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Universal Oil Products Company - Lehman Brothers Collection

Universal Oil Products Company

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At the beginning of the twentieth century, a California inventor by the name of Jesse A. Dubbs and his son, Carbon Petroleum Dubbs (also known as C.P. Dubbs), were engaged in making asphalt from petroleum using an air-blowing process that had been patented by Jesse Dubbs in April 1900. This process was ideally suited to the manufacture of asphalt from heavy base California oils.

In 1913 C.P. Dubbs entered the employ of Standard Asphalt and Rubber Company, then under the direction of J. Ogden Armour, a prominent Chicago meat packer. Through this association, National Hydrocarbon Company was formed on June 17, 1914, to acquire the patents and applications relating to the work done by Jesse Dubbs. R.J. Dunham was made president and the company carried on the research and development work that led to the commercialization of the Dubbs method of processing petroleum.

The company name was changed to Universal Oil Products in 1915. Four years later the company introduced the Dubbs thermal cracking process, a continuous process to convert crude oil into more useable products. The Dubbs process proved highly successful and it was soon employed in more than 250 units operating in the United States as well as in eighteen other countries. The company headquarters were moved to Chicago and research laboratories were built in Riverside, a Chicago suburb. Royalty checks for the use of the Dubbs process reached a staggering $9 million during 1933.

In decades to come, Universal Oil continued to develop innovative technologies. In 1933 it commercialized the first viable catalytic process for the polymerization of olefin gases to gasoline. This process contributed greatly to the production of high-octane gasoline and aviation fuels.

During World War II, with a greatly increased demand for aviation gasoline, Universal Oil responded with important advances in the areas of fluid catalytic cracking and liquid acid alkylation.

After the War, Universal Oil created the first FCC unit. The unit’s compactness and lower cost offered smaller refiners an opportunity to compete. In 1947 it developed a process to make alkybenzene, one of the building blocks of commercial laundry detergents. In 1949 the company developed the platforming process, the first process that utilized a catalyst promoted with a precious metal. The process was then commercialized for reforming of naphtha to produce high-octane gasoline.

On February 12, 1959, Universal Oil went public. In 1960 the company acquired a controlling interest in the Trubek Laboratories in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Trubek, a developer and manufacturer of organic chemical specialties, opened new fields for Universal Oil, including soap, perfume, pharmaceutical, electroplating, plasticizing, and metal-finishing industries.

During the 1960s UOP introduced paraffin isomerization processes to upgrade butane for alkylation feedstock and C 5/C 6 for gasoline blending. This era also witnessed UOP advances in the area of higher-pressure hydroprocessing, both hydrotreating and hydrocracking.

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