Goodbye Torch and Oval!
Column for January 20, 2004
On Friday, January 16 2004, a crew from Signs by Crannie took down the old torch and oval Amoco signs and put up new, gleaming BP signs with the "Helios" logo which is what BP calls its sunburst (some call it a buzz saw blade) emblem. In its final months, the Amoco signs had not been maintained as one sign had half its fluorescent tubes out and the other, symbolically, had its flame out. That gas station, located at the corner of Miller and Lennon roads in Flint, has had its BP touches on its canopies and pumps for several months. Last Summer, I decided to go to a Flint Township meeting in which the RPF Oil Company, which operates the gas stations, and Signs by Crannie which is replacing the Amoco signage with BP signage locally were getting approval for the new BP signs. Flint Township had just started enforcing its tough sign ordnance and RPF and Crannie were seeking variances for the four Amoco stations located in Flint Township. They were successful getting variances for three of the locations, getting approval for BP signs which were shorter than the Amoco signs they replaced, but taller than the sign ordinance's maximum height. The fourth location, on Corunna Road in a part of the area with several compliant signs, had to be made compliant.



The history of the Standard Oil of Indiana/amoco torch and oval is a rich one. It's a combination of elements from two emblems. The torch is from the logo Standard Oil of Indiana adopted in 1926 which symbolized progress. It's also the dominant feature of Indiana's state flag which represents liberty and enlightenment. The oval (as well as the Amoco name) is from Indiana Standard's American Oil Company subsidiary, based in Baltimore. The attractive red oval with a black band saying AMOCO was adopted in 1932 and is a fine example of art deco design. Amoco used this logo at its gas stations in the Eastern USA throughout the 1940s and 1950s.

In 1944, Standard of Indiana decided that it needed a new logo for after World War II. While the above Indiana Standard logo was used on the gas station buildings, the roadside sign was a plain-looking blue rectangle saying STANDARD SERVICE in white lettering. More than 400 designs were considered and the final design was a combination of Standard's torch and Amoco's oval. That logo was introduced in 1946 and is the predecessor of the more familiar torch and oval. This red, white and blue logo was universally adaptable and would be used outside the Standard of Indiana territory (extending from Montana to Michigan and south to Oklahoma) using other brands in the southeastern USA with the Pan-Am name and in the southwestern USA with the Utoco name. Amoco stayed with its oval.

The first use of the Amoco name on the torch and oval came when the Pan-Am stations were re branded Amoco in 1956 and the new Amoco signs were of the torch and oval design. The new logo was used alongside the original Amoco logo as indicated on the Amoco road maps of that time.

At the end of 1960, Indiana Standard and its subsidiaries underwent a reorganization in which American Oil took over all of Indiana Standard's marketing assets throughout the USA. The torch and oval sign was given a make over by flattening the oval and giving the classically designed torch a more modern design. All the stations within Indiana Standard's territory would bear the Standard name while stations outside the Indiana Standard marketing area were identified as American stations, replacing the Amoco and Utoco names. So for the first time, all the Standard/american stations throughout the country had a common identity with the torch and oval.

By the end of the 1960s, Indiana Standard decided that with its expanding global operations it needed a new bolder and more modern logo. The final torch and oval design was introduced in 1971 and retained the shape of the logo, while using brighter red and blue colors for greater visibility, a bolder and slanted typeface to show a company on the move, and giving the torch a more streamlined shape. Shortly afterwards in 1973, the American Oil Company was renamed the Amoco Oil Company and the Amoco name replaced the American name on stations outside the Indiana Standard marketing area. In the late 1970s, the Amoco name started appearing very gradually on stations within the Indiana Standard marketing area. I recall seeing the first Amoco signs in Michigan in 1978 while in Saginaw. In 1985, Standard Oil Company (Indiana) was renamed Amoco Corporation. While most Amoco stations in Michigan bore the Amoco name in the 1990s, there were still some stations bearing the Standard name with both the 1960s and the 1970s torch and oval signs. The last of those are being replaced with BP signs. In 1998, BP merged with Amoco with initial plans of allowing both BP and Amoco stations to coexist. But that changed in 2000 when BP announced a phase out of the Amoco name and the introduction of the new 'Helios' BP logo to be phased in on all BP stations world wide. The Amoco name would remain only as the gasoline brand name on the BP pumps. The changes finally started appearing in the Flint area in 2003 as the stations were remodeled one by one in a gradual method.

There are several resources on the Internet which keeps the torch alive (sorry) for the Indiana Standard/amoco signs. Check out these URLs;

http://www.stacycurtis.com/favorites/stacycurtis2.asp This URL has a cartoon by Stacy Curtis which sums up our feelings toward the loss of the torch and oval Amoco signs by showing a British chap representing BP after he doused the flame on the Amoco sign.

http://www.us-highways.com/sohist.htm gives the history of the various Standard Oil entities after the Standard Oil Trust was split up in 1911 by the courts as a monopoly. Each "baby Standard" was assigned the rights to use the Standard name or its variants (such as Esso derived from S.O. for Standard Oil of New Jersey) in the states where they had the rights.

http://www.bp.com/sectiongenericarticle.do?categoryId=2010124&contentId=2014427 is the URL for BP's own history of the Amoco torch and oval.

http://www.gassigns.org/soin.htm shows various Standard signs around the country. The home page of http://www.gassigns.org lists other gas station signs.

http://www.route56.com/highways/amoco-standard.shtml has photos of Standard of Indiana signs throughout the old Indiana Standard marketing area.

http://www.pcmpublishing.com/articles/22.html has an article on the history of the old Standard Oil "Red Crown" trademark which was used by Standard of Indiana until 1961.

As a postscript, the BP brand on the Miller and Lennon station is the fourth brand at this location. It began as a Phillips 66 station in the 1950s. In the early 1970s, it switched to Total. It became Amoco in the 1980s. The old building was torn down in two stages in the 1990s while a new building was constructed with another island of pumps standing where the old building stood.