Petroleum Heat & Power Co.

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Petroleum Heat & Power Co.
511 5th Ave
New York N. Y.

An abstract of an article in Connecticut Industry (Vol. 5, No. 6, June 1927) described the Petroleum Heat & Power Co. in the following terms, "The Petroleum Heat & Power Company of Stamford traces its beginnings back into the pioneer days of the industry. The company's present technical advisor, M. A. Fessler, was one of the earliest inventors of oil-burning apparatus, and much of the oil-burning equipment on the market today is legitimately descended from his early experimentations. Mr. Fessler early became associated with William C. McTarnahan, the present president of the company, and out of that association has come much of the present progress of the industry. The beginnings of the enterprise were on the Pacific coast where the Fess System Company was organized in San Francisco in 1907. ...... The present corporation was formed in 1920. The Petroleum Heat & Power Company lately purchased the entire capital stock of the Fess System Company and now operates it as a subsidiary. ....... A complete line of oil-burning equipment is manufactured here (at Stamford), from the household furnace and kitchen range types up to the largest industrial or power installations. The Petroleum Heat & Power Company combines the merchandising of fuel oil with the manufacture of oil-burning equipment, the installation of the equipment creating a market for the fuel oil. Its oil sales amount to about three million barrels yearly. W. A. Dower, p. 12." (This abstract is available on the internet at

Some further history is available at, where the Petro Oil Co. (successors to Petroleum Heat & Power Co.) is described as follows, "Petro dates back to 1903 and the Fess System Company, founded by the inventor of the oil burner, M.A. Fessler. The Fess System Company started in California, but it became Petro (Petroleum Heat and Power) and moved east. Petro installed the first oil burner in Boston in 1915 and began purchasing heating oil in 1916. Petro has changed hands several times; in the 1960s the company was sold to Signal Oil and Gas and then became a subsidiary of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco. In the 1980s Petro began acquiring other heating oil companies and became the largest heating oil company in the United States. Petro was acquired by its current [2012] owners, Star Gas Partners, in 1999."

One of the founding members of the original Fess System Co. (also known as the Fess Rotary Oil Burner Co.) was William C. McTarnahan (1882-1951). McTarnahan's obituary in the New York Times, 19 Oct. 1951, included the following information, "William C. McTarnahan of 530 Park Avenue, honorary chairman of the board of the Petroleum Heat and Power Company, died yesterday in Harkness Pavilion of the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center. He would have been 69 years old on Dec. 26. Born in Dogtown, Calif., a son of John C. and Mrs. Adaline McTarnahan, he worked at various trades, including gold mining, in California until 1907, when he entered the automobile business. Later he financed a San Francisco company which pioneered the manufacture and distribution of oil burners. He and M. A. Fesler, an inventor, organized the Fess Rotary Oil Burner Company in 1920. The company grew rapidly and on March 4, 1925, Mr. McTarnahan was elected president of the successor of Fess, the Petroleum Heat and Power Company, a major concern having offices in Boston, Providence, R. I., and New York, and which had already installed oil-burning equipment in some of the largest commercial structures in the country. …"

The presence of Petroleum Heat & Power Co. in New York City dates from 1920, when their offices were located at 511 5th Ave. As described in Oil Trade Journal, Vol. 11, No. 1, January, 1920, pg. 64, "The Fess Rotary Oil Co. has been reorganized into the Petroleum Heat & Power Co., and is about to undertake in New York and other Eastern cities delivery of fuel oil by tank truck service. The company's business is to convert coalburning plants to oilburning, and it is prepared to substitute fuel oil for coal in all buildings except small private houses. The officers of the re-organized company, which is capitalized at $2,000,000, are F. Lathrop Ames, president; Robert Adamson and W. C. McTarnahan, vice presidents; F. Murray Forbes, treasurer."

Writing in 1922, The Oil Weekly, Vol. 27, No. 3, 14 Oct. 1922, pg. 78, had this say about Petroleum Heat & Power, "… quite a number of larger buildings have arranged for the installation of the oil burning equipment furnished by the Petroleum Heat and Power Company of 511 Fifth Avenue, New York, Boston and Providence with factory at Stamford, Connecticut. A very notable example of this is found in the Metropolitan Life Insurance Building, where their oil burning system is now being installed. … The officers of the Petroleum Heat and Power Company (formerly Fess Rotary Oil Burner, Inc.) are: Robert Adamson, president and general manager; F. Murray Forbes, first vice president and treasurer; W. C. McTarnahan, second vice president. …"

The Petroleum Heat & Power entry in Sweet’s Architectural Catalogues, 1933, says, “Petroleum Heat and Power Company, Manufacturers of Petro & NoKol Commercial, Industrial and Domestic Oil Burner Equipment; Arco-Petro Automatic Boilers for Oil or Gas, and Oil Burner Accessories; Distributors of Fuel Oil. Factory and Main Offices, Stamford, Conn. Branch offices in New York, N. Y. … The Petroleum Heat and Power Company recognized early in its 30 years of experience that no one type of burner meets every oil heating requirement in an equally satisfactory way, or solves every oil burner problem. …" Prominent Petro & Nokol Installations in New York included

An important figure in Petroleum Heat & Power's New York City presence was Robert Adamson (1871-1935). Adamson was president of the corporation for approximately five years (1920-1925/26) and remained a director until his death in 1935. Robert Adamson was born in Georgia and came to New York around 1902, working as an editor and reporter for several newspapers. In 1909 he was appointed the mayor's secretary by newly elected Mayor William Jay Gaynor. Then in 1915 he was appointed Commissioner of the New York City Fire Department by then-Mayor, John Purroy Mitchel. Adamson's obituary in the New York Times, 20 Sep. 1935, summarized his colorful career, "Robert Adamson, former banker and Fire Commissioner of New York under Mayor John Purroy Mitchel, died unexpectedly at 3:15 P. M. yesterday in his office in the Empire Trust Building at 580 Fifth Avenue, near Forty-seventh Street. He was 64 years old. … Mr. Adamson was only 20 when he became city editor of the Atlanta Constitution. As a boy he had learned telegraphy and as a page boy in the Georgia Legislature he wrote 'running' stories for a Macon newspaper. Although the future was bright in his native state, he decided to go to New York, where he worked on The Sun, The Brooklyn Eagle and The New York World. … Robert Adamson was born in Adamson's District, Ga., the son of Augustus Pitt and Martilla Ellen Cook Adamson. … Mr. Adamson was a director of the Petroleum Heat and Power Company and had been a member of the executive committee of Mayor's Commission on Taxation. ..."

The M. A. Fesler described in several sources as the inventor of the oil burner was Milton Ashton Fesler (1874-1935). His patent no. 714,467, dated 25 Nov. 1902, read in part, "Be it known that I, Milton A. Fesler, a citizen of the United States, residing in Visalia, in the county of Tulare and State of California, have invented certain new and useful Improvements in Crude-Oil Burners ... My invention relates to the burning of crude petroleum and distillates in cooking and heating stoves and all kinds of furnaces that are not operated in connection with a steam-boiler, and has for its object economy in the use of fuel and labor, the prevention of accidents by fire from the use of crude petroleum and distillates as fuel, freedom from offensive odors, and the cleanliness of the place where fuel is used." (The full patent is available on google patents.)

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