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Title: American Petroleum Institute Photograph and Film Collection

Collection Date(s): 1860s-1990 (bulk 1955-1990)

Extent and Forms of Material: 45 cubic feet; includes photographs, slides, negatives, audio cassette tapes, and moving image, approximately 25 reels (119 boxes).

Creator: American Petroleum Institute

Abstract: Collection includes historic photographs, slides and films on subjects relating to all aspects of the petroleum industry, including exploration, drilling, refineries, tankers, pipelines, automobiles, trucks, aviation, refueling, buildings, coal, gasification, plants, mining, surface mining, fields, land reclamation, coastal zone management, corporate public service, educational programs, crude oil, deepwater ports, and watercrafeet It also documents numerous products other than gasoline produced by the petroleum industry, such as propane, lubricants, heating oil, and plastics.

Repository: Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. 202-633-3270

Collection Number: AC0711

Processing Note: Processed by Bob Ageton (volunteer) and Kelly Gaberlavage (intern), August 2004 and May 2006; supervised by Alison L. Oswald, archivist.


Conditions Governing Access: The collection is open for research use.

Technical Access: Viewing film portion of collection requires special appointment; please inquire.

Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use: Copyright held by the Smithsonian Institution. Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Reproduction permission from Archives Center: fees for commercial use.

Preferred Citation: Title and date of item, American Petroleum Institute Photograph and Film Collection, 1860s-1990 (bulk 1955-1990), Archives Center, National Museum of American History, box number X, folder number XX, digital file number XXXXXXXX.


Administrative/Biographical History: The origins of the American Petroleum Institute (API) date to World War I, when Congress and the domestic oil and natural gas industry worked together to help the war effort. At the time, the industry included the companies created in 1911 after the court-imposed dissolution of Standard Oil and the independents. These were companies that had been independent of Standard Oil and which had no experience working together. The companies agreed to work with the government to ensure that vital petroleum supplies were rapidly and efficiently deployed to the armed forces. The National Petroleum War Service Committee, which oversaw this effort, was initially formed under the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and subsequently as a quasi-governmental body.

After the war, momentum began to build to form a national association that could represent the whole oil and natural gas industry in the postwar years. The industry’s efforts to supply fuel during World War I not only highlighted the importance of the industry to the country, but also the industry’s obligation to the public.

The American Petroleum Institute was established on March 20, 1919, to afford a means of cooperation with the government in all matters of national concern; to foster foreign and domestic trade in American petroleum products; to promote in general the interests of the petroleum industry in all its branches; and to promote the mutual improvement of its members and the study of the arts and sciences connected with the oil and natural gas industry.

API offices were established in New York City, and the organization focused its efforts in several specific areas. In late 1969, API moved its offices to Washington, D.C. *

Scope and Content: The collection contains, color and black-and-white photographs, contact sheets, slides, color transparencies, negatives, transcripts, audio tape cassettes, and films documenting the American Petroleum Institute (API) and all its activities. The material in the collection was assembled by API public relations staff from oil industry sources over several years and was used in public relations and educational materials.

The photographs and slides are both original and copy prints are organized according to the organizational structure that API used. The photographs and slides document all aspects of the production of oil, from exploration to drilling, from cracking to refineries, from pipelines to tankers, and from storage tanks to service stations. They also document the numerous products other than gasoline produced by the petroleum industry including: kerosene, liquid propane gas, lubricants, heating oil, and plastics. Additionally, they document the industry’s efforts at self-promotion, its stand on environmental issues and energy conservation, its efforts to promote safety in its plants, and its perceived competition from other energy sources, such as gasohol, geothermal energy, solar energy, and nuclear energy. Overall, these images portray the petroleum industry as it saw itself.

The collection also includes general images of petroleum workers, landscape and wildlife scenes, urban settings, vernacular architecture (service stations), railroads, road development, and the industry’s crucial role during World War II.

Series 1, Historical Photographs, 1860s-1950s

This series is divided into forty subseries and contains primarily black-and-white photographs, but there are some negatives. Many of the photographs contain captions. The content includes: advertising, lighting and heating, kerosene lamps, lubricants, medicine, aircraft, artwork, equipment, political cartoons, automobiles, terminals, disasters, charts, drilling, portable rigs, rotary rigs, exploration land rush, lighting and stoves, memorials, mining, natural gas, oil company offices, oil fields, pipelines, products, railroads, tank cars, refineries, safety, service stations, teamsters, war, watercraft, and wells.

Series 2, Modern Photographs, 1960s-1980s

 The seriescontains black-and-white and color photographs, negatives and transparencies. The photographs are arranged into topical areas such as diagrams and maps, environment, electricity, exploration, natural gas, pipelines, storage, and wells. The following subjects are represented: artwork, automobiles, trucks, aviation, refueling, buildings, coal, gasification, plants, and mining, surface mining, fields, land reclamation, coastal zone management, corporate public service, educational programs, crude oil, and deepwater ports.

Series 3, Miscellaneous Photographs, 1900s-1970s

 The photographsconsist of black-and-white copy prints, color transparencies, negatives, and slides for a variety of subjects: pipelines, platforms, service stations, and wells. The names of major oil and petroleum companies, such as Shell, Standard Oil, Sun Oil, and Savory Oil, are represented.

Series 4, Slides, 1970s-1980s

 The slides aredivided into two subseries: slides presentations and slides by subject/topic. The slides presentations were assembled and presented by API staff. In some instances there are slides, transcripts, and audio tape cassettes for the presentations. The presentations have been arranged alphabetically by title. The subject slides are arranged alphabetically by topic/subject and are identified. Only some of the subject-related slides are dated. The miscellaneous slides contain such images as the Space Shuttle Columbia, sunsets, and industrial scenes.

Series 5, Photograph Albums, 1903-1968 (not inclusive)

 This seriesincludestwo photograph albums: one that focuses on aviation, bulk plants, chemistry, and disasters and the other on an advertising series from 1953. The first album consists of black-and-white copy prints that are subdivided according to subject. Some of the photographs have captions. The album containing the advertising series is comprised of black-and-white copy prints with the corresponding print ad that was used. The print ads vary in size and amount of text. The advertising series addresses a variety of topics.

Series 6, Scripts for Films, 1955-1978

 The scriptsconsist of final transcripts and drafts for various films commissioned by API. In some instances there are accompanying photographs.

Series 7, Publications, 1959-1990

 This seriesincludes publications from various petroleum companies such as the Shell News and Petroleum Facts and Figures and accompanying slides from the API library that were featured in articles.

Series 8, Films, 1960s

 The filmsconsist of approximately 25 reels of motion picture film. The films are production elements (negatives, track negatives, A and B rolls) for approximately 10 separate titles. It is not possible to make film elements available for research use. This portion of the collection has not been processed.

 System of Arrangement: Arranged into eight series.

Series 1, Historical Photographs, 1850s-1950s

Subseries 1, Advertising, 1850s-1952, undated
Subseries 2, Aircraft, 1903-1966
Subseries 3, Artwork, undated
Subseries 4, Automobiles, 1896-1955, undated
Subseries 5, Delivery, 1874-1929
Subseries 6, Disasters, 1880-1958, undated
Subseries 7, Documents, 1855-1916, undated
Subseries 8, Drilling, 1865-1930, undated
Subseries 9, Equipment, 1921
Subseries 10, Exploration, 1920-1946, undated
Subseries 11, Farming, 1918
Subseries 12, Land Rush— Oklahoma, 1891-1920s, undated
Subseries 13, Lights and Stoves, 1859, undated
Subseries 14, Memorials, 1876, 1901-1953, undated
Subseries 15, Minerals, 1921
Subseries 16, Mining, 1895-1920s, undated
Subseries 17, Natural Gas, undated
Subseries 18, Oil Camps, 1920s, undated
Subseries 19, Oil Company Offices, circa 1865-1932, undated
Subseries 20, Oil Fields, 1895-1936, undated
Subseries 21, Oil Saver, 1928
Subseries 22, Oil Towns, undated
Subseries 23, Petroleum, 1918, 1921, undated
Subseries 24, Pipelines, 1870s-1945, undated
Subseries 25, Products, 1940s-1984, undated
Subseries 26, Publications, 1867-1902, undated
Subseries 27, Railroads, 1864-1933, undated
Subseries 28, Refineries, 1872-1958, undated
Subseries 29, Research, 1920-1957, undated
Subseries 30, Roads, 1863-1947, undated
Subseries 31, Safety, 1924, undated
Subseries 32, Service Stations, 1905-1978, undated
Subseries 33, Songs, 1864-1943, undated
S ubseries 34, Storage, 1862-1939, undated
Subseries 35, Teamsters, 1860-1927, undated
Subseries 36, War, 1914, 1940s, undated
Subseries 37, Watercraft, 1861-1980s, undated
Subseries 38, Wells, 1900-1947, undated
Subseries 39, Wild Flower Oil, undated
Subseries 40, Workers, 1887-1930s, undated
Series 2, Modern Photographs, 1960s-1980s
Series 3, Miscellaneous Photographs, 1900s-1970s
Series 4, Slides, 1970s-1980s
Subseries 1, Slides for presentations, 1970s-1980s
Subseries 2, Slides by subject/topic, 1986, undated
Series 5, Photograph Albums, 1903-1968 (not inclusive)
Series 6, Scripts for Films, 1955-1978
Series 7, Publications, 1959-1990
Series 8, Films, 1960s

Acquisition Information: The collection was donated to the Archives Center, National Museum of American History by the American Petroleum Institute through Red Cavaney and G. William Frick on December 16, 1999.

Access Points:

Advertising Petroleum industry and trade
Automobile racing
Drilling and boring
Energy and environment
Gas industry
Geothermal resources
Lubricants, Synthetic
Mines and mineral resources
Natural areas
Natural gas
Nuclear energy
Oil burners
Oil fields
Oil—shale industry
Oil spills
Oil well drilling rigs
Petroleum industry
Petroleum prospecting
Petroleum refineries
Political cartoons
Service stations
Tank trucks
Trade associations
World War II

O’Neill, Tip
Bush, George, 1924
Carter, Jimmy, 1924
Shell Oil Company
Standard Oil Company
Sun Oil Company

Motion pictures (visual works)—1960-1980
Scripts (documents)
Photographs—19th—20th centuries

* History note courtesy The Story of the American Petroleum Institute, by Leonard M. Fanning, published in 1959, and The American Petroleum Institute: An Informal History, 1919-1987 by Stephen P. Potter, published by API in 1990.




Revised: June 5, 2012