Jacob Blaustein created an oil empire

Amoco founder: He built a global giant, helped launch Charles Center and served as U.S. diplomat.

Marylanders Of The Century

September 05, 1999

JACOB BLAUSTEIN started a vast oil marketing empire with a horse and a wagon.

In 1910, 18-year-old Jacob and his father, Louis, formed the impressive-sounding American Oil Co. and sold kerosene in Baltimore from a horse-drawn tank wagon.

American Oil -- now part of the petroleum colossus BP Amoco, formed in 1998 when British Petroleum acquired Amoco -- first operated out of a livery stable on Clark- son and Wells streets. The family horse, Prince, pulled a wagon with a large metal tank.

Louis, who fled Lithuania in 1888, sold petroleum products for John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil of New Jersey for 18 years. But it was Jacob who shaped the enterprise's destiny.

He studied chemistry in college but left to help his father. The son devised better refining methods and cleaner-burning kerosene. Soon the Blausteins were far out-selling competitors.

Jacob Blaustein was instrumental in creating anti-knock, high-octane motor fuel for high-compression engines that were so popular with early auto designers and manufacturers. His company came up with two marketing breakthroughs -- the drive-through filling station and the metered pump.

At Amoco's first retail outlet on Cathedral Street, the Lord Baltimore Filling Station, motorists could pull off the street to put gasoline in their cars. Until then, cars were fueled at the curb -- a messy and clumsy process.

Early pumps lacked any metering system. The Blausteins' pumps were topped with a 10-gallon glass jar and gallon markings on the side. Amoco's slogan: "See what you get, and get what you see."

As automobiles grew in importance, Jacob Blaustein turned Amoco into a global giant. American Oil Co. became a subsidiary of Standard Oil of Indiana in 1954.

It was only one arm of the family's operations. The Blausteins' American Trading and Production Co. held interests in ocean tankers, manufacturing, banking, insurance and real estate companies, as well as a controlling share of Crown Central Petroleum.

Jacob Blaustein played an important role in downtown Baltimore's revival. After a selection committee rejected his proposal for a skyscraper at One Charles Center in favor of a Mies van der Rohe-designed tower, Blaustein bought the Hub Department Store across the street. He knocked it down and built his own 30-story structure, one story taller than One Charles Center, which spurred additional office development.

Blaustein was more than an entrepreneur. He advised five presi- dents and undertook diplomatic missions to Germany, Israel, North Africa, South America and the United Nations.

In 1945, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Blaustein to attend the formative meetings of the United Nations. Through his efforts, the U.N. charter included language on basic human rights.

Although he was not a Zionist, Blaustein played a key role in cementing U.S.-Israeli relations. His close ties with David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, led to an accord on the status of American Jews and Israel known as the Ben-Gurion-Blaustein Agreements.

After World War II, he negotiated payments of hundreds of millions of dollars to victims of the Nazis. In 1960, he helped get the German industrial conglomerate Krupp to make cash payments to slave laborers who had worked in its munitions plant. Current negotiations with German companies to reimburse other victims of Nazi forced-labor policies are based on this precedent-setting arrangement.

Blaustein's philanthropy extended to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and The Associated: Jewish Charities. The Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Foundation supports a range of programs -- from religious pluralism in Israel to cutting-edge research at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute.

Jacob Blaustein died in 1970. Baltimoreans, whether they are filling their cars with gasoline or listening to the BSO performing a Mozart concerto, are the beneficiaries of this remarkable but unpretentious man's legacy.

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