History of the Redline Motor Spirit Co Ltd
Redline Motor Spirit and Ensign Motor Spirit were brands of the Union Petroleum Products Co Ltd of 21 Bury Street, London EC. This British owned and controlled company was incorporated in 1914 with its main business being as dealers in Oil and associated products.
These adverts date to 1916 and show the nationalistic nature of the company designed to instill confidence in the British public
Prior to the first world war petrol had largely been distributed in the UK by the Anglo-American Oil Co Ltd of American parentage (AAOC), and the British Petroleum Co Ltd (BP), a German controlled company. British Petroleum was responsible for the marketing and distribution of the Shell company's spirit in the UK along with its own BP branded spirit and together with the AAOC brand of Pratts these were the main brands at that time.The Union Petroleum Products Co Ltd had been formed at the beginning of this war and was demonstratively very nationalistic as will be seen by clicking the Union flag.
The birth of Redline
How the Redline and Ensign brands came about is an interesting story and by clicking the petrol pump below all will be explained. But why the company and brands came about is another story altogether which is briefly explained below showing the opportunities presented to British businessmen at a time of national crisis.
When Britain and her allies went to war with Germany in 1914 one of the main distributors of petrol in Great Britain was the British Petroleum Co Ltd who was German controlled. For obvious reasons the company was quickly seized by the British Government but this left problems with supply chains, management, and negative public perception about petrol brands of the enemy. BP had been the main marketing and distribution organisation for the Shell company in the UK and the war caused a whole knock on effect not just to petrol supplies in general but also to the companies behind those petrol supplies. The Union Petroleum Products Co Ltd seized the opportunity war had brought and rose to meet the needs of the Country. The company raised £100,000 to finance the new business of which every aspect was nationalistic and they used all possible means to get the message across that the company was British through and through and beyond reproach. The company's reward was immediate, along with other companies such as the AAOC and Shell they were given a contract to help supply the war department with much needed petrol and after the war was won, and for a period of over 20 years, the company became a respected and trusted business with its patriotic brands of British Petrol.
By 1923 the Union Petroleum Products Company had moved its head offices to Waterloo House, 16 Charles Street, Haymarket, SW1. Other changes were to follow and by 1927 the company had changed its name to "The Redline Motor Spirit Co Ltd".
Stunning 1920's advertising aimed at society's more affluent and in particular the 'independent woman' who was more and more taking to the wheel.
The company believed in quality advertising and paid for some of the best graphic artists who produced some stunning advertisements such as those that appeared in 'The Autocar' and 'The Motor' which were targeted at the more affluent sections of society.
The last major change for The Redline Motor Spirit Co Ltd came in 1931 when it merged all of its operations with Glico Petroleum Ltd to form a new company called 'Redline - Glico Ltd'; with the head office situated at Waterloo House. Behind this merger was the Anglo-American Oil Co Ltd who had purchased the Redline Motor Spirit Co Ltd in its entirety just a year or two earlier.
On the forecourt
Up to the advent of petrol pumps the main distribution method for motor spirit was in 2 gallon cans. The brand of Redline Motor Spirit was sold in cans painted in a bright blue with red lines down each side panel. Later cans for this brand were in black with gold infilled brand names and again with red lines down the side panel. The Ensign Motor Spirit brand was a commercial grade and was sold in cans painted a grey colour - probably battleship grey. There are various embossed cans to be found, Ensign Motor Spirit, Redline Motor Spirit, Redline, and Redline cans with triangles in opposing corners which are believed to have been for the commercial Ensign Motor Spirit brand when it was renamed Redline Commercial in the late 1920's.
Around 1921 petrol pumps had started to be installed in the UK by the main petrol companies. These early petrol pumps were hand cranked and it wasn't until the 1930's that the first electric petrol pumps appeared.
The flag above is the 'White Ensign' of the Royal Navy and the small flag in the corner of it is called the 'Union Flag'. The Union Petroleum Products Co Ltd clearly used elements of the White Ensign flag, not just in their company name and Motor Spirit brands of 'Redline' and 'Ensign' but also in its initial advertising as illustrated by the White Ensign look-alike sign standing at the base of the petrol pump. If you have not spotted where the idea for the "Redline" name originated from - surely it must have come from the red lines making up the cross of St George.
When Redline pumps were introduced they were in blue with a vertical red line and were topped with ball shaped globes, other later globes were flat pill shaped such as that illustrated below and around 1930 Redline introduced a striking 'Arrowhead' shaped petrol pump globe which was the initial design to be used in the later merger with Glico Petroleum Ltd in 1931. 2 Gallon cans still remained in use right up to the late 1930's.
More of the Redline Motor Spirit story can be found in the links below as can details on the Shell Company and British Petroleum's fortunes following the events of 1914.
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