Huge Amoco began small in Baltimore Roots: The metered gas pump, no-knock gasoline and other innovations followed Louis Blaustein's founding of American Oil Co. in 1910.

August 12, 1998|By J. Leffall | J. Leffall,SUN STAFF

Amoco Corp., which became part of the largest oil acquisition yesterday, has its roots in Baltimore, where petroleum pioneer and Baltimorean Louis Blaustein established American Oil Co. in 1910 and laid the foundation for an industry.

More than 88 years later, British Petroleum Co. said yesterday that it will buy Amoco for $53 billion in stock and assumed debt in a deal that would create an oil colossus with $108 billion in annual revenue.

The takeover would be the largest of a U.S. company by a company overseas, eclipsing the buyout of Chrysler Corp. by Daimler-Benz AG for $44.3 billion, which was announced in May.

As part of BP Amoco PLC, Amoco would become part of the biggest company in Britain, but in the United States its brand would supplant BP's retail gasoline station and convenience store outlets.

From its beginnings, American Oil was an industry ground-breaker. The metered gas pump, the drive-in gas station, no-knock gasoline and the gas tank delivery truck are innovations credited to the Blausteins. In 1927, Amoco fuel powered Charles Lindbergh's landmark trans-Atlantic flight in the Spirit of St. Louis.

"A lot of things we use every day and take for granted were invented by the Blaustein family," said Joseph M. Coale, a spokesman for Baltimore-based Crown Central Petroleum Corp., which is controlled by Blaustein's grandson, Henry R. Rosenberg Jr., and other heirs.

Sixteen-year-old Louis Blaustein fled Russia in 1888 and came to the United States with 50 cents in his pocket.

After struggling in the kerosene business and working for Standard Oil of New Jersey for 18 years, he quit in 1910 to start American Oil Co. Blaustein ran it with his son Jacob, driving a petroleum "tank wagon" drawn by the family horse, Prince, from town to town to supply businesses with the company's product.

Blaustein later hired a helper, Herman Baake, to drive the horse while he took orders.

Jacob Blaustein, who left college a year early to assist his father, helped propel the company to sales of 500 gallons a day with his knowledge of chemistry, which he had studied in college.

The younger Blaustein was instrumental in developing a motor oil product, named Amoco, in the company's laboratory and selling it at the country's first filling station with visible gas pumps, on Cathedral Street near Biddle Street. The next Amoco expansion was to Annapolis and Cumberland.

Legal battle

By 1923, Amoco couldn't get enough oil to meet booming demand, so Blaustein traded half of Amoco for a stake in Pan American Petroleum and Transport Co., which owned large oil fields. Two years later, Pan American was bought by an Amoco competitor, Standard Oil of Indiana.

The ensuing legal battle cost Blaustein and his son their management of Amoco. But a settlement in 1954 made his heirs -- who manage most of their holdings through American Trading and Production Co., or ATAPCO -- holders of the largest block of Amoco stock and among the nation's richest people.

In 1930, as the battle over supplies of crude oil intensified, the elder Blaustein bought a 48 percent share of Crown Central Petroleum, a small oil exploration and refining company founded in 1917 by Texas wildcatters.

Blaustein died in 1937, when Rosenberg, now chairman of Crown, was 8.

Role model

Rosenberg said the Blaustein family and other Amoco heirs will play a significant role in the company.

"If I had to describe my grandfather, I'd say that he's a great role model for all of us," Rosenberg said. "I've tried to live, do business and represent the family as he did. The family will keep the tradition alive."

Pub Date: 8/12/98

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