API History

HistoryOur Origins
The American Petroleum Institute traces its beginning to World War I, when Congress and the domestic oil and natural gas industry worked together to help the war effort.

At the time, the industry included the companies created in 1911 after the court-imposed dissolution of Standard Oil and the "independents."  These were companies that had been "independent" of Standard Oil.  They had no experience working together, but they agreed to work with the government to ensure that vital petroleum supplies were rapidly and efficiently deployed to the armed forces.

The National Petroleum War Service Committee, which oversaw this effort, was initially formed under the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and subsequently as a quasi-governmental body.

After the war, momentum began to build to form a national association that could represent the entire industry in the postwar years.  The industry’s efforts to supply fuel during World War I not only highlighted the importance of the industry to the country but also its obligation to the public, as the original charter shows.

The American Petroleum Institute was established on March 20, 1919:
  • to afford a means of cooperation with the government in all matters of national concern
  • to foster foreign and domestic trade in American petroleum products
  • to promote in general the interests of the petroleum industry in all its branches
  • to promote the mutual improvement of its members and the study of the arts and sciences connected with the oil and natural gas industry.
API offices were established in New York City, and the organization focused its efforts in several specific areas.

We speak for the oil and natural gas industry to the public, Congress and the Executive Branch, state governments and the media. We negotiate with regulatory agencies, represent the industry in legal proceedings, participate in coalitions and work in partnership with other associations to achieve our members’ public policy goals.

The first effort was to develop an authoritative program of collecting industry statistics.  As early as 1920, API began to issue weekly statistics, beginning first with crude oil production.  The report, which was shared with both the government and the press, was later expanded to include crude oil and product stocks, refinery runs and other data.

API statistics remain one of the most credible sources of industry data and they are used worldwide.

The second effort was the standardization of oil field equipment.  During World War I, drilling delays resulted from shortages of equipment at the drill site, and the industry attempted to overcome that problem by pooling equipment.  The program reportedly failed because there was no uniformity of pipe sizes, threads and coupling.  Thus, the new association took up the challenge of developing industry-wide standards and the first standards were published in 1924.

Today, API maintains more than 500 standards and recommended practices covering all segments of the oil and gas industry to promote the use of safe, interchangeable equipment and proven and sound engineering practices.

The third major area of activity was taxation.  Initially the efforts included working with the Treasury Department and congressional committees to develop an orderly, logical and easily administered way to tax oil assets.  In the 1930s, these efforts extended to working state governments.  Both the federal and state governments tax highways fuels to fund the building of roads, and the industry supported tougher laws against tax evasion.

This led to the formation of the API state petroleum council network. API now has offices in 21 state capitals and represents members in 33 states, all east of the Rocky Mountains.

In late 1969, API made the decision to move its offices to Washington, DC where we remain today.  With more than 500 corporate members, we are one of the country's largest national trade associations, and the only one that represents all aspects of America’s oil and natural gas industry.

[This short history of API is based on The Story of the American Petroleum Institute, by Leonard M. Fanning, published in 1959, and The American Petroleum Institute: An Informal History (1919 – 1987) by Stephen P. Potter, published by API in 1990]