Prosperous inter-war years
The post-war period began positively when Alcock and Brown used Shell fuel to make the first transatlantic flight in 1919. The inter-war years were a time of rapid expansion for oil companies as the use of motor cars and demand for gasoline increased. There were also huge gains as major oil fields were discovered in California, South America and the Middle East.
Drilling techniques improved with the use of mud to regulate pressure in oil wells. The refining and downstream businesses also grew rapidly and, in 1929, Shell Chemicals was founded to advance the refinement of chemicals from oil.
By the end of the 1920s Shell was the world’s leading oil company, producing 11% of the globe’s crude oil supply and owning 10% of its tanker tonnage. Its fuel quality was high, it was diversifying its product base and it had an assured and prolific supply of oil from the Middle East. But the price of oil proved to be volatile and efforts to control the market by price-cutting or through an informal cartel with other oil majors failed.
Strategies, challenges and crises
The 1930s began with the Great Depression, forcing Shell to reduce its workforce and impose financial cuts. But the decade saw many advances: great progress in fuel and chemicals research and an explosion of brilliant advertising with themes of power, purity, reliability, modernity and getting away from it all. Many designs have become classics, as has the slogan created in this period: “You can be sure of Shell”.
As a mark of confidence, the group also purchased a large riverside plot on the Thames in London to build ShellMex House, a landmark building. The ShellMex company handled all marketing of Shell’s products. Part of the growing maturity of the marketing activities was the development of a global network of service stations where cars could refuel. The service stations, with their distinctive appearance, helped build Shell’s reputation for reliability and quality.