Revolutionising the transport of oil
Marcus and Sam commissioned a fleet of steamers to carry oil in bulk, including the Murex which, in 1892, became the first oil tanker to pass through the Suez Canal. They also set up bulk oil storage at ports in the Far East and contracted with Bnito, a Russian group of producers controlled by the Rothschilds, for the long-term supply of kerosene.
Their strategy was high-risk: if news of their operations got out they would be squeezed out by Rockefeller’s dominant Standard Oil. With the maiden voyage of the Murex, Samuels had achieved a revolution in the transport of oil. Bulk transport substantially cut the cost of oil by enormously increasing the volume that could be carried. The Samuel brothers initially called their company The Tank Syndicate. In 1897 renamed it the Shell Transport and Trading Company.
Petroleum was also being produced in the East Indies, a Dutch colony, and in 1890 a company had been formed to develop an oil field in Sumatra. This was to become the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company.
Under the management of J.B. August Kessler, the company built a pipeline and refinery at Pangkalan Brandan. Kessler was joined in 1896 by a dynamic young marketing director, Henri Deterding, who would become a dominant figure in the company until the outbreak of the Second World War. Faced with competition from the Samuels’ low bulk transport costs, Royal Dutch began to construct tankers and bulk storage installations and set up its own sales organisation.
Seeking new oil sources
By the turn of the century, Marcus Samuel had become the model of an Edwardian plutocrat with a grand house in London and a country mansion, which had been bought along with furniture, pictures and parkland from Lord Romney. He kept horses and a carriage and was active in public life in the City of London. He was knighted in 1898, became Lord Mayor of London in 1902 and was a leading figure in the business community. But Marcus Samuel’s dependence on Russian producers left him vulnerable and he decided to seek other sources of oil.
The Far East was the obvious place to look and his first venture into Borneo brought him up against Royal Dutch Petroleum, one of the region’s biggest competitors. The two companies decided to join forces to protect themselves against the might of Standard Oil, forming a sales organisation in 1903, the Asiatic Petroleum Company.
In 1904 the scallop shell, or pecten, replaced Shell Transport’s first marketing logo, a mussel shell. In various forms, it has remained in use ever since, becoming one of the best known brand symbols in the world.