History of the Sinclair Oil Dinosaur


On May 1, 1916 oilman and former pharmacist Harry Sinclair combined the assets of 11 minor petroleum companies to form the Sinclair Oil & Refining Corporation. Today the company is known simply as the Sinclair Oil Corporation and headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Sinclair became well known for several reasons, including the company’s reliance on crude from American oil fields and founder Harry Sinclair’s implication in the Teapot Dome Scandal of the 1920s. However, the company is probably best known for its corporate logo, an Apatosaurus dinosaur, which has been in use since the 1930s.

Brontosaurus (Apatosaurus) Becomes Trademark of Sinclair Oil

In 1930 Sinclair’s advertising team made the observation that their crude oils had formed hundreds of millions of years ago and were “mellowing” in the ground during the Mesozoic Era (about 250 to 66 million years ago). The Mesozoic is often called the “Age of Dinosaurs” because these ancient beasts dominated Earth during this time.

The Sinclair staff used this dubious link between dinosaurs and their oil as a theme in an advertising campaign that reached more than 100 newspapers and magazines nationwide. These ads featured Tyrannosaurus rex, Brontosaurus, Triceratops, and other well-known dinosaurs.

A typical ad appeared in the August 13, 1932 issue of The Literary Digest, stating, “Down where the heat of earth’s internal fires stands at 100 degrees – a mile and a quarter below the surface of Oklahoma – lies a treasure trove, the Cambro-ordovician oil pool. Millions of years have passed since Nature formed that pool – ages which saw the rise and fall of the dinosaurs – ages which played a priceless part in the mellowing and filtering of this remarkable crude.

Cambro-Ordovician crude oil is the oldest of the Mid-continent crudes. It has mellowed longer, filtered longer, contains less carbon than younger Mid-continent crudes. When blended in the great Sinclair refineries – de-waxed and freed from petroleum jelly, this oldest of Mid-continent crudes becomes Sinclair Opaline, a product of 80 million years of Nature’s priceless treatment.”

The campaign proved successful and one dinosaur in particular, then known as Brontosaurus but properly called Apatosaurus, became quite popular. According to Sinclair’s account, “The public equated him with power, endurance and stamina, the prime qualities of Sinclair products.”

Because of this popularity, Sinclair in 1932 registered the dinosaur as the company trademark. Since then “Dino”, the green dinosaur, has become one of the most recognized corporate logos in the world. Through the years the company has used Dino on promotional items that many people consider as collector’s items today: stamps, wax statues, banks, signs and road maps.

For example, in 1935 the company issued a dinosaur stamp album, distributing individual stamps only when customers purchased fuel. The public ate it up and in the end, four million albums and 48 million stamps were given out (and company fuel sales increased nicely).

In 1959 Sinclair registered the trademark that remains to this day – the green dinosaur and company name bordered by a pentagon.

Sinclair Exhibits at the 1933 and 1964 World Fairs

In addition to creating promotional collectables and backing several dinosaur expeditions of paleontologist Barnum Brown (American Museum of Natural History), Sinclair also sponsored exhibits for both the 1933 and 1964 World Fairs.

For the 1933 Fair in Chicago, also known as the Century of Progress International Exposition, Sinclair commissioned P.G. Allen to design a dinosaur exhibit. Allen, who had built paper-mache dinosaurs and other animals for Hollywood movies, created seven dinosaur statues in what became the first out-door display to interpret dinosaurs in their native environment. Sixteen million visitors experienced this breathtaking exhibit.

For the 1964 New York World’s Fair, Sinclair hired Barnum Brown and, after Brown’s death in 1963, John Ostrom of Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History, as consultants for another dinosaur exhibit, the Sinclair Dinoland. Sculptor Louis Paul Jonas built the nine-dinosaur exhibit, which enjoyed great success. After the Fair ended, officials sent the individual dinosaur statues to places such as Dinosaur National Monument in Utah and Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose, Texas.