From a Tiny Enterprise to a Grand LEGACY

The Kendall Motor Oil Company, as it exists today, is not so much a product of capitalism as it is one of dynamism – the sheer determination of a few pioneers triumphing over disasters, oil tycoons, and a meager, four-acre plot of land in Northwestern Pennsylvania – forcefully paving (or asphalting) its way to the American Dream.



The JACKSON WALKER WELL was drilled in 1875 in BRADFORD, Pennsylvania. 

Three wily entrepreneurs by the names of Eli Loomis, William Willis, and Robert Childs witnessed the Jackson Walker Well’s violent eruption, and felt so inclined to turn that ancient black slime into a fresh mint.

By 1881, they had officially funded and founded Bradford’s first refinery: a business-deal that has kept the oil town prospering for over a century. Naturally, the technology, the machinery, etc., it has but all been replaced – yet, The Bradford Oil Refinery, which still employs nearly 300 Bradfordians, remains the oldest functioning petroleum refinery in the world.


Why not Bradford Motor Oil?

Actually, the company name is derived from what was likely the three men’s favorite fishing spot,
Kendall Creek, which runs right through the town of Bradford. And though their beguiling name stuck – and their efforts resulted in Bradford becoming the top oil-distributing town in the United States in 1881 – it turned out that their business endeavors didn’t quite take them to the pinnacle of American enterprise. In less than three years, the business had fallen apart, and the three men had to find other sources of income. The reasons for the collapse have always provoked some speculation.

The End of Kendall Motor Oil?



An oil tycoon named Lewis Emery (pictured left) led a campaign to sue Kendall’s three founders – even after they had declared bankruptcy – fundamentally ensuring the collapse of the Kendall brand. This man was the owner of the Emery Manufacturing Company, funded several years after the fall of the original Kendall Refining Company.

In 1902, with Emery’s company booming and the fate of the Kendall Refinery hanging in limbo, the Penn Lubricating Co. purchased the dilapidated refinery. Shortly after, a businessman and Bradford resident named Otto Koch proved to be the saving grace of the Kendall brand. Koch, a key stockholder of the Penn Lubricating Co., was chosen to manage the refinery. In respect to the original owners, Koch decided to keep the name. 

The Reinvention of the company brand


Koch was dealt a blow within the first year of his management. An oil tank spontaneously caught fire, due to what historians presume to be a single lightning bolt that managed to penetrate its walls.



Nearly the entire refinery was destroyed in the flames. Koch saw opportunity in the disaster, shortly thereafter investing in new equipment, solid brick buildings, and, ultimately, a new chance at success.


The Incredible efforts of a Small Team

Koch’s efforts (and, frankly, quite a lot of his cash) resulted in an economic boom for Bradford. The oil town grew exponentially: several years before Henry Ford released his Model T. Koch employed five men in his new refinery. Alongside these men, Koch’s business grew and grew, never losing sight of the original founders of the business.

Years later, following the incorporation of Koch’s growing company in 1913, Kendall Refining Company became the first producer of motor oil to extend oil change intervals from the average 500 miles, to the greatly improved 2000 miles. It was a massive achievement for the company. Koch represented this achievement with a new symbol: a hand holding up the number two. It has remained the symbol of Kendall quality to this day.

Oh, and remember miserable ole’ Lewis Emery, the man who tried to destroy Kendall Motor Oil? Well, due to Koch’s business savvy, he was finally able to buy out his competitor, Emery Manufacturing Company, around fifty years after Emery’s initial attempt to sabotage the Kendall brand.

Wave your fist, sir.

Kendall Motor Oils ain’t going nowhere.  


An amiable Otto Koch in 1918.