Skip to main content

Our history

We've been a leader in the energy industry since its beginnings. Our story began in 1880, when 16 refiners in southwestern Ontario created The Imperial Oil Company, Limited. 

Through our ongoing commitment to innovation, leadership and community, we now operate from coast to coast to coast.

We explore for, develop and produce the products that drive modern transportation, power cities, lubricate industries and provide petrochemical building blocks for thousands of consumer goods that people enjoy every day — including the familiar brands Esso and Mobil. 

We manufacture products operating the modern transportation, meeting the energy needs of cities, lubricant industry and providing basic petrochemical derivatives for thousands of consumer goods. For more information, use the scroll bar or down arrows to scroll through our history over time.


Frederick A. Fitzgerald was the first president of The Imperial Oil Company, which was founded in London, Ont., in 1880.


The London refinery was one of two refineries owned by the company at the time of its founding – the other was in Petrolia, Ont.


Early oil drilling rigs in Southwestern Ontario.


Imperial’s first head office in London, Ont.


Herman Frasch, an Imperial chemist who developed a process for removing foul-smelling sulphur from kerosene, making it more marketable to consumers. Patented in the late 1880s, the new process "sweetens" the smell of kerosene, making it more marketable to consumers.


The Imperial warehouse in Brandon, Man. was one of the network facilities that enabled settlers in the West to obtain fuel and other products. In doing so, the warehouses played an important role in the development of the West.


Oil-well pumps in Southwestern Ontario, which was dubbed "Canada's Oil Lands."


The crude oil receiving office at the Sarnia refinery – oil was bought in barrels from dozens of local independent drillers.


A crude oil delivery in Petrolia, Ont.


Boston Coach Axle Oil, an early Imperial product that helped keep carriages running smoothly.


Delivering oil in Winnipeg, Man.


Imperial's refinery in Sarnia, Ont., which was acquired from Standard Oil of New Jersey (now Exxon Mobil Corporation), along with other assets in Canada, in exchange for a majority interest in Imperial.


The Sarnia refinery, which was the largest refining facility in Canada at the turn of the century.


Delivering "automobile gas" by horse-drawn wagon at a time when there were fewer than 200 cars in the country.


The company's first tanker, the Imperial, which had a capacity of 6,450 barrels and was chartered by the company in 1902 to carry crude oil from Ohio ports to Sarnia.


The Imperial Oil Company logo.


A salesman's notebook advertising Polarine, a brand of lubricants sold by Imperial.


Imperial‘s – and Canada's – first service station in Vancouver, B.C. Gasoline was dispensed from a convened hot-water tank through a three-metre length of garden hose.


An early service station in rural Canada.


Delivering Polarine motor oil, the demand for which was growing rapidly. By 1910, there were about 6,000 cars in Canada. By 1920, there would be more than a quarter of a million.


An employee in the company's new head office building in Sarnia, Ont.


A racing car promoting Polarine engine oil.


Turner Valley, Alta., during its first short-lived oil boom.


Female gas station attendants during the First World War.


Readying asphalt for shipment in Montreal, Que.


The first issue of the Imperial Oil Review magazine showing the company's head office building in Toronto, Ont., which was opened in 1916.


Imperial employees pack Christmas candles in Sarnia, Ont.


Fort Norman (now Norman Wells), N.W.T., on the Mackenzie River, where Imperial discovered oil in 1920.


Ronald W. MacKinnon, an Imperial geologist, in Norman Wells, N.W.T. During the winter of 1922-1923, MacKinnon travelled by dogsled to Edmonton, A|ta., a trip that took three months. He became superintendent of the Norman Wells refinery in 1932.


By 1923, urban service stations had become sophisticated facilities.


Reginald Stratford. a research chemist who was hired in 1924 by Imperial to found the Canadian petroleum industry's first research department. During his 26 years with the department, Stratford helped to develop about 80 patented products and processes.


An Imperial-sponsored "3 Star" hockey club celebrates a victory. lmperial's 3 Star gasoline – introduced in 1931 – not only gave its name to amateur hockey clubs but inspired the naming of three stars on Hockey Night in Canada.


Charies Lindberg in Quebec City, where his plane was refuelled with Imperial "Aeroplane Spirits".


The loco refinery, which was built on Burrard Inlet, B.C., near Vancouver in 1914.


Facilities of the International Petroleum Company, a subsidiary of Imperial established in 1914 to operate in South America, which was a major source of crude oil for Imperial until the mid-1900s.


The legendary petroleum geologist Ted Link at work in an Imperial laboratory.


With "motoring" becoming ever more popular, Imperial began producing road maps for its customers.


A father and son listen to an Imperial Oil Hockey broadcast. The broadcasts were introduced in 1936 with Imperial as their sole sponsor.


A drilling crew in Western Canada poses for the camera. At the time, Imperial was the only major company carrying out significant exploration in the West.


Performers present the Esso Road Show in Donnacona, Que. In the days before television, the show promoted Imperial and its products.


Operators at work in the control room of the Montreal East refinery.


An Imperial service station offering both products and mechanical services.


A truck moves heavy equipment during the building of the Canol Pipeline. Ajoint Canadian-U.S. project, the pipeline was built during World War II to carry oil more than 1,000 kilometres from Norman Wells to Whitehorse in the event that other supplies were cut off. It was never used.


An Allied ship is refuelled at sea with Imperial product.


An employee of Imperial's subsidiary, the International Petroleum Company, conducting fieldwork in Colombia.


Nathan Tanner, Alberta's Minister of Mines and Resources, turned the valve to direct oil from lmperial‘s discovery well at Leduc, Alta., to storage. lmperial's discovery of oil at Leduc on February 13, 1947, marked the beginning of Western Canada's great oil development.


A derrick rises above the fannland at Redwater, Alta., where oil was discovered in 1948.


Catalytic cracking involves using a catalyst as well as heat to speed up refining processes and increase yields of higher-value petroleum products, such as gasoline, from each barrel of crude oil.


A crane lifts a segment of pipeline during construction of the lnterprovincial Pipeline, which stretches from Edmonton, Alta. to Superior, Wis., and was completed in five months during 1950.


A father and son watch Hockey Night in Canada. The Imperial-sponsored program was first broadcasted on television in 1952.


A company representative meets with a landowner to negotiate a pipeline right of way.


Employees in the lobby of Imperial's new head office on Toronto's St. Clair Avenue. The building opened in 1957.


A controller monitors operations from the powerformer control room at the Winnipeg refinery.


A Trans Canada Air Lines plane is refuelled from an Imperial tanker truck.


Heavy machinery at work in the Athabasca oil sands, where Imperial participated in a major research project in 1960.


A drilling crew at work at Boundary Lake, B.C.


Graphics from Imperial’s famous "Put a Tiger in Your Tank" advertising campaign of the 1960s.


The Edmonton lubricant plant, which had been completed in 1955 and was Western Canada's first lube plant.


An employee participates in exploration work in Northern Canada. In 1960, exploratory operations were carried out over a large area of the Mackenzie Delta within the Arctic Circle.


The fertilizer manufacturing complex near Redwater, Alta., which opened in 1969.


Imperial's oil rig at Atkinson Point, N.W.T., 145 kilometres east of the mouth of the Mackenzie River, where the company made Canada's first Arctic oil discovery in 1970.


Imperial Oil introduced the first self-serve retail stations to Canada in 1970 in Montreal and Toronto.


Drilling facilities rise from the Taglu natural gas field in the Mackenzie Delta region.


An artificial island facilitates drilling beneath the Beaufort Sea.


Imperial's Strathcona refinery, near Edmonton, was built in 1975 to replace older refineries in Edmonton, Regina,Winnipeg and Calgary.


Imperial Avitats provide comprehensive services and facilities for private and business aircraft and their crews and passengers.


An Esso Medal of Achievement — Imperial introduces the Esso Medals and Certificates of Achievement program to recognize improvement, achievement and fair play among minor league players. Since the program bega n, over two million medals and certificates have been given out.


One of a nation-wide network of Esso service stations, which have evolved over the years to meet the changing needs of people and automobiles.

Imperial introduced low-lead gasoline at its service centres in 1970 and in 1978 became the first company in Canada to offer premium unleaded gasoline.


Imperial facilities at Nonnan Wells – in 1985 Imperial completed a three-year $600-million expansion at its Norman Wells operation that included constructing six artificial production islands in the Mackenzie River. The expansion increased production at Norman Wells from 3,000 barrels of oil a day to about 33,000 barrels a day.


Valves at Imperial‘s oil sands recovery operation in Cold Lake, Alta., where bitumen is produced from underground reservoirs. Commercial production at Cold Lake began in 1985 and now exceeds 140,000 barrels a day.


In May of 1986, an advertising campaign began for a "No-Trouble" gasoline developed at Samia's Research Centre, which has patented more than 700 products and processes since it was established in 1928.


Large-scale equipment helps to mine the bitumen saturated sands at the Syncrude oil sands operation near Fort McMurray, Alta. Imperial holds a 25-percent share in Syncrude.


A Tigermart store, offering convenient shopping to service station customers.


Pipe lies ready for installation at the Cold Lake operation, which has been expanded in a series of 13 phases since the early 1980s.


Canada's first offshore natural gas operation, the Sable offshore energy project, goes into production in December 1999. Imperial has a nine-percent working interest in the venture that is located in relatively shallow water, about 250 kilometres southeast of Halifax, N.S.


Modern technology at Norman Wells, which helps to recover gas produced with oil, reducing the need for flaring. Imperial is an industry leader in recovering gas that would otherwise be burnt off or released to the atmosphere.


Imperial announces its largest-ever contribution to the community – a $10 million grant to the University of Alberta to establish a new research facility called the Imperial Oil Centre for Oil Sands Innovation. The mandate of the centre is to find more efficient, economically viable and environmentally responsible ways to develop Canada's oil sands resources.


Imperial announces its largest-ever contribution to the community – a $10 million grant to the University of Alberta to establish a new research facility called the Imperial Oil Centre for Oil Sands Innovation. The mandate of the centre is to find more efficient, economically viable and environmentally responsible ways to develop Canada's oil sands resources.


Imperial and ExxonMobi| Canada acquire a multi-year exploration licence, covering more than 500,000 acres, to explore for hydrocarbons in the Beaufort Sea. The exploration area, in which the company has a S0-percent interest, enhances Imperial's strong onshore position in the Mackenzie Delta and the Beaufort Sea.


Imperial announces its decision to fund the first phase of the Kearl oil sands project, a new mining development northeast of Fort McMurray, Alta.


Imperial honoured Canadian Second World War pilot, Eldon Kearl, as the namesake of our oil sands development. Read the article Commemorating Eldon Kearl.