The history of Ashland Inc. (Ashland Oil) began in 1910 when J. Fred Miles founded the Swiss Drilling Company in Oklahoma. The growth of Ashland Inc. occurred during the years following the federal government’s breakup of the Standard Oil monopoly in 1911, during a time when low prices offered for crude oil made it difficult for Miles to compete with the still powerful Standard Oil companies. In 1916, Miles moved his operations to new fields, and with the help of powerful financiers, backers and an established company president, the Swiss Oil Company was incorporated in Lexington, Kentucky.

Miles hired Paul Blazer in 1924 to select, buy and manage a new division of the Swiss Oil Company, Ashland Refining Company. The refinery Blazer selected was favorably located in Catlettsburg, Kentucky and in close proximity to navigable waterways where refined oil could easily be transported. Ashland’s initial success and growth was based not only on its geographical location, but also on Ashland’s access to its own local crude-oil supplies. Despite a postwar depression and economic pitfalls of its parent company, the Swiss Oil Company, the Ashland Refining Company grew into a regional leader as the supplier of refined petroleum products. In 1936 when Blazer was elected president and chief executive officer, the Swiss Oil Company and Ashland Refining Company merged to become the Ashland Oil and Refining Company. Profits of the combined companies soared and were considered remarkable during the Depression era.

Increased demand for petroleum products brought about by the entry of the United States into World War II quadrupled the revenues of Ashland, as the company was involved in the manufacture of fuels for the military as well as explosives and other petrochemicals. In 1948, Ashland took a very important step and merged with Cleveland-based Allied Oil Company. This merger allowed Ashland’s marketing area to expand into several new locations and acquire oil companies in surrounding markets including, Aetna Oil Company, a Louisville Kentucky distributor and refiner, Frontier Oil Company of Buffalo, New York and the Freedom-Valvoline Oil Company of Pennsylvania. With the purchase of Freedom-Valvoline, Ashland acquired a well-known brand name of motor oil (Valvoline) that has proved to be one of its best performing acquisitions. By the time these companies were acquired, Ashland became the 19th largest oil company in the United States and was listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

In the 1950’s and 60s, Ashland began a strategy of diversification outside the oil refining industry and purchased several petrochemical and coal operations. In 1962, Ashland increased its petrochemical holdings, and purchased United Carbon Company of Houston, Texas, makers of carbon black, followed by the 1966 purchase of Archer Daniels Midland Chemicals Company. At this time Ashland formed a new operating subsidiary, Ashland Chemical Company, to oversee its petrochemical interests. Ashland’s profits continued to soar, and with the purchase of the Central Louisiana pipeline system from Humble Oil & Refining in 1962, Ashland secured a steady supply of crude oil in addition to new petrochemical holdings. In 1969, Ashland continued to expand into the coal industry and became one of the top-ten coal producers in the United States.

In 1970 Ashland Oil & Refining changed its name to Ashland Oil, Inc. During the energy crises of the 1970’s Ashland became more dependent upon foreign sources for its crude oil because it simply could not maintain exploration efforts unlike its larger competitors. By 1980, Ashland began to exit the crude production business entirely, and began a massive shut-down of its refinery operations throughout the United States including its refinery in Buffalo, New York in 1983.

Decreased profits in the refining industry combined with Ashland’s 1992 purchase of Unocal’s chemical distribution business signaled a shift in the focus of the company. In 1994, Ashland Oil became Ashland, Inc., further highlighting the lessening importance of crude oil within the company’s holdings. Ashland’s business strategy was now focused on petroleum products, coal and chemicals. In 1998 Ashland’s remaining oil refining operations were partnered with Marathon Oil to enhance efficiency and increase profitability. Today, Ashland Inc. is a provider of a multitude of goods including car-care products, industrial chemicals as well as a producer of refined petroleum through Marathon Ashland Petroleum, LLC. With approximately 25,000 employees and annual sales and operating revenues approaching 8 billion in 2002, Ashland, Inc. has come a long way since its inception as a regional petroleum refiner in 1924.