the water. By the end of World War I, Sun Ship had built three mine-sweepers and six tankers for the U.S. Navy.

Before the war, Suns place in the petroleum industry was in lubricating and industrial oils, and it sold oil directly to Philadelphias United Gas Improvement Company (UGI). During the war, however, Sun severed its connections with UGI, and Sun was left with a huge supply of gas oil, the source of gasoline. The automobile industry had grown so rapidly that by 1918 more than six million vehicles moved over U.S. highways. Quickly shifting gears, Sun began to construct it first gasoline filling station in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. It opened in 1920. A diamond-shaped sign with a red arrow through it proclaimed Suns Products. Since that day, Suns trademark has not changed nor has the name of the gasoline, Sunoco.

In 1922 Sun Company once again reincorporated, as a Pennsylvania company, under the name Sun Oil Company (PA). Also in 1922, at the Marcus Hook refinery, Sun Oil set in motion its first high-pressure cracking units that enabled it to produce gasoline much more quickly. This expanded capacity allowed Sun Oil to increase its sales beyond the mid-Atlantic region.

Most other refiners at this time were adding tetraethyl lead to gasoline to kill engine knock. Sun Oil took a different track. It produced premium gasoline without adding lead. In 1927, Sun Oil introduced its only grade of gasoline, calling it Blue Sunoco, The High Powered Knockless Fuel at No Extra Price. Blue dye was used in the gasoline so that motorists could identify it by its color, through the glass of the 1920s gravity-flow gasoline pumps.

In 1923, Sun Ship introduced the Sun Doxford diesel engine. In a few years Sun Ship became the largest U.S. manufacturer of large marine diesel engines. In 1931, it launched the worlds first all-welded tanker, the S.S. White Flash. In 1931, Sun built the first long-distance petroleum-products pipeline in the United States. This 730-mile pipeline stretched from Twin Oaks, Pennsylvania, through Syracuse, New York, to Cleveland, Ohio, with branch lines to cities in between.

The usual refining practice in the oil industry at the time was to heat the crude to such extreme temperatures that it became vaporous. The vapors were then condensed into gasoline and other products. This process yielded only about 40% high-grade fuel. The leftover 60% was a sludgy substance that could only be made into low-profit items. All this began to change in 1933, when Eugene Houdry, a Frenchman, made an appointment to see Arthur Pew, Newton Pews oldest son.

Houdry was working on an invention that would get more gasoline out of every gallon, of a much higher octane. Most of his preliminary work had been done in France, and in Vacuum Oil Companys refinery in New Jersey. When Vacuum merged with Standard Oil Company of New York, however, Houdrys refining project was shelved. He had been trying to sell his refining process to other companies, but he had had no luck until he reached Sun Oil. Within an hour at the first meeting, Houdry and Arthur Pew struck a deal. Working in Sun Oils Marcus Hook laboratory, Houdry developed a model that performed to perfection. Sun Oil then built Houdrys catalytic cracking plant at Marcus Hook refinery, ran it on trial for a year and a half in secret, then announced its success to the world in 1937.

Toward the end of World War II, when the gas needs of the United States were critical, the Marcus Hook refinery shipped more than 1.1 million barrels a month of 100-octane aviation gas. At the same time, Sun Ship built an average of one ship a week. The end of the war brought a sharp decline in U.S. ship construction, as foreign competition took business from U.S. commercial builders, Sun Ship included.

After the war, J. Howard Pew started grooming as his successor an outsider from Sun Oils ranks. In 1947 Robert G. Dunlop became Sun Oils first non-Pew president in 60 years. During his presidency, revenues grew sixfold and profits ninefold.

By the early 1950s, when car types began to vary, Sun Oils one type of gasoline could no longer meet the differing octane needs of higher-compression engines, and Sun Oils market share began to fall off. In 1956 Sun Oil opened its first custom-blending pump in Orlando, Florida; from five grades of gasoline, customers could select the one that best met their cars octane needs and the pump would mix it then and there. By 1958, Sun Oil had removed the last of the pumps flaws and was able to introduce six grades of custom blending to its entire market territory.

Dunlops ability to make quick decisions led to Sun Oils abundant Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela, oil discovery in 1957. Taking the advice of an advisory group, Sun Oil investigated this offshore site that ultimately had nearly 100 wells producing 450 million barrels of oil, 200 million of which were Sun Oils share. Suns Venezuelan operations, known as VenSun, prospered until Venezuela nationalized its oil industry in 1975.

Sun Oil went on to establish the North Sea Sun Oil Company Ltd. in 1965. The next year, as a member of the Arpet group, Sun helped discover the Hewett gas field off Englands coast, beginning Suns history in offshore North Sea drilling.

Bob Dunlop steered the company through the Sun Oil-Sunray DX merger. Their courtship began in 1967 at an industry dinner in Midland, Texas, where Dunlop and Sunray chief Paul Taliafero were seated next to one another. Sun Oil operated primarily in the eastern United States and Sunray almost exclusively in the Midwest. Their refining and marketing regions added to each, complementing rather than competing. By every measurement Sun Oil was about twice the size of Sunray DX. The companies agreed to merge in 1968. A year and a half were spent planning the mechanics of the merger, which resulted in a company with 30,000 employees and more than $2 billion in assets. The merger turned Sun Oil into a huge corporation and changed the way the company would be run from that point hence.

All this time Sun Oil was working to develop what was called the worlds first oil mine, Canadas Athabasca sands, on the Athabasca River. It was thought these sands held more recoverable oil than all of the oil in the Middle East. The problem was how to transport the sand to where the oil could be recovered or how to recover the oil on-site in such a far north location. Sun Oil finished construction of a refinery in 1967, intended to boil 45,000 barrels of oil out of the sand a day. The cost of producing oil was too high to compete with the low oil prices of the day. However, ten years later, when oil prices started climbing, Sun Oils sands began to turn a profit.

Sun Oil constructed a $150 million operation in Yabuco, Puerto Rico, including an all-weather harbor and a 66,000-barrel-per-day refinery in 1969. In 1971 Sun Oil Company (PA) became simply Sun Oil Company.

In 1970, when Dunlop retired, H. Robert Sharbaugh became Sun Oils new president. Attention was focused on pushing up the stock price and raising cash dividend. Individual employees were given the opportunity to advance their own careers when a management-training school was founded. By 1974, Sharbaugh had been named CEO, and by 1975 he was chairman of the board. In 1975 Sharbaugh announced he would restructure the company into 14 decentralized operating units and two property companies, all of which would be controlled by a nonoperating parent company.

In 1976 Sun Oil Company changed its name to Sun Company, Inc., to portray the fact that it was involved in more businesses than just oil. That same year Theodore A. Burtis became Suns new president. In 1978 Chairman Sharbaugh authorized the purchase of a large interest in Becton, Dickinson and Company, a medical-supply firm, and it became obvious that Sharbaughs vision for Sun differed from that of the board. In 1979 Theodore Burtis became Suns new chairman.

In 1979 Sun, in an effort to redirect its company toward energy resources, made an acquisition in mining. This was Elk River Resources, Inc., which had mining operations in Kentucky and Virginia, with reserves of 186 million tons of coal in those states and in West Virginia. By 1983 this acquisitions production increased by almost 35%. Additional acquisitions expanded its coal reserves by 70%.

In 1980 Sun bought all the domestic oil and gas properties of Texas Pacific Oil Company for $23 billion. In 1982 Sun Ship was sold; it had not turned a profit in more than five years. Robert McClements Jr. took over Burtiss duties as president in 1981, but Burtis remained CEO and chairman.

In 1982 when the Peoples Republic of China invited oil companies to help it develop its 3,000 miles of coastline, Sun was one of the first to jump in. In 1983 Sun was granted shares in exploration tracts in the Gulf of Beibu and the South China Sea. By 1984, a Sun-manned jack-up rig had been installed off Hainan Island in the Gulf of Beibu, and drilling began.

In 1984 Sun acquired the Exeter Oil Company for $76 million and some Victory Oil Company properties for $281 million. As McClements explained it, The acquisitions reflect Suns strategy of acquiring existing producing properties and, using its production know-how, quickly bringing them up to snuff. Within a short period of time Exeters production climbed from 500 barrels a day to more than 1,000.

Burtis worked closely with McClements on strategic direction until McClements became CEO in 1985. Oil prices began to decline in the late 1980s and Sun laid off employees. In November 1988 Sun spun off its subsidiary Sun Exploration and Production Company, which was renamed Oryx Energy Company.

Environmental issues may play a role in Suns future. Tougher acid rain legislation could increase demand for low-sulfur coals.

Principal Subsidiaries

Sun International Exploration and Production; Sun Coal Company; Sun Refining and Marketing Company; Suncor Inc.; Radnor Corporation; Helios Capital Corporation.

Further Reading

Centennial Celebration: The Story of Sun Company, Radnor, Pennsylvania, Sun Company, Inc., 1986.

Maya Sahafi