The Lister List

The Mobil Pegasus

Mobil Oil Pegasus

Kenneth Kawamura writes:" I have just heard from a friend that, when he was a child, back in the late 40s to early 50s, Harris Oil Company distributed sheets of paper (maybe 11 inches by 17 inches, legal size), printed on both sides, that folded up without cutting, into the Mobil Oil Pegasus".

This raises some very interesting questions. My attention was first drawn to the "Oil-company Pegasus" by Gershon Legman's "Bibliography of Paper- Folding", which carries an end-note: "Pre-printed from Journal of Occasional Bibliography, 1952". (That very statement was a joke: no such Journal of Occasional Bibliography ever existed and generations of paperfolders have turned the hair of generations of librarians white, looking for this non- existent journal.) The entry in Legaman's Bibliography reads as follows:

"Sony-Vacuum Corp. The Strory of Pegasus [New York] 1934.

Single-sheet promotional circular giving directions for folding the Flapping Bird out of marked and red-colored square, giving it the appearance of the flying horse, Pegasus, the trade-mark of Standard Oil Company. (Note: Pegasus is apparently to be pronounced PeGASus, to advertise petrol-gas, as Sacony's totem for their oil is a GargOYLE)".

I have come across one or two more recent mentions of the folded Pegasus, but Kenneth Kawamura's e-mail referring to a similar folding sheet issued by the Harris Oil Company in the late 40s to early 50s and apparently alluding to the Mobil Oil Pegasus is new to me.

The history of Standard Oil (whisper its initials soflty and you will get what it is about) is one of the utmost fascination. Until 1911, Standard Oil formed a vast and indeterminate conglomerate of interrelated companies and trusts of unbounded commerical power, which contolled the United States' (and, indeed, the world's) petoleum industry. It was one of the main reasons for the passing of United States "anti-trust" legislation", which was not so much against trusts as such, but against MONOPOLY. In 1911, following a judgement of the Supreme Court, the Standard Oil Company (New Jersey), (which was only one part of the conglomerate), was broken up into thirty-three separate companies, one of which, among the many, was the Standard Oil Company of New York.

In 1931, the Standard Oil Company of New York (S O CO NY) merged with Vacuum Oil (another of the old conglomerate companies) to form the Socony-Vacuum Corporation. In 1955, the name was changed to Socony Mobil Oil Company, Inc.Then in 966, there was a further change of name to the Mobil Oil Corporation. (Incidentally, another of the fragments of the old conglomerate, Standard Oil Company (New Jersey) changed its name to Exxton Corporation in 1972 and Exxton remains one of the largest oil companies of the world, still using the brand name "Esso".

I apologise for this detour into company history and have kept brief even at the risk of its being misleading, but I think my nutshell account is necesary to explain the background to the Pegasus trademark.

The Pegasus folding sheet is certainly not a book and is an odd thing to find in a bibliography. But in those days, when paperfolding had never previously been researched, Gershon Legman was trying to gather together every scrap of information he could about paperfolding. (Remember, this was even before Legman had got into touch with Akira Yoshizawa, which did not happen until 1953) [Thus, elsewhere in his Bibliography, he quotes G.K.Chesterton's "Manalive" of 1912, where "the hero, innocent Smith, on mock trial as a criminal lunatic, had been provided with pens and paper, out of the latter of which he made paper boats, paper darts, and paper dolls contentedly through the whole proceedings. he never spoke." This is a reminder of an incident in his earlier life, with which Legman was won't to regale his audiences. It was probably an invention, but he used to recount how, as a young man, he managed to preserve himself invioate during a short spell in prison, when frustrated inmates set their sights on assaulting him. As a decoy, he feverishly started folding paper. His would-be assailants hld of in bewilderment, came to the conclusion that he was mad and were scared off.]

Legman took a poor view of the Pegasus folding sheet and seeing it as an attempt to promote the sale of the company's petrol or gasolene through the children of owners of cars, declared that it was the meanest and lowest rip- off yet. (I don't at present recall the source of this reference, but it may have been in a private letter to me.)

I didn't think any more about the reference to the Socony Vacuum Corporation Pegasus until recently, when I was going through papers in the private library that the British Origami Society has recently purchased. And there I found a copy of the Pegasus folding sheet. I knew that as an item of ephemera after all these years, it must be exceedingly rare. Not only that, it was it was in pristine condition and I was delighted that a copy had come to the BOS, where, it may be hoped, it will be presered for future generations.

The sheet is 13 1/2 inches by 8 3/4 inches

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Rabbit by Stephen O'Hanlon