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Finding Aid for the Union Oil Company of California records, 1884-2005
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography/History
  • Scope and Content
  • Organization and Arrangement
  • Indexing Terms
  • Related Material

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Union Oil Company of California records
    Date (inclusive): 1884-2005
    Collection number: 449
    Creator: Unocal Corporation
    Extent: 90 boxes (45 linear ft.) 68 oversize boxes 52 cartons
    Abstract: The Union Oil Company of California was a major petroleum producer, refiner, and marketer incorporated in Santa Paula, California, on October 17, 1890. The company, later reorganized under the Unocal Corporation, remained one of America's oldest and largest independent enterprises, with operations throughout southern California, the United States, and Southeast Asia, up until its 2005 merger with the ChevronTexaco Corporation. Photographs, negatives, and employee publications comprise the bulk of the collection, but the records also contain early field and gauge reports, financial ledgers, correspondence to and from the company's founders, lease and stock agreements, annual reports to stockholders, speeches and remarks by company executives, films, and various memorabilia.
    Language: Finding aid is written in English.
    Repository: University of California, Los Angeles. Library. Department of Special Collections.
    Los Angeles, California 90095-1575
    Physical location: Stored off-site at SRLF. Advance notice is required for access to the collection. Please contact the UCLA Library, Department of Special Collections Reference Desk for paging information.

    Administrative Information

    Restrictions on Access

    COLLECTION STORED OFF-SITE AT SRLF: Open for research. Advance notice required for access. Contact the UCLA Library, Department of Special Collections Reference Desk for paging information.

    Restrictions on Use and Reproduction

    Property rights to the physical object belong to the UCLA Library, Department of Special Collections. Literary rights, including copyright, are retained by the creators and their heirs. It is the responsibility of the researcher to determine who holds the copyright and pursue the copyright owner or his or her heir for permission to publish where The UC Regents do not hold the copyright.

    Provenance/Source of Acquisition

    Gift of Michael Thacher, 2004 and 2005.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Union Oil Company of California records (Collection 449). Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA.

    UCLA Catalog Record ID

    UCLA Catalog Record ID: 6894275 

    Processing Note

    Processed by Brandon Barton, 31/05/2010.
    Processing of the Union Oil Company of California records was generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and administered by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). The UCLA Library Special Collections was awarded a Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives grant from 2010-2012, "Uncovering California's Environmental Collections," in collaboration with eight additional special collections and archival repositories throughout the state and the California Digital Library (CDL). Grant objectives included processing of over 33 hidden collections related to the state's environment and environmental history. The collections document an array of important sub-topics such as irrigation, mining, forestry, agriculture, industry, land use, activism, and research. Together they form a multifaceted picture of the natural world and the way it was probed, altered, exploited and protected in California over the twentieth century. Finding aids are made available through the Online Archive of California (OAC).


    The Union Oil Company of California was incorporated on October 17, 1890, in Santa Paula, California, after founding members Lyman Stewart, Wallace L. Hardison, and Thomas Bard merged their respective California oil interests: Hardison and Stewart Oil, Sespe Oil, and Torrey Canyon Oil. Union's early years were marked by struggle and infighting between the company's founders; nonetheless, its first producing wells accounted for nearly one-fourth of California's oil production. By 1900, Lyman Stewart remained the sole founder still with the company, and under his auspices, and those of the Stewart family, Union Oil began its first real era of rapid growth. In late 1900, Stewart moved the company's offices to Los Angeles, and from there Union Oil quickly expanded south through Los Angeles County and beyond. In response to the popularization of the automobile and the demand for motor oil, which the company itself had helped to foster by marketing oil fuel as a viable energy source, Union began to open service stations up and down southern California, augmenting these stations with twenty established ones acquired from the purchase of Pinal Dome Oil in 1917. With this distribution network and the introduction of its iconic 76 retail brand, Union Oil, or Union 76 as it came to be known, helped to shape both southern California's landscape and its history.
    Midway through the twentieth century, Union had built the world's first oil tanker, had begun drilling in Alaska and Colorado, and had begun to experiment with oil shale and alternatives to crude oil. By the 1960s, however, two-thirds of the company's production still came from California. In that same decade, the company's strategy shifted dramatically as Fred Hartley was appointed CEO and Union Oil saw another era of revitalization. To keep Union competitive, Hartley pushed for increased oil exploration and expansion, and he invested substantial resources into developing geothermal power and liquefied natural gas as an automotive fuel. Union Oil's merger with the Pure Oil Company in 1965 also won Union Oil a significant international reputation as a producer, refiner, and marketer. The merger, unprecedented in size, made Union the ninth largest oil company in the United States and led to huge oil and gas discoveries in Southeast Asia. Throughout the remainder of the sixties and seventies Union Oil continued to grow, becoming the world's largest producer of geothermal power in 1967, signing the first gas sales contract with Thailand in 1978, and joining Standard Oil and Phillips, among others, to form the Alyeska Pipeline Service responsible for building the TransAlaska Pipeline.
    With this growth, Union Oil also saw an increase in public relations disasters and takeover bids. In 1969, one of Union's drilling platforms off the coast of California leaked hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into the water and onto the beaches of Santa Barbara. The incident helped turn public and political opinion against offshore drilling and likewise gained the company a bad reputation among environmentalists. To compound these troubles, Union had fallen into greater and greater debt trying to fend off several takeovers towards the end of the century and in 1983 had to reorganize under the Unocal Corporation as a defense against further such attempts. Despite its financial difficulties, the company continued to grow outside of the United States, particularly in Asia and Latin America, eventually even becoming profitable again. The final years of the Union Oil Company were marked by speculation as to the company's future, further talks of takeovers, and more negative press-including revelations that Unocal had been dealing with the Taliban regime before September 11, 2001. After more than 100 years as one of America's largest and most historied independent companies, Union Oil and Unocal finally agreed in 2005 to be acquired by the ChevronTexaco Corporation.

    Scope and Content

    Records span the entirety of the company's history with stock certificates from before the 1890 merger to newspaper articles covering the final days of Unocal's independence. Photographs, negatives, and employee publications comprise the bulk of the collection, but the records also contain early field and gauge reports, financial ledgers, correspondence to and from the company's founders, lease and stock agreements, annual reports to stockholders, speeches and remarks by company executives, films, and various memorabilia. The collection's robust visual materials document the broad spectrum of Union Oil's operations and activities (and those of Pinal Dome Oil and the Pure Oil Company, which Union Oil acquired in 1917 and 1965 respectively) both in the United States and overseas, especially in terms of fields, refineries, oil exploration, and transportation (including innovations in tanker and aviation technology). In addition to cataloging the history of one of America's biggest independents, the collection tells the story of oil more generally and of the push for alternative energies and delineates the growth and development of southern California in the twentieth century.

    Organization and Arrangement

    Arranged in the following series and subseries:
    1. Documents and Correspondence
    2. Films
    3. Financial Records and Reports
    4. Memorabilia
    5. Negatives
      • Advertising
      • Employees
      • Environment
      • Miscellaneous
      • Offices
      • Offshore (Pure Oil)
      • Oil Fields
      • Plants
      • Ports
      • Publications
      • Refineries
      • Research
      • Service Stations
      • Shore Facilities
      • Transportation (Auto, Aviation, Tankers, Trains)
    6. Photographs
      • Advertising
      • Employees
      • Employees (Pure Oil)
      • Environment
      • Financial Records and Reports
      • Geothermal
      • Geothermal (Pure Oil)
      • Miscellaneous
      • Miscellaneous (Pure Oil)
      • Offices
      • Offices (Pure Oil)
      • Offshore
      • Offshore (Pure Oil)
      • Oil Fields
      • Oil Fields (Pure Oil)
      • Overseas
      • Ports
      • Public Relations
      • Publications
      • Refineries
      • Refineries (Pure Oil)
      • Research
      • Research (Pure Oil)
      • Service Stations
      • Service Stations (Pure Oil)
      • Shore Facilities
      • Transportation (Auto, Aviation, Barges, Tankers, Trains)
      • Transportation (Pure Oil)
    7. Publications

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.


    Union Oil Company of California--- Archives.
    Uncovering California's Environmental Collections Project.

    Related Material

    Pinal Dome Oil Company Records (Collection 220)  . Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles.