Empire – Wolverine – Wolf’s Head

Feb 23, 2009 | Posted in Essays, Pennsylvania Oil Companies

By Neil McElwee, 2009

A. L. Confer established his small refinery in Reno in 1879. This was a one-man show. Confer did everything. He proudly painted the Empire name on his one storage tank. The name stuck and grew in stature. Confer was an extraordinary refiner deriving special products his competition couldn’t match. Confer’s illuminating oils were among the best in the late nineteenth century. He sold gasoline under the Star brand at the turn of the century. However, Confer and Empire became best known for their high quality lube oils. He turned down a number of offers to sell his plant.

Early twentieth century gasoline production was marketed to motor vehicles under the Empire brand. Empire merged with the Wolverine Lubricants Co. of New York in 1929. Empire was renamed the Wolverine-Empire Refining Co. of Oil City. The Wolf’s Head brand name was part of the Wolverine mix and became nationally famous. The company’s name was changed to Wolf’s Head Oil Refining Co. in the fifties. Wolf’s Head sold both gasoline and lube oil under the Wolf’s Head brand.

Pennzoil purchased the firm in 1963. The refinery in Reno was dismantled in the 1980’s. The packaging plant continued functioning for several more decades, but recently was shut down. What’s left of Wolf’s Head is the famous brand name and the tidy office building in Oil City, now City Hall. Shell owns the brand today.