Tidewater Motor Oil, Washed Up at Cracker Barrel

MATHEWS, Va. – For brand archaeologists, the best dig site is Cracker Barrel. They are fascinating museums of America’s business history, not to mention their gift shops filled with old-time brands.

Here pictured in a restaurant near Jacksonville, Florida are cans of Tidewater Long Wearing Motor Oil. We thank Catesby Jones of Peace Frogs for the photo.

According to the Rachel Maddow Flickr page, the cans have appeared in other Cracker Barrel restaurants including the one in Midland, Texas.

The cans were made by Tidewater Oil Service in Mathews, Va. What’s interesting about the location is that Mathews is a terribly rural place, where you would never expect a brand of oil to be made.

I don’t know anything about the brand, except there was a national brand of oil called Tidewater Petroleum, that became part of Standard Oil. Tidewater Petroleum made Veedol oil and Flying A gas. Apparently, there was another Tidewater Oil, Tidewater Oil, Inc. of Mobjack, Virginia. That company was run under the direction of L.F. Phillips, Jr. and in 1994 became part of Philips Energy. Love to know more; please comment below.

The handsome can tells us a number of things about American business at the time, which I assume to be after World War II, but before 1970.

  1. Regional businesses selling commodities thrived in a time not so long ago.
  2. Environmental regulations, while improving our environment, have meant LESS opportunity in rural areas re: business. It’s all a trade-off, but the point needs to be made. I do not think such a canning operation could start up today in a rural area.
  3. Earlier eras were quite visually sophisticated. With all our current emphasis on branding, the idea of clear, elegant packaging has been lost. Notice the strong typography and the unadorned use of color. It is very clear what the product is. Where are the packaging companies that help their small businesses deliver such a classic product?
  4. Mathews, and many rural county seats across the nations, at one time had very diverse economies with many layers of business enterprises. This is gone. Using the parallel of an ecosystem, the “genetic diversity” of many rural economies has become a monoculture.

Love it if anyone had any history on Tidewater Motor Oil, or any other defunct oil brands, or “boutique” oils that only have regional appeal.

2 Comments

  1. Tidewater later became Getty.

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