For years I’ve been intrigued by a wooden sign on the front fence of a suburban house, near to my place of work. I’ve walked past it hundreds of times during my lunchtime walks …


I’ve seen the name Vacuum Oil Company before, on my typewriter safaris around the local antique shops …


Lamps and typewriters go well together, of course …


But my attempt to shed light on the Vacuum Oil Company, had the result, instead, of casting a shadow over it …


Matthew Ewing and Hiram Bond Everest founded the company (which became Socony-Vacuum Oil, and then Socony-Mobil in the ’50s, and then just Mobil in the early ’60s) upon patenting a new method of distilling kerosene in a vacuum that produced a high quality lubricant.

In World War II, subcamps of Auschwitz provided forced labour for Vacuum Oil Company facilities that were captured and operated by the  Nazis in Poland.


Photo copyright of Chronicles of the Vilna Ghetto


Armed with this knowledge, I couldn’t walk past the house without imagining its walls harboured a Nazi war criminal living out the last few years of his life in suburban obscurity.

Should I knock on the door and confront the monster? No, I thought. That’s probably not such a good idea …


Were the company to be blamed if their oil installations had been commandeered by the Nazis during wartime? No.

Still, it seems to me the Vacuum Oil Company has a lot to answer for …


The coming petroleum drosscape: Socony-Vacuum Oil Company ruins as case study


My dark fantasy about the house harbouring a war criminal, or being the headquarters of an overseas subsidiary established for reasons of tax avoidance, were recently quashed when I saw a 4WD parked on the grass verge out front, and a young couple with a toddler moving their possessions out.

I don’t know if they took the sign with them, but now it’s no longer there I think I understand why it was put there in the first place …




Let’s face it, oil companies are good at that.