Oil Creek Valley Native Pioneered Union Oil Company

Feb 01, 2008 | Posted in Essays, People

Lyman Stewart grew up in the Oil Creek valley and was familiar with the fabled oil springs which dotted the region. He scoured farms in the area buying hides for his father’s tannery in Cherrytree Township. He didn’t relish that first job and planned to leave it when he had saved enough money to become a missionary.

He was 19 when Edwin L. Drake drilled the first successful oil well and was quickly caught up in the oil fever which swept the region. He was already well-known throughout the area and had a knack for negotiating leases. He developed a reputation for honesty, gentlemanly ways, a man of integrity among the roughnecks and the “Bible-quoting wildcatter.”

By 1872 he had made a fortune in the oil business. He married and built a home in Shamburg. He was a charter member of the Titusville Oil Exchange. However, he lost most of his fortune by investing in a factory to make farm machinery. He worked for others while saving for a new opportunity. In the early 1880s he and Wallace Hardison became involved in the Bradford oil fields meeting with some success.

His interest turned to the California oil fields when I. E. Blake, formerly of Titusville, returned for a visit and told of the great petroleum deposits there. In 1883 he took his Bible and son, Will, and they headed west. Mr. Hardison became a financial partner.

There were a number of ventures in drilling with marginal success and the Hardison and Stewart Oil Company struggled through several lean years. Both men moved their families to California and all worked hard to make Santa Paula a good place to live. Their business dealings launched a number of innovative practices and they developed the first oil tanker ever built, the W. L. Hardison, which was launched in 1889.

Despite the financial struggles both Stewart and Hardison were respected businessmen and it was decided to merge their firm with two other struggling companies. On October 17, 1890 the Union Oil Company of California was formed with Thomas R. Bard, president; Lyman Stewart, vice-president, and W. L. Hardison, treasurer. Later Stewart became president and general manager of the company. His son, Will, succeeded him in the managerial position in 1899. Union Oil’s familiar “76” logo was a leader through much of the 20th Century.

The company’s story and that of the Lyman Stewart family is told in a book, “The 76 Bonanza,” written by Earl M. Welty and Frank J. Taylor.

created by Carolee Mitchner 2008