The Blaustein–Ben-Gurion Agreement Part V

Written by Mark K. Bauman. Originally published in Generations 2007-2008: Maryland and Israel.

Sidebar: The Remarkable Life and Career of Jacob Blaustein, Part I

Missed the beginning? Start here.

Jacob Blaustein’s father Louis emigrated from Lithuania to the United States in 1883. He peddled the countryside of eastern Pennsylvania and then settled with his wife Henrietta in Baltimore where he opened a grocery store. He next worked for a small oil jobber in Maryland who was thrown out of business in competition with Standard Oil of New Jersey. Nevertheless, he became interested in the oil business. Jacob, born in Baltimore in 1892, attended Lehigh University as an engineering student but withdrew in 1910 so that he could drive the streets of Baltimore from a “one-room office-warehouse in a converted stable” on a horse and buggy, selling kerosene for his father’s new business, the American Oil Company. With a mixture of innovation and aggressive marketing, father and son turned Amoco into one of the nation’s most successful oil companies.[1]

An Amoco oil delivery truck, 1954. JMM 1997.4.3

The Blausteins opened what is considered the country’s first drive-in service station and pioneered the “visible gas pump,” a pump topped with a glass bowl that was calibrated and thus allowed drivers to see the amount of gasoline they would receive. They also developed “Amoco-Gas,” which they marketed as the “original, special anti-knock motor fuel.” This mixture of benzol and gasoline, derived from experiments made by the Blausteins and a chemist, far exceeded other fuels in running modern automotive, high-compression motors. Transatlantic plane pilots starting with Charles Lindbergh purposely used Amoco as did automobile racers who set speed records.[2]

Initially receiving gasoline from its much larger competitor, Standard Oil of New Jersey, in 1923 Amoco switched suppliers to Pan American Petroleum and Transport, a Mexican and American company that received fifty perfect of Amoco stock in return for a decade of favorable rates. The company and its advertising expanded exponentially. In 1925 Standard Oil of Indiana purchased a majority interest in Pan American. A decade later Standard Oil of New Jersey bought a major interest in Amoco. An ensuing court battle that dragged on for fifteen years ended with Amoco being purchased by Standard Oil of Indiana. Through the purchase, Jacob Blaustein became a major stockholder and member of the board of Standard Oil of Indiana. He also ran a series of family -owned businesses and a real estate empire stretching from Maryland to Texas and California. Blaustein owned majority stock in Baltimore’s Union Trust Company and served on the boards of several banks.[3]

The business success of Louis and Jacob Blaustein is a variation on the fabled story of Jewish immigrants and their children. Louis Blaustein, emigrating during the initial phase of mass migration from Eastern Europe, quickly rose economically to the point that he was accepted into Oheb Shalom, a congregation composed of Jews of German descent that nonetheless opened its doors to acculturating – and affluent – brethren. Oheb Shalom moved from Conservative to Reform under Rabbi William Rosenau. Like many Reform Jews, Jacob received confirmation as a teenager rather than participating in a traditional bar mitzvah ceremony, and he moved in Reform circles as an adult.[4]

Temple Oheb Shalom confirmation class 1906. Front row L to R: Jacob Blaustein (at age 16), Justine Kell, Rabbi William Rosenau, Rosalind Carroll, Walter Myer, Albert H. Samuel. Back row L to R: Miriam G. Klein, Estelle S. Stern, Hilda Katz, Florette Hamburger, Veronica Oppenheim, Theresa Cohen. JMM 1999.142.1

Jacob Blaustein’s fortune facilitated his emergence as a leader of local and national Jewry as well as his entrance into government and diplomacy. Recognized as an international authority on the petroleum industry, he received presidential appointments to numerous industrial commissions and government agencies that helped define American and international policies. He presided over Baltimore’s Associated Jewish Charities and served on the board of the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds. Such positions led to his rise to the leadership of the American Jewish Committee, and that, in turn, added to the entrée he used in behalf of the international causes he held dear.[5]

Continue to Sidebar: The Remarkable Life and Career of Jacob Blaustein, Part II

[1] The numerous sketches of Blaustein’s life sometimes contradict each other. On Blaustein’s business career see for example Amoco Oil Company Golden Anniversary Issue, :The American Story: In the Beginning – Three Men and a Horse, 1910-1960” (Baltimore 1960) in “Jacob Blaustein” Vertical File, JMM (quote); “Jacob Blaustein is Dead at 78; Founder of the American Oil Company,” New York Times, November 16, 1970; Bio Sketch.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid; John Slawson, “Jacob Blaustein: In Memoriam,” Jacob Blaustein Collection, AJComm Archives; Frank Henry, “Life and Times of Jacob Blaustein,” Baltimore Sun, February 26, 1961, reprinted in Congressional Record, March 9, 1961, with introductory remarks by Senator Jacob K. Javitz. On Rabbi Rosenau and Oheb Shalom, see Louis F. Cahn, The History of Oheb Shalom, 1853-1953 (Baltimore: Ohen Shalom Congregation, 1953), 43-50. A photo of young Jacob Blaustein as a member of the Oheb Shalom confirmation class of 1906 is in the Jewish Museum of Maryland archives, 1999.142.1.

[5] On Blaustein’s diplomacy and activities on behalf of Jewish causes see Bio Sketch; Slawson, “Jacob Blaustein;” Henry, “Life and Times of Jacob Blaustein.”

The intertwined nature of Blaustein’s expertise and interests greatly enhanced his influence. For example, President Truman appointed him to various posts related to his knowledge of the oil industry. In December 1948 he met with the President to discuss the relationship between government and industry. They then discussed Palestine where oil-rich Arab countries exerted pressure on America and especially Britain, and Blaustein pressed Truman on the recognition of Israel. Blaustein to Morris D. Waldman, 3 January 1949, AJA, MC 23/1/1. Blaustein actively supported Truman’s re-election bid (see Blaustein to Waldman, 5 November 1948, AJA, MC 23/1/1), and later the Korean War when he served Truman on various production boards. As a Lyndon B. Johnson appointee on the Commission on Marine Science, Engineering, and Resources, he and his international colleagues recommended that profits from ocean seabed resources be allocated for the assistance of developing countries, a policy ultimately codified in a United Nations resolution. Blaustein also recognized the importance of the press. He chaired the board of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and presided over the Overseas News Service (ONS). He organized the latter with correspondents in central Europe and Herbert Bayard Swope, executive editor of the New York World. As part of its mission, the ONS disseminated information on antisemitism and discrimination against other minorities as well as on Israel. See Henry, “Life and Times.”

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