First in Service !
When J. Gordon Thompson
and James D. Good opened London's first modern
service station back in 1923
, few people realized that a whole new concept of gas-
oline merchandising was
being pioneered by the two young men cleaning the
customer's windshield and checking
under the hood.
Yet it was this
unheard of courtesy to motorists that put the word "service"
1921 - an idea is born
1922 - rented a one room office in the Richmond Building
1923 - London Automotive Service
Ltd. was formed.
- Retail operations commence at 362 Dundas St.(above)
is only the gasoline name.
1924 - company name changed to Supertest
1925 - Supertest
subsidiary companies amalgamate
to become Supertest Petroleum Corporation
Back in 1923 , the
year in which Supertest opened its first gas station, anything
the modern service stations of today
(1959) certainly did not exist in
Canada. Gasoline, oil
and lubrication for the ever-increasing
army of automobiles and
trucks was becoming a lucrative
trade, but no one seemed to pay much attention to it.
Gasoline was dispensed from
'blind' hand operated pumps. You couldn't
see if you
were getting gas or not and sometimes
the measurement was not too accurate.
pumps were usually located on the
curb outside hardware
stores or garages. There were
no spacious driveways or pump islands.
up at one of these pumps , a motorist was obliged to get out of his car,
the store and ask for what he wanted -- often there was no one there to
and he had to
wait. Sometimes he was even told to help himself ! Many of the early
of petroleum products were inclined
to consider the sale of
gasoline a nuisance.
When the motorist
of that day had his tank filled with gasoline and his motor topped
oil , he didn't expect anything else. The free services taken for granted
didn't exist. When the car driver thought his high pressure tires might
he checked them
himself with his own tire gauge which he was obliged to carry. If
tires did require
air, he usually hauled out his own
pump and went to work. Occasionally
he was lucky enough
to find a free air hose at a garage
, but he still had to get out of his
car and use it himself.
You wiped your
own windshield too , and checked your own oil . Restrooms ? They
were certainly out of the question
- when you did find one , it could hardly be called a
The idea for a service
station catering especially to the needs of the motoring public,
arose originally in the minds of
two young men of London , Ontario; J. Gordon
Thompson and James D. Good, the
founders and first employees of London
Automotive Services. They
named the gasoline they sold "Supertest".
These young men had the vision
to foresee a continuous expansion of the oil industry
They had the courage, too, to put their "radical" ideas into operation.
J. Gordon Thompson
is quoted as saying the Supertest name came to him one
a London moving picture show. " In those days" he recalled "they used to
call the show of
the evening the 'Super Feature'. A competitor of mine was advertising
what he called 'Hi-Test'.
The word Super was a natural, and we incorporated as the
courtesy of McKinney Research
with confidence in their own ideas and abundant energy, the two
interesting a few friends who were able to back them financially. They
then set to work to
put their theories to the test by buying
out a small jobber whose
business was on the rocks.
Included in the deal was a disreputable
"filling" station , a small bulk
plant and a couple of
worn out tank trucks.
with a "filling"
station, and before very long the nations first "service"
to take shape. It was indeed something new - it actually allowed motorists
to drive in
off the highway and pull up to
a thing called a pump island , soon to be
upgraded with visible
gasoline pumps, manufactured
by another of J. Gordon
Thompson's enterprises, Canada
Vulcanizer & Equipment Company (1920), also
of London. But there was more to
1927 photo courtesy of McKinney
were still under way , the first small staff for the station was
recruited . The
scheme called for at least two full-time attendants on duty always; one
would take care of
the gasoline and oil sales , the other would look after the free
services such as cleaning
the windshield, mirrors and lamps,
checking the tires , the
radiator and the battery.
The first crew was started
at once on an intensive training course which included daily
lectures on personal cleanliness,
smartness of appearance, neatness of the premises ,
courtesy to customers and applied
sales psychology. The first course was so successful
that Supertest still (1959) uses
much of the original instructional material in schooling
new station personnel, and for
March 2003 Monthly Feature will detail the Supertest Courtesy School --
Station No 1, Dundas St., London (1923)
Photo courtesy of Stan Uher
Many curiosity seekers
came to look and scoff. They came, they saw and were
stay tuned !)
painting, whitewashing and alterations had changed the
station to an attractive establishment gleaming with colour and bright
all was ready, the station was reopened -- and then the fun started .
Nothing like it had
been seen in London before . Soon all kinds of people were
near and far to satisfy their curiosity about this amazing new place
where one could drive
in off the highway, pull up to the state of the art visible
measure pumps in perfect
safety and get the tank filled with
gasoline, the oil and
radiator checked , the windshield
and lamps cleaned and even the tires
and all free of charge except for
the product needed, which
cost no more.
Even tips were not allowed.
they came back, again and again. Even the most skeptical among
had to admit the Supertest experiment
was a resounding success.
competitors copied the idea and these practices are now standard. It has
become a way of living, and motorists
now demand these services or they go
campaign eventually went so far as to offer the gasoline free if the
to wipe your windows or check the oil.
Thus, the opening
of Supertest's first service station in London , Ontario, can be said
ushered in a new era in the marketing of gasoline and petroleum products,
Canada , but elsewhere
throughout the world. Within
five years (1928), the
Corporation Limited had expanded to 75 retail outlets.
1945 photo courtesy of McKinney Research
Today (1959) , 36
years later, Supertest markets a wide range of petroleum products
through some 3,000 retail outlets
in Ontario and Quebec, of which, over 1300, are
These retail outlets are supplied by some
50 strategically located bulk
a fleet of 300 tank trucks and maintains divisional offices in
Hamilton, Toronto, Ottawa, North Bay, Montreal, and Quebec City.
In late 1971, a new corporate structure
was created from a merger and capital
reorganization involving Supertest
and multi-national British Petroleum Corporation
(B.P.), with Supertest
becoming part of a new entity called
BP Canada Ltd. The firm
became the fifth largest oil
company in Canada, after Imperial
Esso, Shell, Gulf and
Texaco , accounting for slightly
more than a 14% market share . Unfortunately
merger would bring about the demise
of the "All Canadian"
slogan , so long a part of
Supertest advertising . During
a brief transition period
they became known as
BP Supertest before slowly phasing
out the Supertest name.
One of the most valuable assets
BP obtained in the merger was the Supertest reputation.
Service Is Back...
"Service is Back"
--- The perfect new ad campaign
, merging the old with the new !
I was very
extremely fortunate and thrilled to obtain the two photographs above.
The poster on the left is very
reminiscent of the 1927 photos shown at the beginning of
So much so that I feel they may well have been the inspiration for the
The pump is clearly a Canada
Vulcanizer, a flashback to Supertest's beginnings. Even
the automobile at the pump bears
a striking resemblance, right down to the wooden
On the right, my friend,
Harry Littleton mimics the pose. Harry began his career with
Canadian Oil Co. Ltd. (White
Harry moved over to the Supertest
family . Following the merger
with BP in 1971 , Harry found he had
a new employer.
Not eager to move
from London to the new
Toronto Head Office , he considered
retirement , but was
offered the opportunity to promote
BP's latest acquisition and
Dressed in brand
new, old style uniforms, complete with
breeches, leather leggings
Brown shoulder strap,
a leather bow tie and a new old style attendants
cap, all adorned
with the BP shield, Harry made the
circuit, visiting stations, exhibitions
and country fairs.
All to promote BP's newest
campaign "Service is Back" , an idea
that originated right in
MORE MERGER FACTS;
Both companies were
strong in the Ontario-Quebec market with about 3000 stations
Supertest, befitting its London base, was strongest in western and south-
while BP ,of Montreal, was strongest
in Quebec and Eastern Ontario.
Like a jigsaw puzzle the
two fitted together --- with their
strengths complementing one
BP Canada wanted the
changeover from Supertest to BP signs completed by Dec. 31,
the very least the words "All Canadian" were not to appear on any company
signs. It was decided
it would be cost prohibitive to replace all the Supertest signs right
away, but all new Supertest signs
would not have the motto. I have been told that the
slogan was simply covered
or painted over as the deadline drew
closer. With respect
for Supertest's roots, the changeover
was done last in Southwestern Ontario.
Rebranding of former Supertest
stations in Quebec and
Eastern Ontario was completed
almost a year before.
Because of the merger,
a duplication of service resulted with Supertest and BP
being close to one another. This occurred in more than 900 (company
Thus the older, smaller, less profitable
stations with low gasoline volumes were cut in
favor of bigger, newer, high volume
"When you merge a company
, the ultimate child is better because
of the parents. We got
some good people in the Supertest merger"
............ BP vice-president Dave Deverell
Much of this Supertest Monthly
Feature has been reproduced ,
with permission from several
past issues of the London Free Press.
My thanks to the Free Press
& all those that helped with photos.
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