In 1950, Velutina was the largest tanker ever built at a British shipyard
Shell’s Vexilla tanker, built in 1955, formed part of a new fleet of tankers carrying oil around the world

A new order for the international oil industry

The immediate post-war years were some of the toughest Shell had yet faced. Reconstruction was hugely expensive, but the market for oil was changing rapidly and it needed a programme of ambitious expansion. Shell launched new exploration programmes in Africa and South America and built new refineries in the UK. Shipping became larger and better-powered so that more bulk could be carried.

In 1947, the first commercially viable offshore oil well was drilled in the Gulf of Mexico. Two years later Shell drew its own first offshore oil there and by 1955 Shell had 300 offshore wells, mostly in the Gulf. But there were also new discoveries in the Niger Delta and in Borneo. Commercial production of oil in Nigeria began in 1958.

The return of peace brought an explosion in civilian demand for oil products – in particular petrol (gasoline) in the USA, where the number of cars rose by 60% between 1945 and 1950. To end supply bottlenecks Shell formed an alliance with Middle East Gulf Oil, giving it a substantial stake in this increasingly important region.

Scientific advances increase oil demand

A number of scientific advances also boosted demand for oil. Shell contributed to the invention of the jet engine: its architect Sir Frank Whittle worked for the group for a number of years. The 1940s also saw the development of the catalytic cracker, which was cheaper and more effective than its predecessor, thermal cracking. Shell’s lubricants were also much improved. In 1950 Shell formed a partnership with Enzo Ferrari to help develop lubricants for his Formula One racing cars. The Shell-Ferrari partnership endures to this day.

In 1953, as rationing finally ended, Shell in the UK was allowed for the first time since the war to sell petrol under its own brand name. It prompted a huge advertising campaign and Shell used visiting artists to expand its famous road guides collection, all of which contributed to building the Shell brand.

Ferrari car racing
Shell formed a partnership with Ferrari in 1950

New political reality

But the sensitivity of the oil industry to volatile political environments was demonstrated by events such as the sequestration of assets in Iran from 1951 to 1953 and in Egypt during the Suez crisis of 1956 to 1957. This new reality was to impinge more strongly on Shell in decades to come. It led to a new emphasis on security of supply: in the future refineries would be built near their markets and crude oil would be transported through a network of pipelines and in more supertankers.

In the late 1950s the group’s structure was reorganised. New operating companies were created below the two holding companies, and a Committee of Managing Directors was created to set direction. This structure was to survive for almost 40 years.

In tandem with this reorganisation, work began in London on a major new headquarters building for Shell Transport and Trading: Shell Centre. When it opened in 1963 it was London’s tallest building. Other new Shell buildings went up around the world in Melbourne, Toronto and Caracas.

1960s to the 1980s

Shell Chemicals enters a golden period of research; Shell produces its General Business Principles and diversifies its operations.

1980s to the new millennium

Shell grows through acquisitions and unifies Royal Dutch and Shell Transport and Trading under Royal Dutch Shell plc in 2005.

Our beginnings

How we grew from the Samuel family shop selling sea shells in 1833 into one of the world’s leading energy companies.

The early 20th century

Shell becomes the world's leading oil company and founds Shell Chemicals to advance its refining business.

The first consignment of liquefied natural gas was shipped in 1964 from Algeria in the SS Methane Princess.

1960s to the 1980s

Shell continues to extend exploration overseas and adopts a policy of diversification. North sea gas fields are discovered.

Innovation and diversification
Shell headquarters, The Hague

1980s to the new millennium

Shell grows through acquisitions and unifies Royal Dutch and Shell Transport and Trading under Royal Dutch Shell plc in 2005.

Our history: 1980s to the present

More in about us

The Shell brand

The Shell brand promotes our values and the quality of our products and services all over the world.