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Digital Collections : Standard Oil (New Jersey) Collection

Standard Oil (New Jersey) Collection

About the Collection

The Standard Oil New Jersey (SONJ) photography collection is the product of an in-depth photo-documentary project achieved between 1943 and 1956. As an initiative set up by the corporation’s public relations department, the project aim was to document the benefits of oil on everyday life in the United States. As a whole, the Standard Oil New Jersey photography collection offers the largest representation of American life in the 1940s.

Roy E. Stryker (1893-1975) became director of the SONJ photographic project after his previous undertaking ended when the Farm Security Administration (FSA) department was disbanded in 1943, and he continued at Standard Oil until 1951. Stryker shaped the SONJ project much as he had the FSA, and even brought a number of FSA photographers with him to Standard Oil. The principal collection photographers included Charlotte Brooks, Esther Bubley, John Collier, Jr., Harold Corsini, Arnold Eagle, Russell Lee, Sol Libsohn, Gordon Parks, Edwin and Louise Rosskam, Charles Rotkin, John Vachon, and Todd Webb. Stryker and the SONJ photographers accomplished a complete socio-geographical portrait of the times, and their work is still recognized as one of the finest documentary projects ever undertaken.

American coverage includes forty-two of the then forty-eight states in New England, the Middle Atlantic, the Southeast, Central U.S., and the Southwest; Standard Oil sites in Canada, Europe, the Middle East, and South America are also documented. In addition to documenting the myriad activities related to oil production and distribution, the photographers also recorded industrial workers’ homes and families, religious life, recreation, as well as highways, river transportation, bus travel, and American automobile culture. Designed to improve Standard Oil’s public image, the resulting photographs were made available for any use, appearing in newspapers and major magazines as well as oil-related publications.

The Standard Oil (New Jersey) collection is made up of approximately 80,000 black and white negatives, 2,000 color transparencies, and 70,000 gelatin silver prints spanning 1943 to 1956. Also included are caption cards, shooting scripts, correspondence files, and film strips. Approximately 27,000 of the prints are organized by geographic location and subject in 182 volumes with accompanying image data including photographer name, date, location, and caption. The digital collection currently includes 1,092 images from four of the most-requested series; additional series will be added in phases as groups of scans are cataloged and completed.

Standard Oil New Jersey donated this collection of material to the University of Louisville in 1968 based on a recommendation from Roy E. Stryker who was in the process of donating his own papers to the school.

Conditions of Use

The University of Louisville welcomes fair use of this website and its contents. If you wish to publish, broadcast, or publicly display these materials, please notify Archives and Special Collections. In addition, it is your responsibility to determine and satisfy copyright or other use restrictions, which may include paying fees for commercial use. For further information about permissions, use, and ordering reproductions, see Order Reproductions, or contact Archives and Special Collections, University of Louisville.

To cite an image from this collection, please use the format:

[Image Number], Standard Oil (New Jersey) Collection, Photographic Archives, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky.

To cite the digital version, add its Reference URL (found by following the link in the header above the digital file).


Negatives from the Standard Oil New Jersey collection have been scanned over the years by Bill Carner on an as-needed basis. For inclusion in Digital Collections, groupings from the SONJ print volumes were selected by curator Elizabeth Reilly based on subjects that are historically popular with researchers of this collection, and the remaining negatives were scanned by Marcy Werner. Information about the images has come from the volumes, with metadata completed by Riley Cantrall.

Terri Holtze designed the HTML pages. The background image of the homepage is an adaptation of "A Field of Wheat Stretching on and on...", courtesy of Mark Stevens in accordance with Creative Commons guidelines.

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