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Admiral PictureIowa Oil 50th Cake

The Admirals Knew What They Wanted

By Irving Wallace

Service Magazine, July 1955, pp 10-11

A half century ago, a small group of boating enthusiasts at Dubuque, Iowa, decided it was poor quality of fuel rather than mechanical failure that made it difficult for them to start their marine engines.

So they got together, formed their own company, and started shipping in their own supplies of higher quality gasoline. It wasn't long before other boat owners on the Mississippi asked to buy some of their gas and oil. That was the birth of the Iowa Oil Company, still in business today and still mindful of handling quality products.

Back in 1905 the company built its warehouse on the waterfront, a wooden building to store barrels in which the gasolene was shipped from the refinery. Now, on the same location, the Iowa Oil Company has a large two story brick building for offices and warehouse, with huge steel tanks for storage of their products.

In the beginning, the firm had two floating service stations anchored in the river. Word of this innovation soon spread along the full length of the Mississippi, and river captains whose boats burned wood and coal for fuel would tie up to buy kerosene for their lamps and lubricating oil for their machinery.

There was not a single automobile customer on the company's ledgers in those days. In fact, there were only 24,250 autos made in the United States in 1905. This was a type of business that was to come later - and later still the company would provide gasolene and oil for many of the airplanes in the area.

The company's success story is based on imagination and service, the latter word pretty much taken for granted in this era of free road maps, air, windshield wiping, and other thoughtful complimentary. the Iowa Oil Company was the first to supply boat owners with a floating filling station, first to distribute fuel oil to the Dubuque area, and their stations were the first to dow away with dangerous pits, replacing them with more efficient lifts.

Oddly enough, as older employees recall, the progressive transition to modern equipment wasn't always welcomed by all customers. When gasolene pumps were first installed, many hesitated to use them, preferring to buy fuel out of a barrel, measured in a can and strained through a piece of chamois. One local dealer insisted on taking his car to the main plant to buy gas "so I can see what I'm getting."

The company has been distributing Cities Service products since 1915, which sets another record, for it establishes the Iowa Oil Company as the oldest distributor serviced by Cities Service Oil Company (Del.).

General Manager George E. Schumacher, who started with the company in 1922, was asked why Iowa Oil bought all of it's products from Cities Service for the past four decades.

"That's easy," he replies, looking out across the broad Mississippi as it flows past Dubuque. "They've consistently furnished us with quality products- and they've been very co-operative. A good outfit to deal with."

During these 40 years of co-operation Iowa Oil has witnessed great strides in the automotive world. It has also seen the oil industry keep pace with requirements of newer, more powerful engines. "Gasolene has improved greatly," Manager Schumacher explains, "but you'll find that their has been little increase in the actual price of the gasolene over the years, if you'll deduct the increase in transportation costs and State and Federal taxes."

To illustrate, he showed that since the Iowa Oil Company started handling Cities Service products, the thank wagon price has gone up 10.2 cents per gallon -and of that increase eight cents goes for taxes; six to the State of Iowa, and two to the Federal Government. Thus it figures out that only 2.2 cents has been added to the Cities Service price for its product, a small amount considering the spiraling costs it has had to meet in these years all along the line from the producing field to the market place.

Schumacher has watched Dubuque grow to today's population of 65,000. The oldest city in Iowa, it is characterized by winding hillside streets, picturesque scenery and many buildings of old world architecture, giving it the name of "America's Heidelberg."

Because of Dubuque's geographical location - across the river from the state boundary line between Wisconsin and Illinois, the Iowa Oil Company markets in three states. It has 16 bulk stations and 27 company-owned service stations, six of which are located in Dubuque. Iowa Oil supplies 57 dealers in addition to its own outlets. It is one of the largest independent oil concerns in Iowa and one of the oldest in the Midwest.

There is no company stock on the market, most of it still remaining with families of the founders. At a party held to celebrate Iowa Oil's 50th year, many of those attending were members of the second, third, and fourth generations of the founders.

The company president, J. Hamilton bell, is also president of P.M. Lattner Manufacturing Company, of Cedar Rapids. The vice president is Carl F. hartman, who owns a Dubuque furniture store established by his father 60 years ago. The firm has 42 year-round employees, with a remarkable record for help turn over, possibly less that any other Midwest business concern of comparable size. In the main, ex-employees are those who have retired after many years of faithful service.

Among present veteran employees, Cashier Eli Whitney has a record of 27 years and Auditor George Stoeck is rounding out his 30th. Andrew "Dutch" Schneller has been driving a truck for 35 years. Of the company's bulk plant managers, P.J. Winter has a record of 30 years with the company, A.A. Cardy's is 31, and R.W. Piquette is in his 33rd year. And when it comes to veteran customers, Bob Niveral holds the record. He's been buying from Iowa oil ever since it began operations.

It's business concerns like this, remarked M.S. Engelbrecht, executive secretary of Dubuque's Chamber of Commerce, "that have made Dubuque one of the most important cities on the Mississippi."

To mark the firm's Golden Anniversary, B.J. Farwig, general sales manager of company products fro Cities Service Oil Co. (Del.), presented a gold trimmed plaque. Its inscription reading "Presented in commemoration of Iowa Oil Company's Fiftieth Anniversary in recognition for its outstanding service and contribution to the Petroleum Industry. We offer sincere congratulations and best wishes for continued success Cities Service Company."

The Iowa Oil Company has come a long way since that small group started in 1905, but it is not one to coast on past glories. General manager Schumacher is out in the territory most of the time, contacting his men and calling on regular customers, as well as seeing prospective buyers.

"It's always been my desire to maintain the best possible service," is Schumacher's way of putting it. "A manager's job is to get out and see what's going on, and if the service station or truck drivers are not working efficiently it is up to him to point out the trouble."



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