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Home » Why Petro? » The History of Petro

Serving customers for over 100 years.

The History of Petro

Over 100 years of industry leadership

This History of Petro

The oil heating industry began with Petro, when M.A. Fessler invented the oil burner to take advantage of the crude oil that was seeping out of the CA ground in 1903. To capitalize on his invention, Fessler started the Fess System Company, which eventually became Petro. Fessler perfected his invention over the next several years, and in 1915 the company moved east, installing the first oil burner in Boston. The company then began to grow rapidly and by 1916 was entering into its first contracts to purchase fuel oil. By 1917, there were contracts to purchase over 210,000 gallons!

In 1920, the first Petro oil burner factory opened in Stamford, CT, managed by M.A. Fessler, who remained with Petro until his retirement in 1927.

During this time, the Oil Trade Journal, Vol. 11, No. 1, January, 1920, pg. 64, reported the following about the company:

"The Fess Rotary Oil Co. has been reorganized into the Petroleum Heat & Power Co., and is about to undertake in New York and other Eastern cities delivery of fuel oil by tank truck service. The company's business is to convert coalburning plants to oilburning, and it is prepared to substitute fuel oil for coal in all buildings except small private houses."

In 1922, The Oil Weekly, Vol. 27, No. 3, 14 Oct. 1922, pg. 78, also wrote the following about the company:

"…quite a number of larger buildings have arranged for the installation of the oil burning equipment furnished by the Petroleum Heat and Power Company of 511 Fifth Avenue, New York, Boston and Providence with factory at Stamford, Connecticut. A very notable example of this is found in the Metropolitan Life Insurance Building, where their oil burning system is now being installed."

In 1929, the company expanded, relocating Petro's headquarters to 1775 Broadway in NYC, where the company operated an oil terminal on the East River -- the only oil terminal on the island of Manhattan.

During this period, Petro was the leader in promoting the conversion of coal heated homes to oil with a noted advertising campaign: "Petro adds a floor to your home." This campaign gained traction as it spoke to the benefits homeowners would gain when they got rid of the ugly coal bin and converted the space into an extra living space.

Petro was also a leader in the conversion of commercial buildings from coal to oil during this time. Some of the more well known buildings that used Petro equipment and services are the Municipal Building, the Metropolitan Life and Equitable Life Insurance buildings and the Ritz Carlton Hotel in New York City; Harvard University, the City Hall Annex, Symphony Hall and the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston; and the Hotel Biltmore, Rhode Island Hospital and Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

After the Second World War, Petro lost its oil terminal on the East River in New York City when the owner of the land, John D. Rockefeller, gave the property to the United Nations. This location is now the site of the UN Headquarters building. Petro then moved its operations to Greenpoint, Brooklyn and is now headquartered in Stamford, CT.

In the late 1950's and early 1960's, the company was split and the various divisions were acquired by new owners. The New York division became the core of the present day Petro. During the 1960's, Petro was sold to Signal Oil and Gas, and eventually was acquired by a division of R. J. Reynolds Tobacco. By 1978, Petro was selling approximately 100 million gallons of home heating oil a year.

In 1979, the Sevin family purchased Petro from R. J. Reynolds and began restructuring. Then, in December 1986, the Sevins made the first public stock offering. Petro became a publicly traded company for the first time and was traded on the NASDAQ exchange under the symbol "HEAT".

Since 1979, the company has steadily grown, primarily through its acquisition programs. By the end of 1999, Petro had acquired more than 180 home heating oil companies, making it the largest home heating oil company in the country.

During 1996, Petro consolidated its five locations on Long Island into three depots and created a regional customer service and management center in Port Washington, NY to service all of Long Island and NYC. In 1997, Petro combined the three NYC branches into one location in Maspeth, Queens to service all of Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx; creating the largest home heating oil depot in the country. Additionally, during 1997, the entire Mid-Atlantic region (NJ, PA, MD, Washington DC and VA) adopted the "Petro" name, logo and company colors.

In March of 1999, Petro merged with its sister company, Star Gas, a publicly traded master limited partnership and the country's eighth largest distributor of propane. As a result of this merger, the new entity consisting of both Petro and Star Gas is traded on the NY Stock Exchange as "SGU".

Today "Petro Home Heating & Air Conditioning" provides a range of home services to customers, including heating oil, propane, air conditioning, plumbing, chimney and home security. Petro also provides energy solutions to commercial customers throughout the company footprint. Based in Stamford, CT, it is the largest residential home heating oil provider in the U.S. with over 200,000 customers. Petro services customers throughout the northeastern seaboard in the following states: CT, DC, MD, NJ, NY, PA, RI, and VA.

Find out more information about Petro's heritage at the following links:

http://www.waltergrutchfield.net/petroleum.htm ›

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