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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.

1880

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

1881

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

1882

Early oil drilling rigs in Southwestern Ontario.

1883

Imperial’s first head office in London, Ont.

1884

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.

1885

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.

1886

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

1890

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

1891

A crude oil delivery in Petrolia, Ont.

1892

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

1895

Delivering oil in Winnipeg, Man.

1898

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.

1899

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

1900

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

1902

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.

1903

The Imperial Oil Company logo.

1905

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

1907

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.

1908

An early service station in rural Canada.

1910

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.

1912

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

1913

A racing car promoting Polarine engine oil.

1914

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

1915

Female gas station attendants during the First World War.

1916

Readying asphalt for shipment in Montreal, Que.

1917

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

1919

Imperial employees pack Christmas candles in Sarnia, Ont.

1920

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

1922

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.

1923

By 1923, urban service stations had become sophisticated facilities.

1924

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.

1925

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.

1928

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

1929

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

1930

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.

1933

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

1935

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

1936

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

1937

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.

1938

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

1940

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

1941

An Imperial service station offering both products and mechanical services.

1942

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.

1944

An Allied ship is refuelled at sea with Imperial product.

1946

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

1947

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.

1948

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

1949

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.

1950

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.

1952

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

1954

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

1957

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

1958

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

1959

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

1960

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

1961

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

1962

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

1964

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

1965

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.

1969

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

1970

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.

1971

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

1972

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

1973

An artificial island facilitates drilling beneath the Beaufort Sea.

1975

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

1979

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

1981

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.

1984

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.

1985

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.

1985

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.

1986

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.

1992

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.

1994

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

1995

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

1999

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.

2000

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.

2004

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.

2007

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.

2007

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.

2009

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

2013

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

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