Horseshoe Lake, 2016

Standard Oil Involvement in the Wood River Community

February 7, 2019

Last modified: June 28, 2019

From its initial construction in Wood River in 1907 to its closure in the mid-1990s, the Standard Oil Refinery maintained a strong community presence. Wood River was a rapidly growing community during the first quarter of the twentieth century, largely as a result of the establishment of the Standard Oil Refinery. The city, refinery, and its employees continued to have a positive relationship as evidenced by the variety of community projects funded or endorsed by the refinery and its employees.

The Standard Oil Company broke ground in April of 1907, building a refinery in Wood River. To aid in construction, the company hired several local contractors, and, by the beginning of the following year, the refinery became operational.1 However, the refinery was several miles away from the closest town of Alton, where the majority of employees lived. Due to the amount of time required to commute from Alton to Wood River and rarity of personal transportation, Standard initially provided free transportation to and from the refinery for employees. By 1909 the Village of Wood River was well established, and the company no longer found it necessary to provide transportation.2In the early 1900s, Standard also purchased 24 Sears, Roebuck & Co. homes in Wood River to house new employees in order to alleviate commuting issues and offer an incentive for potential employees.3

Portrait of Ninian Edwards

The Standard Oil Refinery shortly after its construction in 1908
From the Library of Congress

Wood River continued to grow rapidly during the first quarter of the twentieth century, largely due to the establishment of the Standard Oil Refinery. In 1909, Standard Oil aided in funding the first school and a band. Ten Standard Oil Employees formed a volunteer fire department that was partially subsidized by the company and which operated for five years.4 Company-sponsored activities and organizations continued throughout the refinery’s existence.  In 1920, the company hired well-known music director Roy L. Stocker from Joplin, Missouri to head a new company-sponsored band: the “Red Crowns.” Additionally, the company purchased full uniforms and instruments for the bands’ 35 members.5 In the years that followed, they played at a variety of community events such as the dedication ceremony of St. Bernard’s Catholic Church on October 29, 1920.6 Standard Oil sponsored other employee-led groups such as a baseball team and bowing league. The Wood River plant even had a baseball diamond located in the plant yard and sponsored its team in competition with other industrial plants in the area.7 They also hosted dances and “family nights” for employee family and friends while showcasing the science conducted at the company labs.8

In the 1910s and 20s, Standard Oil also launched several building projects and donated large sections of land to the community for public use and the establishment of new facilities. In 1915 Standard Oil built a full-service gas station that was open to the public at the West Gate to the refinery with a convenience mart attached,9 and in 1926 they built a swimming pool and roundhouse for the community. The roundhouse was a large circular building designed to host public events with a bandstand included. The swimming pool was unveiled at the 1929-30 community fair.10 After construction was completed, Standard deeded the entire facility and land to the town of Wood River.11 The roundhouse was later turned into a community center and subsequently used as a teen center into the 1970s. However, in 1984 the pool and roundhouse were dismantled and replaced with a large state-of-the-art Aquatic Center built on the same site. Land donations continued over time, and in 1993 the Amoco Chemicals Corporation (formerly Standard Oil) donated 3.5 acres of land and a building to the Madison County Association for Retarded Citizens (MCARC).12

During World War I, citizens in Wood River launched a Liberty Bond campaign to support the war effort. In April of 1918 Standard contributed to the community-led campaign fund, buying $20,000 in bonds to help the city achieve its monetary goal.13 Standard remained operational throughout the 1930s and 40s despite the Great Depression and World War II. During World War II, city members and Standard Oil employees were concerned about potential attempts to sabotage the refinery. In response to these concerns, citizens of the town organized a guard of 20 men to protect the refinery.14

In 1957 the refinery celebrated 50 years at Wood River, with a large 50th Anniversary celebration that lasted several months, during which Standard held numerous community events. They hosted an open house, a dinner for civic and community leaders, and sponsored a chemistry show entitled “Catalyst Magic,” as well as numerous presentations and a panel designed to answer community questions. Standard Oil also hosted a picnic and other festivities over several months to celebrate the anniversary. These open houses occurred several times throughout the years, and the company allowed members of the community to tour facilities into the 1990s. In 1957 the Community Service League of Wood River launched a beautification project, planting trees and cleaning and developing the most trafficked blocks in the town. Standard Oil took part in the campaign by donating trees and painting their perimeter fence.15

Standard Oil continued to sponsor several bands and music shows, as well as various leagues such as bowling and golf for their employees throughout the 1980s. Although its name changed to Amoco and functioned solely as a chemical additives plant in the 1990s, it continued to sponsor community groups such as the United Way, the Boy Scouts and provided cash awards for Junior Achievement.

Despite the closure of the additives plant in the mid-1990s, the company continues to have a positive relationship with the community. In 1998 Standard/Amoco merged with British Petroleum (BP) and began a 30-year project to clean the area of industrial waste. Presently the community and BP are working together so the community can begin redeveloping the land. As an example of the success of such redevelopment, 30 acres of the 800 acres of land became a Wildlife Habitat Council Certified Deer Park in 2001, an important educational tool for schools and local organizations.16

Endnotes   [ + ]

1. “Wood River, Illinois History.” BPWoodRiver.com. http://www.bpwoodriver.com/site/history.php (accessed January 15, 2019); Alton Evening Telegraph, “Big Contract for Rock and Sand,” May 31, 1907 (accessed January 29, 2019).
2. Paul H. Giddens, Standard Oil Company (Indiana), Oil Pioneer of the Middle West (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1955), 72.
3. Diamond Jubilee Committee, A History of Wood River Illinois, (Wood River: Wood River Diamond Jubilee Committee, 1985) 51.
4. “Wood River, Illinois History.” BPWoodRiver.com. http://www.bpwoodriver.com/site/history.php (accessed January 15, 2019).
5. Alton Evening Telegraph, “Roy L. Stocker of Joplin, Mo., Has Been Engaged for Band – Standard Oil Will Outfit and Equip,” March 23, 1920 (accessed January 29, 2019).
6. Diamond Jubilee Committee, A History of Wood River, 62.
7. Alton Evening Telegraph, “Baseball Men Hold Meeting: Four Industrial Plants Enter Teams in League” April 10, 1925, (accessed January 30, 2019).
8. Alton Evening Telegraph, “Standard ‘Family Night’ at Wood River High,” January 8, 1955, (accessed January 29, 2019). The company sponsored Dr. Heard’s “Fire Magic” entertainment show. Two years later during the 50th anniversary celebrations of Standard Oil the company again hired Dr. Llewellyn Heard to conduct a scientific demonstration for entertainment entitled “Catalyst Magic.”
9. Diamond Jubilee, 53.
10. Diamond Jubilee, 54.
11. Diamond Jubilee, 78.
12. “1990s Amoco Press Release for Building Donation to Madison County Association for Retarded Citizens” Madison-Historical.siue.edu. https://madison-historical.siue.edu/archive/items/show/1352 (accessed February 2, 2019).
13. Alton Evening Telegraph, “Liberty Bond Sales Still Rising in Wood River,” April 19, 1918 (accessed February 1, 2019).
14. Diamond Jubilee, 65.
15. Alton Evening Telegraph, “Community League Plans City Beautification Project” December 10, 1957 (accessed January 28, 2019).
16. “Wood River, Illinois History.” BPWoodRiver.com. http://www.bpwoodriver.com/site/history.php (accessed January 15, 2019).
Cite this article: Shannan Mason, "Standard Oil Involvement in the Wood River Community," Madison Historical: The Online Encyclopedia and Digital Archive for Madison County, Illinois, last modified June 28, 2019, https://madison-historical.siue.edu/encyclopedia/standard-oil-company-community-service/.
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