When I was growing up, as often as not, we got our gas from the Esso station. Esso (“S-O”) “is derived from the initials of the pre-1911 Standard Oil.” I didn’t remember this, but I read that it became the focus of so “much litigation and regulatory restriction in the United States [that in] 1972, it was largely replaced in the U.S. by the Exxon brand… while Esso remained widely used elsewhere.” Ironic, since the Exxon brand name has been forever tainted by the Exxon Valdez oil spill, not to mention purposefully manufacturing uncertainty on climate change.
Whereas Esso had quite a positive image, at least with many people of my father’s generation. For there was a time in the United States when many African-American travelers were uncertain where “they could comfortably eat, sleep, buy gas, find a tailor or beauty parlor…or go out at night…without [experiencing] humiliation or violence where discrimination continued to hold strong. These were facts of life not only in the Jim Crow South, but in all parts of the country, where black travelers never knew where they would be welcome.”
In 1936, a “Harlem postal employee and civic leader named Victor H. Green” [no relation] developed “The Negro Motorist Green Book: An International Travel Guide …abbreviated, simply, as the ‘Green Book.’ Those who needed to know about it knew about it. To much of the rest of America it was invisible, and by 1964 [when the Civil Rights Act was passed], when the last edition was published, it slipped through the cracks into history…
“The 15,000 copies Green eventually printed each year were sold as a marketing tool not just to black-owned businesses but to the white marketplace, implying that it made good economic sense to take advantage of the growing affluence and mobility of African Americans. Esso stations, unusual in franchising to African Americans, were a popular place to pick one up.”
So I have a soft spot in my heart for Esso; not so much for its successor, ExxonMobil.